Sunday, July 11, 2010

Urban Exploration - technically it's illegal, but...

2002 was an interesting year for me. I started my current job that year and when I did the Information Technology guy at that time was around my age. Considering that my place of employment did not have many 26 year olds at the time, he and I spent a lot of time together at work.

The IT guy was into all sorts of neat things. He was the one that took me geocaching for the first time and got me hooked. Of course, back in 2002/2003, geocaching was in its infancy. It was more of a big deal for he and I to go required some pre-planning. Now, you just put your zip code in at and there's probably one within a comfortable walk of your house.

The other thing he got me into for a brief while was Urban Exploration. Essentially, looking back on it with 7 to 8 years of reflection, Urban Exploration is really a euphemism for "breaking and entering into abandoned stuff." But it was cool and helped jumpstart my enthusiam for renovation of brownfields and revitalizing neighborhoods.

The place shown in the pictures above is the old Carrie Furnace, just east of The Waterfront. Allegheny County bought the property in 2005 and has started preliminary site investigations (including demolition) in the hopes that this will one day be a business park or mixed-use development.

But back in 2003, it was just a rusted out, abandoned hulk of a complex. Carrie Furnace was a huge steel mill, one of many that populated the riverfront along the Mongahela River (Steel Valley). When we went "exploring" on a sunny Saturday back in 2003 (me, my good friend, and IT guy) we parked my car in nearby Rankin (not a great neighborhood) and walked about a mile to it.

We slipped right in the fence and spent the better part of the next 2 hours just quietly observing this place. It was eerie. It was if one Friday, all the workers went home and then just found out on Monday that it was closed. Which is likely what happened. We found log books from foremen laying on desks, detailing what hours everyone worked...all on green/white grid paper with careful printing.

The rules of safety were painted mural-style inside one of the mill areas, complete with a Steelers was the Steelers' 70's after all. The whole place was a sprawling complex. I tried to envision how many hundreds of people worked there at its peak. It was probably like a living, breathing entity all fueled by the people coursing through it. And then they were gone and this delapidated husk was all that remained.

We climbed all over the place, including going up the gantry to the catwalk by the highest smokestack. We got some great shots of the surrounding Mon Valley. It's one of those experiences that I will always remember, because so few people can say they were up on the exterior catwalk of Carrie Furnace. Especially now that it's gone.

The second picture is a piece of "guerilla art" that was installed by a group of local Urban Exploration artists at the time. All that IT guy knew is that this guerilla artist would enter places like this and create sculptures out of whatever was present at the site. This deer in the picture was nearly 2 stories tall. This picture was taken by leaning out of a warehouse window.

It was only this year that I found out who the "guerilla artist" was. His name is Tim Kaulen and he is now a legit Urban/Industrial artist. One of his current pieces will be installed at a newly renovated park on the South Side. I've seen proofs of his current work and it is interesting. He is using recycled steel I-beams to create figures as a tribute to steel workers pouring and puddling steel. They look like Transformers to me, but they will be eyecatching.

There is still an active community, both in Pittsburgh and nationally for Urban Exploration. It also has an international following as well. One of the things that humans are good at is building stuff and then letting it fall into disrepairs.

One of the more interesting sites I've found lately is Dark Roasted Blend. It explores the slightly off-center side of urban living and has an interesting stash of articles relating to architecture...both abandoned and futuristic.

1 comment:

  1. Cool post. I really enjoyed reading this. I'm currently into urban exploring myself and find the activity to be quite surreal. I'm just up the road (I-79) in Erie, PA and have started the blog to highlight some of the cool places we have here.