I spent the weekend in Philly

where I saw lots of amazing things: A street derby for dumpster-dived carts, one of which had flaming wheels; the tatters of an American flag flying behind concertina wire in a Hess Oil compound; girls in gold glittery top hats tap-dancing on the museum steps that Rocky Balboa made famous; a Joy Division cover band in packed basement; a punk rock bar where you could draw on literally any surface playing Gravediggaz on the jukebox. But the best thing I saw was the abandoned complex in the photos below.

What is it about these spaces that's so compelling? Their quietude, or their accumulated history, frozen in time? Why do they seem, paradoxically, more human than all the bustling architecture still in use? Why does such poignancy emanate from the realization of architecture's latent tendency toward ruin? Is it that when commerce leaves them, buildings revert to humble object-hood, collections of tactile materials that can pull us clear of institutional imperatives and renew our sense of human scale?

In a constructed nation of capitalist varnish, designed against specificity and human expression, derelict spaces are where a soul can exist in peace; in the aftermath of these bleak imperatives to buy and sell, in the rubble of enterprise, one can remember that the real world has nothing to do with the blank and abstract gaze of thriving industry -- you can hold it in your hands, sift it through your fingers, drag it through the dirt. After spending a while recording the sounds of dripping water and drawing in my notebook, I left my companions behind and wended deep into the complex, which closed in like a microcosm of the world at large as I lost sight of the exits. It was difficult to not to think of the final act of a horror movie, when the man with the hook finally catches up with you. But I didn't want to think about Hollywood, the place was too real. I never made it up the staircase at the end -- on the third step, I heard voices from above, and lost my nerve. But I know that the next time I'm in Philly, that staircase will in all likelihood be waiting, unsanitized and inexorably decaying. Unless they finally knock it down and build a pre-fab mall by then.