Site closure: quick, quick…slow
February 15, 2012 Leave a comment
Over at my academia.edu site (http://shu.academia.edu/LukeBennett/Papers) I recently posted an article that I wrote back in 2003 when I was still in legal practice and actively advising on a variety of industrial site decommissioning schemes across the UK. It was published in a professional journal called Industrial Safety Management and was intended as a practical synopsis of my ‘lessons learnt’ about the pitfalls of poorly thought through or hastily executed site closures (and – conversely – the benefits of adequately resourced ones). In each such project my role, as environmental lawyer, was to have regard to the material legacies that needed to be factored into the planning of abandonment, and the reality (evident to those in my role, but not necessarily to others in the closure team) that nothing physical can be totally ’closed’ and erased, even when its revenue earning potential has been scrubbed from the balance sheet.
The article’s ‘top ten tips’ remain valid today, but as my attention has now turned to a more academic perspective on abandoned sites and their after-lives I can now re-read the article from a slightly different vantage point. And in doing so I see the seeds of my more recent engagements with industrial (and military) contemporary ruins and the swirling human ecology of knowledge and materiality to be found in the after-life of such ‘abandoned’ places. For, in the aftermath of decommissioning and site closure we can see the (physical) “remains of organisational life” (Gagliardi, 1992: 3), the ‘ghosts of place’ pursued by Edensor (2005) and urban explorers, and the furtive shadows of scavengers seeking out (and ripping out) the remnant material value of such places – a value left behind in the larger organisation’s rush to the exit.
In my mind’s eye, the image of an abandoned filing cabinet (an image frequently to be found in urbex photography) provides a linkage point between the abandonment of information, the erasure of people and the laying to waste of material artefacts – all as casualties of closure. For the environmental lawyer, timescales over which physical legacies (and their health, ecosystem or other liability manifesting effects) play out are truly long-tail. The information scattered in those documents blowing across the empty building or the site knowledge that leaves with the expulsion of the ‘let go’ site foreman are truly valuable (and truly lost) corporate – and wider community – memory.
On many levels – and for many reasons – the importance of these places as “theatres of memory” (Samuel, 1994) deserve to be better cherished. The physical degradation of knowledge is shown at its most fragile in such places.
Edensor, T (2005) Industrial ruins – space, aesthetics and materiality, Berg, Oxford.
Gagliardi, P (1992) Symbols and artifacts – views of the corporate landscape, Aldine de Gruyter, New York.
Samuel, R (1994) Theatres of memory, Verso, London.