Baltimore's Neglected Rowhouses Are the Last Ones Standing

Red townhouse standing on a city street

Ben Marcin

TreeHugger Lloyd always says that "the Greenest Building is the one already standing". In Baltimore, Maryland they don't have that view. The city plans to spend nearly $22 million to tear down 1,500 abandoned houses, and it is not certain what will replace these buildings. Photographer Ben Marcin has been shooting these derelict and neglected houses for the past 3 years.

credit: Ben Marcin

Baltimore's distinctive architecture is the rowhouse. Since the 19th century, many of the city's residential neighborhoods have consisted of block upon block of these narrow dwellings. But over the years, due to poverty and neglect, many have decayed and been demolished. Calling his exhibition "Last House Standing" Ben Marcin's photos draw attention to the individuality of the last houses, which were never designed to stand alone like this.

credit: Ben Marcin, Baltimore, MD, 2011

When built and now, when preserved, the buildings are gems to live in. Marcin himself lives in one and says

They have twelve foot ceilings, thick plaster walls, high-quality brickwork designed to last forever, and beautiful ornamental details inside and out - they do not make houses like this anymore.
credit: Ben Marcin

Here's what a block of Baltimore rowhouses looks like from the rear. The ones marked with a red "X" have been condemned by the city and are marked for demolition. There is one rowhouse in this scene that is not marked with an "X" which is still occupied.

credit: Ben Marcin, Baltimore, MD, 2010

This blue house was the first of the photos that Marcin took, and it is his favourite. He says that the

The windows are like eyes, glowing outwards. The bright blue paint was probably painted sometime after the house went solo - one can see the crumbly sections of red brick underneath. It has been alone for so long that a parking lot and fencing has sprung up beside it. Unlike most of my rowhouses, this one may stay forever.
credit: Ben Marcin

Marcin explains:

My interest in these solitary buildings is not only in their ghostly beauty but in their odd placement in the urban landscape. Often three stories high, they were clearly not designed to stand alone like this. Many details that might not be noticed in a homogenous row of twenty attached row houses become apparent when everything else has been torn down. And then there's the lingering question of why a single row house was allowed to remain upright. Still retaining traces of its former glory, the last house standing is often still occupied.

If you are in Baltimore, he is having a show of his work which you can still catch for the next month.

credit: Kevin Bauman

In a comparable project, Kevin Bauman started photographing abandoned houses in an affluent part of Detroit about ten years ago. They have a very different built form. He called the project 100 Abandoned Houses. That may seem like a lot, but the number of abandoned houses in Detroit is more like 12,000.It was the fourth-largest city in the USA by 1920, a place it held until 1950. But globalization and mechanization meant drastic loss of jobs and massive unemployment. The city went into free-fall and by 2010 its population had dropped to 700,000 people. The once-glorious buildings had become abandoned factories, vacant schools and derelict ballrooms