Ruins of the Future

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The other night I had a look around the unusual Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.  Sir John (1753-1837) was a pioneering architect in his era who was responsible for the Bank of England building, although it’s subsequently been chopped around so much that little of his original intentions remain.

Sir John had a deep interest in classical Roman architecture and in Roman and Greek ruins and the spring issue of The Soane, the museum’s magazine had an interesting article by starchitect Sir Norman Foster wondering if one day his City of London icon, which he refers to as 30 St Mary Axe, we know it better as the Swiss Re Tower or ‘the erotic gherkin,’ might one day be a ruin. Check postcards from the future for the ruined gherkin or for other views of a flooded London, desert London, rice paddied London or shanty town London.

Hotel Les Chutes, Kisangani, DRC 542
Hotel Les Chutes in Kisangani

Working on my forthcoming book Tony Wheeler’s Dark Lands (from Lonely Planet later this year) I encountered some places which have fallen into ruin during my lifetime. I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and travelled to Kisangani on the Congo River, where the Hotel Les Chutes is a derelict reminder of what was clearly once a fine building. Click here to see photographs of the hotel in its Belgian prime, back in 1957. Chutes is ‘waterfall ‘ in French and the Stanley Falls (now the Boyoma Falls) are just upriver from Kisangani and mark the end of the long navigable stretch of the Congo River up from the capital Kinshasa.

Radio Congo, one of the best travel books I’ve read in the past year goes in search of a Belgian mining town, now lost in the jungle. In many places in the country children have never seen a car, something that was once familiar to their parents and grandparents.

Shell PNG 271◄ Visiting Bougainville in Papua New Guinea was another place where I encountered modern day ruins. Like this Shell petrol station sign, taken over by the jungle in the town of Arawa.




Arawa was the coastal dormitory town for the huge open-cut mine at Panguna, up in the hills above the coast. The Bougainville civil war closed the mine and the site town today is all ruined, apartments, shops even the Olympic-size swimming pool all lie derelict and overgrown. Here’s the Panguna cinema. ▼
Panguna cinema PNG 542