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12 Beautiful Abandoned Buildings That Only Got Better With Age

04/24/2015 10:46 am ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015

Text by Nick Mafi, Photography by Matt Emmett, Architectural Digest.

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This historic stock-trading house in Antwerp, Belgium, is better known as the Chambre du Commerce. Rumor has it this building will eventually be transformed into a glamorous hotel.

For most, signs barring entry to a forgotten factory or a decaying tunnel are sufficient deterrents. For Matt Emmett, these warnings are a gateway to his art.

The British photographer has spent the past three years ignoring official caveats -- trudging through debris, wading in water, spelunking in man-made caverns -- all for the sake of creating images that celebrate the unique appeal of abandoned architecture.

Emmett, who wears a hard hat while photographing, has shot at deserted locations throughout the U.K., Luxembourg, Belgium, and France, in schoolhouses, on military bases, and in factories, many of which have remained untouched for decades. He belongs to a tight-knit community of photographers known simply as urbex (short for "urban explorer") who keep a watchful eye on derelict structures around the world for potential subject matter. Once an eligible structure is discovered, the coordinates are discreetly distributed to the group. New members are carefully vetted before being allowed to join to ensure that they will keep locations secret -- preventing unwanted sightseers or, worse, looters.

For Emmett, traversing dangerous terrain is more than a matter of seeking thrills. "These places that were once alive with sound and movement are now silent and still, but they are no less mesmerizing," he says. "Immense and powerful beauty resides in forgotten places."

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The staircase of a long-abandoned boys' school in Berkshire, England.

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Inside an abandoned (and now demolished) military radar post near Ghent, Belgium.

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The interior of a soon-to-be-demolished cooling tower outside Ghent, Belgium. The mossy floor and strange acoustics made shooting in this location a surreal experience for the British photographer.

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A historic textile mill in Somerset, England. "To stand in such a place once humming with constant activity and now utterly silent was, for me, breathtaking," said Emmett.

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A historic textile mill in Somerset, England. "To stand in such a place once humming with constant activity and now utterly silent was, for me, breathtaking," said Emmett.

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The entrance hall of a forgotten château in southern Belgium. Emmett had to evade an irascible local groundskeeper known for circling the property on his bicycle with a small shotgun at his side.

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Hidden deep beneath one of London's most visited parks, this stunning Victorian-era reservoir once stored the city's drinking water. Today, a Tube line runs close by, and while Emmett was shooting, vibrations in the tunnel could be felt as trains sped past.

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A peek inside the main chapel doors of an abandoned school in central Belgium. Although the school has been stripped clean, the adjacent church still stands.

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A power station filled with silent pipes and turbines in the industrial heart of Luxembourg. At one point in the early 20th century, Luxembourg was the darling of the European steel industry, powered by stations like the one Emmett photographed.

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Demolished in 2013, this dark and eerily quiet tunnel in Fleet, England, was Emmett's first urbex experience, and it remains his favorite. Many of the U.K.'s military and commercial jet engines (including the Concorde) were designed and tested here.

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Beneath a massive cooling tower in Charleroi, Belgium.

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Walking the floor of this former factory, which once produced shoemaking devices, Emmett found implements still on dusty desks and cabinets inscribed with chalk, indicating where tools had been stored. "The whole environment was like something out of a Dickens novel," Emmett said. "It was a real glimpse into days gone by."

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