When the Fulton Market Cold Storage Company decided to abandon their 10-story 1920s refrigeration facility in Chicago last summer, they left behind frozen meat, ice cream, and a Narnia-esque world of icicles.
Photographer Gary Jensen, who works for the mechanical engineering firm hired to decommission the building’s ammonia refrigeration system, got a chance to document the winter wonderland of a floor where ice crystals had been allowed to accumulate for at least 13 years. The photos have since gone viral around design blogs—his website’s web traffic went from 3 to 36,000 hits in one day, he says— and he relayed the following to Co.Exist about what it was like to document the images (as well as an abridged history lesson on refrigeration).
Old-fashioned refrigeration systems like this one piped in extremely cold brine to chill the air. "Let’s just say the brine was at minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Think about how cold that pipe would be! So all the air around it was going to get cold. That’s how those old refrigeration systems worked.
"The cold brine would circulate on the inside of the bunker coil (that’s these things), and those bunker coils would get ice cold and make the space cold." Even though that floor hadn’t been touched in years, the "bunker coils still had the cold brine circulating through them and it continued to just ice up and all the moisture continued to freeze."
And getting the photos was tough work:
The formations were pretty spectacular, and I just got intrigued. You know how they look very mysterious and out-of-this-worldy? Picture it: you’re by yourself, you’re a photographer, you got boots on, a cam backpack with 30 pounds of camera gear, you got gloves on, layers and layers of clothes, long underwear. You even had a hardhat on. You’re walking up this walkway—the elevators are out. … You’re up in this freezer now, that’s been abandoned for all these years, and you’re by yourself. You got these eerie icicles coming at you, at your head, and if you touched the frost it’ll just fall on your back. … You’re trying to protect your equipment, you’re trying to stay warm. … You’ve got these spikes looking down on you.
It was just a very very, eery, surreal feeling you got, but it was so intriguing. I never wanted to leave.
Check out the time lapse video of the thawing, which took 11 days. And check out Jensen’s other photos here.