Last House Standing: A Photog Captures The Lonely Signs Of Gentrification

Baltimore photographer Ben Marcin documents the solitary structures that have mysteriously escaped demolition.

Row houses, or terrace housing, came out of Europe sometime in the 19th century. The medium-density style of architecture is most common in East Coast cities like Philadelphia and West Coast cities like San Francisco (for a memory jog, reference Full House’s opening credits). The structures, while visually repetitive (“cookie cutter,” depending on your point of view), are integral to most urban centers architectural identity–an identity that’s rapidly vanishing.


Depending on the location, today’s row houses are landmarks of working-class and low-income neighborhoods. Developers are razing the vernacular infrastructure, mysteriously leaving a single house behind. Photographer Ben Marcin, who lives in a Baltimore row house, began to notice these isolated pieces of architecture. His Last House Standing series documents these buildings and showcases the homes’ architectural details that tend to get lost when they’re arranged as they were originally intended, in rows.

“When you look at a row house that is still attached, it is easy to miss many of the unique details of the building–the elaborate cornices, the old-style brickwork, the tall windows with the glass that isn’t perfectly flat,” Marcin tells Co.Design. “These features are much more apparent when the house stands by itself.”

Marcin began his project in Baltimore but soon realized that similar nearly demolished neighborhoods must exist in other areas where crime and poverty do, too. Marcin parsed through Bing Maps to look at aerial photographs of Camden, New Jersey, and Philadelphia to locate solitary structures. Some of the buildings, while still standing, are boarded up and abandoned. But others have an eerie, almost comical, vitality clinging to the painted façades and 19th-century details. The starkness of these leftovers begs the question: How did they survive? Marcin wonders himself, but does have one clue. While photographing a Baltimore house, he says an older gentlemen in jeans and a bathrobe came outside to confront him.

“He was polite but also a bit cantankerous and wanted to know if I was working for the city. He was not afraid of the drug dealers who had caused the abject decline of his block, nor was he afraid of the city bureaucracy that no doubt had an eye on his house. He certainly wasn’t afraid of me. During our brief conversation, I came to understand why his house was still standing.”

See more of Marcin’s work here.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.