Post-industrial landscapes have caught the attention of the public by providing a great mix of experiences and reflections. All over the world these abandoned places that could only be used for recreation in the UrbEX context are now accessible to the community. Reclaiming sites have become a statement of post-modernity, where nature and community coexists with rusty machines and metal structures.
In postmodernism, ‘memory’ constitutes a concept that characterize these landscape interventions as unique and informative, endorsing it with a higher and deeper level of experiences. Bright minds like Sebastien Marot, Frances Yates, Robert Smithson and Peter Latz associate memory as an important aspect of design.
Having previously participated in a project where industrial infrastructure and landscape had to be connected, AHBE Lab explores worldwide a specific type of post-industrial intervention of derelict facilities: production plants. In this category we can find old mining stations, power and water stations, coal mines, steel mills, construction factories, assembly yards, etc. Here are some of the best examples:
Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord / Latz + Partner
A public park in Germany born from an abandoned coal and steel production plant. The site remained heavily contaminated after these activities and the actual landscaping is an attempt to heal and to communicate the industrial past of the site. The existing infrastructure like concrete bunkers, old gas tanks, concrete walls and the courtyard of the factory were reused to bring forth a unique program, rich of experiences.
LUX Stahlhof Belval-Ouest / AllesWirdGut Architektur
This famous promenade-square is located in a steelyard which was once populated by pioneer plants such as moss and birch. The island incorporates sitting areas and vegetation, leaving plenty of open spaces as restorative landscapes. The project incorporates natural looking materials that are able to portray an atemporal aesthetic, such as concrete, wood, and untreated steel.
C-Mine Square / Hosper
This public square is located on a former coal mine in Belgium. It is the central space of the new cultural center of the city of Genk. Not only is the square reclaimed, but a lot of the program elements are located in the surrounding buildings, which used to be mining buildings. The project incorporates a theater, a cinema, restaurants, and a design academy.
Fonderies Garden / Doazan-Hirschberger
Stored under the canopy of the former Atlantic Foundries, this garden located in the island of Nantes, France, houses exotic species like rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, magnolias, camellias, etc. The whole site is covered by a polycarbonate crystal canopy and pre-existing steel roofing. The garden is divided in two parts: the ‘furnace garden’ and the ‘voyage garden’.
Sustainable Evergreen Headquarters / Diamond Schmitt Architects + du Toit Architects Ltd
Once a brick factory in Toronto, Canada, this new space has become a community environmental center; the site plays host to commercial, educational, and cultural activities. The Evergreen Brick Works project is accredited as LEED-Platinum in sustainability.
MFO-Park / Burckhardt + Partner & Raderschallpartner
Located in Zurich, Switzerland, the Manschinefabrik Oerlikon Park is housed under a steel trellis that used to be part of a factory belonging to the same company. Vertical green columns, a set of terraces and viewpoints, a large semi-covered central space and a fun play of lights versus shadows have already granted this project seven awards.
Levitt Pavilion, SteelStacks, Bethlehem Works, Sands Bethworks and the Arts Quest Center / Wallace Roberts and Todd, SWA Group, Spillman Farmer Architects.
This site’s program is comprehensive, starting with the conversion of an old steel mill into a venue for concerts, performance, and cultural activities known as the SteelStack Arts and Cultural Campus. The Levitt Pavilion is a unique architectural centerpiece and refuge for these events. Across the street, the ArtsQuest Center is edified in the heart of the industrial park for indoor events like festivals, visual arts, education and outreach, and other performing arts. Less than a mile to the east, a thrilling landscape design furnishes the main intersections of the road networks in the area.
Gas Works Park / Richard Haag
Opened in 1975, this reclaimed urban park contains part of the infrastructure of the former coal gasification plant. A part of the old plant now functions as a children’s play barn. It has become an icon for peace rallies, concerts, anti-war protests, and a civic symbol as well, hosting Fourth of July fireworks events for the city and becoming a landmark for local cyclists.
Fundidora Park / Grimshaw Architects
By far one of the most successful projects in Mexico showcasing the re-adaptation of existing industrial architecture for civic use. The project’s ‘Horno3’ used to be a steel mill and is now a steel museum which adds a restaurant and terraces. This urban-scale park is the core for recreation and social life in the city of Monterrey, hosting world-class events such as the UN and OEA summits, the Champ Car World Series Grand Prix, the A1 Grand Prix race series, and the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures. The urban park incorporates as icons other elements, such as the Monterrey Arena, the Sesame Plaza playgrounds, an artificial lake, and the Santa Lucia Riverwalk.
Burbank Water and Power EcoCampus / AHBE Landscape Architects
Being included as one of the original Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) pilot program, the BWP’s EcoCampus reclaims a substation, turning the structure into a giant metal trellis for the new Centennial Park. This repurposed canopy is covered with vines that turn the original structure into a real green habitat. Sustainable techniques such as rooftop gardens, water reclamation and filtration systems and solar power are present all over the site, making the project worthy of three awards in the last 4 years.
More and more often, designers and developers are choosing to reclaim abandoned industrial infrastructure to become an active heart of community life. Large-scale projects such as the Battersea Power Station Redevelopment – carried out by Gehry and Foster in London – demonstrate that industrial zones, brownfields, and other once undesirable spots in the city are no longer taboos for developers, planners, architects and landscape architects to work with. The hope is these once neglected spaces will be adopted once more by the community, no longer as centers for industrial production, but for social productivity.
Smithson thought that memory recalls the past, but in a way that applies it to new things. In this matter, Mark Twain wrote once: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”. What can we learn from the past of these sites, and how are we applying this knowledge to our present?