• Images of Industry: Representation, Reinvention, and Reuse

    by User Not Found | May 31, 2019
    Rovang Blog 10 Draft 2

    Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    During my year as a professional tourist of industrial heritage, I've had to develop some coping mechanisms for when I'm feeling worn down on mills or burnt out on blast furnaces. Art museums in particular have become reliable havens where I can recharge and get some fresh perspective. Not that I necessarily stop thinking about the architectural legacy of industry when I’m at an art museum—far from it. But strolling around a climate-controlled gallery is much less physically taxing than trekking underground through a mine, climbing a gasometer, or hiking a slag heap. A few weeks ago, I returned to Liverpool after a big day out at Port Sunlight. Having had my fill of vernacular-eclectic cottages, soap, and utopian paternalism for the day, I headed to the Tate Liverpool for some art and a pot of tea.


    The Albert Dock, constructed between 1841 and 1846. Engineer Jesse Hartley’s dock design not only revolutionized commercial shipping practices, it was at the forefront of fireproof construction technology, eschewing structural wood in favor of brick and cast iron. Containerization decimated the dock’s economy in the 1970s, and photos from the 1980s show the docks entirely full of silt and in bad repair. More recently, a concerted effort to redevelop the area and the 2004 inscription of the Liverpool docklands on the UNESCO World Heritage List have resurrected the docks. In 2018, the dock received “Royal status” and is now officially known as Royal Albert Dock.1


    The Tate Liverpool is one of several museums occupying the former warehouse buildings surrounding the Albert Dock, a historically significant complex of bonded warehouses dating to 1846. On display was a show entitled Constellations, an exhibition sourced from the Tate’s permanent collections mapping groups of modern and contemporary works by theme, technique, and artistic influence. Each gallery features a keynote piece that anchors that particular cluster of works. As I wandered between rooms featuring many major artistic movements of the twentieth century, the architecture seemed to shift subtly as well. It wasn’t that this reused industrial interior was actually changing—it was merely my perception of it. Just as the groups of artworks were consciously curated to lead to a certain set of associations, the connotations I attached to the architecture of the gallery interiors also fluctuated in response to the art. In a room that explored representations of industrial modernity, centered around artist L.S. Lowry’s 1955 painting “Industrial Landscape,” I found myself considering the way that revolutionary nineteenth-century construction technologies enabled the broad horizontal spans of this brick and iron warehouse. In another set of galleries devoted to Op-Art, the white-washed brick barrel vaults with their diffuse lighting suddenly suggested a more contemporary parallel—Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas (1972). Containing and framing these sets of curated constellations, the architecture itself became entangled in my own imperfect and subjective set of associations.


    Two installations at the Tate Liverpool. Above, L.S. Lowry’s “Industrial Landscape” (1955), with Ghisa Koenig’s sculpture “The Machine Minders” (1956) at the rear. Below, a custom-designed floor to suit a room of Op Art-influenced works. These very different installations changed my perceptions of the reused mid-nineteenth-century warehouse in which they are both displayed.


    In certain respects, the project that the Tate’s Constellations was consciously undertaking is not dissimilar from the constant game of comparison, pattern-recognition, and thematic linking I’ve been playing all year. Indeed, I’ve found myself habitually putting physical manifestations of the industrial past (i.e. the architectural remnants themselves) into dialog with the representations that mediate our experience of those structures. This has not been an exercise purely confined to my art museum escapades. Almost all museums of industry and interpretive centers at industrial sites make use of historic photographs, paintings, and other kinds of visual culture to convey certain ideas about industrial landscapes—whether or not they address their formal qualities or the politics of representation.

    Visual expressions of industrial spaces can be broken down into two categories—those that include people and human activity (frequently engaging issues of labor and class as they do so), and those that do not. I’ll take up the issue of labor and space next month, but for this month’s post I want to focus specifically on representations that are predominantly architectural and technological. This broad category of industrial representation tends to emphasize the formal and/or atmospheric qualities and characteristics of industrial spaces. These images may seek to evoke a certain mood or feeling, perhaps playing on the implicit symbolism or narrative connotations of specific kinds of buildings, or they may treat the building as object, seeking a rhetorical distance through the portrayal of isolated forms.

    What is perhaps even more interesting than these images themselves (at least for an architectural historian) is how visual conventions for representing industrial sites have impacted the design of contemporary industrial buildings and the architectures of industrial adaptive reuse. How, in other words, has the visual vocabulary of industrial representation been re-assimilated in the contemporary architectural design process? How do image typologies reciprocally shape cultural expectations and architects’ approaches to renovating or reinventing industrial heritage sites?

    In order to address this complex set of representational interactions, I’ve proposed a series of my own “mini-constellations” — dialectic pairs of structures that address one particular aspect or issue around this idea of industrial representation. Rather than the blockbuster UNESCO sites I’ve explored in previous posts, this blog post emphasizes smaller museums and lesser-known buildings within the category of industrial site reinvention and reuse. Since the sites and artistic traditions in this post are drawn from the travel I’ve done in the past few months in Europe (with particular emphasis on my explorations of France and Scandinavia), there’s a geographic and cultural bias to the case studies presented here. Nevertheless, within the scope of my European travels, this small set of buildings and images demonstrates the wide range of artistic and architectural responses to a shared industrial past.

    The Smokestack as Symbolic Locus

    Last month, while exploring the Ruhr Museum at the Zeche Zollverein UNESCO site in Essen, Germany, I came across a nineteenth-century photograph of a Ruhrgebeit factory town punctuated by smokestacks. From each stack issued a thick, billowing cloud of smoke—a standard trope of early industrial photography. But there was something a little too perfect about the smoke clouds. Peering intently, I realized that they were all ideally-shaped masses of dark smoke, bent by the wind to an identical, parallel angle. Someone had intentionally added smoke to these stacks, using a smudgy ink. If the effect had originally been naturalistic, age and light now revealed the artifice of this act: the faded sepia photograph contrasting noticeably with the invented dark blue smoke.

    A nineteenth-century Ruhr factory town, featuring some added smoke for visual and symbolic effect. Photographed from the collections of the Ruhr Museum in Essen, April 2, 2019.


    I’ve had plenty of opportunity to catalog the spectrum and nuances of smokestack imagery at the varied industrial sites and many art museums that I’ve visited this year. But my fascination with how smokestacks are represented, and to what ends, began in my dissertation, with an anecdote about a preliminary rendering of a coal power plant funded by the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Administration in 1939. In this rendering, the architect had deemed it appropriate to picture coal smoke curling upwards from the smokestacks of the plant. For the government sponsors, this seemed to be inviting criticism:

    “The first thing that attracted my eyes was a negative one—and that is the belching smoke from the stacks. It makes it look like a blast furnace operation. The building itself is very nice… but I think by all means these renderings should all be withdrawn and destroyed.”2

    Whereas in the Ruhr photograph, the addition of smoke perhaps signified prosperity and productivity, for the New Dealers charged with erecting a new coal plant in Wisconsin several decades later, excessive smoke was read as being synonymous with waste and a poorly managed facility. Like the spire of the town church protruding from a pastoral hamlet punctuates the countryside with the unmistakable emblem of religion, the smokestack becomes an instantly recognizable register of industry within a landscape. Sometimes a silent obelisk, at others the wellspring of sky-darkening clouds of soot and ash, smokestacks have become a symbolic locus for society’s aspirations and anxieties surrounding industrialization. Just as cultural attitudes towards industrial noise have shifted over time—as I discussed two months back, the concept of “noise pollution” is a relatively recent invention—the symbolic function of the smokestack is multivalent and historically contingent.

    In the town of Norrköping, Sweden, smokestacks rise from the landscape, comprising a skyline that recalls renaissance Venice with its myriad altane. For many years, Norrköping stood as the second largest manufacturing center in Sweden after Stockholm and was known particularly for its booming textile industry. When the textile economy collapsed and moved overseas during the postwar period, there wasn’t even enough capital to demolish the town’s dilapidated industrial building stock. The central core, winding along the banks of the Motala River with its brick sawtooth-roof daylight factories and energy houses, was preserved through neglect for several decades until Linköping University opened a branch there in the 1990s, and transformed much of the surviving industrial stock into classroom space, conference and event venues, and student life areas. Now home to a bustling university, Norrköping has leveraged its unique heritage—one of the best preserved industrial cores in Europe—as a cultural asset and tourist attraction.

    Norrköping’s reenergized industrial core, looking across Motala River at a former energy house and surrounding structures. The energy house is now being used as flexible event space.

    Norrköping's industrial past is not only preserved but celebrated in the city’s new crop of cultural institutions. Here, the side of the Stadsmuseet (City Museum) shows historic pictures of Norrköping factory workers.

    A model of the city’s industrial landscape at the Stadsmuseet. The number of intact buildings is almost as remarkable as the sense of architectural continuity in this district.

    A few of Norrköping’s most famous industrial structures, recreated at playground scale. For more of this very charming play structure, see my Instagram post.


    Armed with a map featuring a self-guided walking tour of Norrköping’s “Industrial Core,” I seized a few hours of late March sunshine to thread my way through the city’s historic district. Near the Arbetets Museum (Museum of Work) and the Stadsmuseet (Norrköping City Museum), I caught sight of an industrial chimney emerging from the fast-flowing Motala. Materially indistinct from the many smokestacks throughout the city, this chimney appeared a bizarre, partially submerged artifact of a former industrial structure. It wasn’t until I passed it again on my way back I finally registered that this could not be an actual industrial relic. Further research revealed the riparian chimney to be the work of sculptor Jan Svenungsson, entitled “Skorstenen” (or “The Chimney”), the fifth of ten such sculptures that the artist created between 1992 and 2015.3 Svenungsson started his smokestack project by photographing actual industrial chimneys, images that he said, “had an uncanny capacity for making viewers want to ‘read’ the image: to trigger in them the urge to invent the content of the work. It was always different, of course.”4


    Two views of Jan Svenungsson’s “Fifth Chimney” in Norrköping, 1999. I photographed it from both of these angles before finally realizing that this could not possibly be a real chimney.


    Svenungsson’s first, 10 meter-high chimney in Stockholm started a series wherein the artist would build a chimney somewhere else in the world each year, each 1 meter taller than the last. While some of these chimneys have been placed in historically industrial areas like Norrköping, many others stand alone on natural and non-industrial sites.5 Yet, regardless of the locations into which they are inserted, Svenungsson’s chimneys have a habit of hiding in plain sight. After he installed his first built chimney outside Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the artist noted that:

    ”During the two years of its existence I came to realize that many people who saw my sculpture never even reflected upon the possibility that what they had in front of their eyes might be a work of art. The recognition value of its ready-made form was much stronger than its close proximity to a museum of contemporary art, or, for that matter, all the details that indicated that it would have been useless as a functional chimney. It was a strange revelation: I had created an invisible monument.”6

    In Norrköping, Svenungsson’s chimney is truly an “invisible monument,” camouflaged by its very similarity to the historical building stock that surrounds it, no matter the absurdity and surrealism of a half-submerged smokestack. For those who are in on the joke, though, the piece becomes an opportunity to meditate on the cultural invisibility of industrial landscapes writ large.

    A week later in Copenhagen, Denmark, I conscripted a visiting friend into accompanying me on a long march to see another significant urban chimney. Situated on the eastern outskirts of the city in the Amager area, Bjarke Ingels Group’s long-anticipated Amager Bakke (a.k.a. Copenhill) project also uses the smokestack as a symbolic marker. Designed first and foremost as a hyper-efficient biofuel energy plant, Copenhill is distinguished by its dual use as a power plant and a year-round artificial ski slope. That slope, which is slated to open to the public this summer, culminates in a large stack protruding toward the sky, releasing emissions that are nearly free of pollutants, though the plant is not carbon-neutral. By comparison, at Yoshio Taniguchi’s Naka Incineration Plant in Hiroshima (which I visited last year), the incinerator’s smokestack is balanced by the horizontality of the building’s mass and its rectangular shape is not immediately identifiable. But at Copenhill, the chimney is the absolute apex of the structure—its function unmistakable. However, like the Naka plant, Copenhill is designed to reveal its inner-workings to visitors, to use architectural design to provoke curiosity about the process through which energy is made from biofuel.7


    Images from the long walk to Copenhill, a massive biofuel generator and artificial ski slope by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). As the ski slope is not yet open, public transit options out to this area of Copenhagen are limited.


    After hiking across what seemed like most of Copenhagen, I found Amager Bakke less appealing up close than it was at a distance. Those shiny, undulating panels forming the skin seemed to lose resolution, and in its shadow, the scale of the building felt less sublime than domineering. And from the ground looking up, the chimney seems like an afterthought, a kind of monumental add-on. But this may be because this building is all about distant visibility. With the twin aims of sparking a “dialogue about waste” and attracting visitors to experience the artificial slope, BIG has reappropriated the familiar image of the smokestack to once again symbolize progress.8 But, as Jan Svenungsson has noted, the joy (and trickiness) of smokestacks is that everyone assigns their own metaphorical meaning to them. Whether or not the symbol of Copenhill will read as intended for the residents of Copenhagen remains to be seen.



    Images above and at center taken from directly next to Copenhill. Perhaps the building is actually more effective when seen from a distance, as in the image below, taken from the top of the seventeenth-century Round Tower in Copenhagen.


    Fashionable Concrete: Haptic and Optic

    Starting in the late nineteenth-century, photography fundamentally transformed the way that industrial sites were presented. In its initial iterations, when photographic negatives had to be laboriously developed immediately on site, this new medium was unsuited for documenting industrial landscapes. But, as photographic technology developed, so too did the necessity for precisely recording and visually communicating industrial innovations.9 By the 1910s, interest in industrial photography (and the ideas about architecture it could transmit) had expanded beyond a niche engineering audience—for evidence of this, architectural historians need look no further than Walter Gropius’s and Le Corbusier’s well-documented fascination with the photographic images of North American concrete grain silos.10

    Yet in the wake of the photographic revolution, painterly modes of presenting the industrial structures of modernity also persisted. Indeed, one of the most substantial representational divides in artistic treatment of industrial sites is between the painterly and the photographic, the impressionistic and the precisionist, the romantic and the technological. Certainly, this is a spectrum, and representations of industrial sites rarely conform to either extreme. But near one end, we might think of examples such as Monet’s 1870s paintings of Gare Saint-Lazare with their swirling, luminous smoke—images that are all about the atmospheric conditions created by modern materials and the burning of coal. At the other, we might place the postwar photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher, which go to extremes to isolate the industrial structure and highlight its formal characteristics and taxonomic relationship to related structures.11 It is towards this end of the spectrum that we might also find the photographs and paintings of the earlier Precisionist artists of the 1920s and ‘30s who saw aesthetic merit in machined surfaces. Many representations commissioned by factory owners fall somewhere in between, striving for both accurate and visually appealing images of their properties.


    Claude Monet, “Le Pont de L’Europe, Gare-Saint Lazare,” 1877, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan-Monet.

    Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, “Pitheads,” 1974, collection of the Tate Museum. Source: Tate, “Who are Hilla and Bernd Becher?”, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/bernd-becher-and-hilla-becher-718/who-are-bechers.

    A selection of the Bechers’ photographs on display at the North Landscape Park in Duisburg, Germany.

    Cees Bolding, “Fabrieken Wessanen an de Zaan (Factories Wessanen along the Zaan,” 1931, oil on canvas, collection of the Zaans Schans Museum, Netherlands. This painting recalls contemporary Precisionist works by American artists such as Charles Sheeler, which strive to an almost photographic degree of clarity and detail.

    Ernst Hesmert, “Paperfabriek ‘De Eendracht’ van Van Gelder te Wormer (Paper factory ‘De Eendracht’ of Van Gelder of Wormer),” 1912, watercolor. Commissioned by the factory owner, this rendering of a Dutch paper factor aspires to both an accurate representation of the industrial landscape and an aesthetically-appealing presentation.


    This same divide in sensibility can be witnessed in the architectural reaction to the heritage of industry. Perhaps in architecture, though, we might better understand this split as being between haptic and optic approaches to design—one appealing to touch, atmosphere, and emotion, and the other to a highly refined visual mode of photographic precision and optical acuity. These modes of contemporary design are exemplified in two recently renovated concrete industrial structures—both former storage facilities that have today been converted into centers of the fashion industry, albeit with very different programs.

    Giorgio Armani’s 2015 renovation of a 1950 Nestlé granary in Milan, Italy is one such example of an atmospheric or haptic approach to representing industry through architecture. Constrained by an agreement with the city of Milan, the granary has been largely preserved, including its exterior appearance—the only external addition is a glassed-in entrance lobby.12 Located on the same street as Tadao Ando’s Teatro Armani, some internet sources incorrectly attribute Armani/Silos to that Japanese master of minimalist concrete.13 In actuality, press coverage and online documentation is strangely devoid of design attributions, most focusing on the outsized role played by Giorgio Armani himself rather than naming collaborating architects and engineers. Purposefully eschewing the term “museum,” Armani’s description of the exhibition space evokes a broad, perplexing range of architectural tropes invoking the industrial past of the building, including “a beehive, a metaphor for industriousness.”14 The name “Silos” was retained because the “building used to store food, which is, of course, essential for life” and for Armani, “just as much as food, clothes are also a part of life.”15




    As part of an agreement with the city, Armani had to retain the external appearance of the former Nestlé granary that was repurposed as exhibition space in 2015. The only major external architectural addition is the new glassed-in lobby. The tall central well recalls the granary’s original interior architecture.


    This somewhat archaic, mythological symbolism is reflected in the architectural reinterpretation of the granary’s interior, which The New York Times dubbed a “graceful, faintly monastic megalith.”16 Large horizontal spans open up views across the central well of the building. Under the low lights that protect the decades-worth of Armani designs on display, the finish of the interior’s ubiquitous concrete is almost velvety in its luster. As Monet could bring the same religiosity to the facade of the Reims Cathedral and the Gare Saint-Lazare, Armani/Silos highlights the drama of historic concrete industrial architecture by emphasizing materiality, light, and emotion. In some ways paralleling Thomas Heatherwick’s cathedralesque industrial core for the lobby of Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, a space carved from a 1920s grain silo and elevator building, Armani’s redesign romanticizes its granary structure with almost ecclesiastical verve. Walking alone through the galleries on a rainy weekday afternoon among battalions of Armani-clad mannequins in the half-light was almost an unsettling experience. A track of soft world music echoed throughout the space; the only thing besides my footsteps to break the eerie stillness of dim lights on suits and evening gowns.





    In the interior of the Armani/Silos, the music is soft and the lighting diffuse, but the drama is high. Velvety concrete is the setting of this unnerving yet compelling fashion mausoleum. Galleries on the ground floor are used for temporary exhibitions. Armani’s prolific career in fashion design is divided into thematic sections across four floors.


    On the other end of the spectrum is the Cité de la Mode et du Design (City of Fashion and Design, also known as Les Docks) in Paris, a conversion project by architects Dominique Jakob and Brendan Macfarlane. Their design transformed a former shipping warehouse on the Left Bank into a space for the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) and multiple event spaces (for “Club kids, students, families, athletes, professionals, art and design lovers”!).17 Jakob+Macfarlane’s most visible intervention on the exterior is an expansive, tubular neon-green “plug-over” that wraps the original reinforced concrete structure, creating new vertical circulation on the northern facade facing the Seine. On a sunny day, it creates partial shade while casting its occupants with a chartreuse, alien pallor. When I visited on a weekday afternoon, the barkeepers were just beginning their preparations for another night of revels. A few bands of fashion students lolled on the terraces while others toiled inside at their sewing machines.

    Above, the view of Les Docks from across the Seine.

    New vertical circulation created by virtue of the “plug-over” designed by architects Dominique Jakob and Brendan Macfarlane.

    The rooftop terrace with multiple venues and restaurants/bars.

    Additional event space can be found on the eastern side of the building at ground level.


    What struck me most about Jakob+Macfarlane’s reinvention of this structure was how aware it seems of its own photographic imageability. In this regard, the “plug-over” is a far cry from the original 1907 warehouse it wraps. Constructed following the designs of architect George Morin-Goustiaux, the Magasins Généraux were revolutionary for both their structure and their lack of ornament. One of the earliest reinforced concrete structures in Paris, the warehouses held goods being transported from river barges to the Gare d’Austerlitz.18 By the turn of the twentieth century, factories and their buildings were starting to become corporate symbols, accelerated by the advancement of architectural photography. Factories were beginning to find their way onto letterheads and advertising, and accordingly, at least some factory architecture was explicitly geared towards this idea of public relations.19 Morin-Goustiaux apparently rejected the concept of a model warehouse in favor of sheer economy and functionalism. This was not the kind of warehouse that was designed to be put on stationery.

    An image of the original 1907 Magasins Généraux designed by George Morin-Goustiaux under construction. Image source: “L’histoire des docks,” Les Docks: Cité de la Mode et du Design, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.citemodedesign.fr/fr/la-cite#architecture.


    On the surface, the aesthetic of Jakob+Macfarlane’s renovation seems to spring from a genealogy of High Tech architecture whose very technological precision falls in line with more recent innovations in architectural photography. As Claire Zimmerman has argued, during the postwar period the “highly industrialized cameras and highly industrialized architecture play against and reinforce each other in images... photography excelled at representing and intensifying an idea about technology for architecture, partly thanks to its own enhanced technical flexibilities.”20 Within the particular context of 1980s and 1990s Paris, François Mitterand’s Grands Projets were intended not only to project a new vision of France’s capital city to Parisians, but create a series of instantly-recognizable architectural images that could be photographed and disseminated to the rest of the world. With the recent passing of I.M. Pei, those images, particularly those of Pei’s indomitable Louvre pyramid, have been resurrected and recirculated in newsprint and pixels. Additionally, over the course of the past year, the monuments of Paris have formed a stage set for the political unrest of the gilets jaunes (yellow vest movement).

    Sited on the Left Bank not far from both the Bibliothèque Nationale (Dominique Perrault, 1989) and the Institut du Monde Arabe (Jean Nouvel et al, 1987), Les Docks might be reasonably construed as un grand projet for the new Paris—an example of photographic architecture engineered not for print but for social media. Indeed, Cité de la Mode et du Design was designed in 2005 and completed in 2009, just as social media was beginning to change how we capture and share photographic images.


    Maximal precision in engineering defines the dilating facade of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) by architects Jean Nouvel, Architecture Studio (Martin Robain, Rodo Tisnado, Jean-François Bonne, Jean-François Galmiche), Gilbert Lèzenes, and Pierre Soria. Described as “industrial and ornamental, more of a screen and less of a wall,” the famous facade maintains its photographic precision even in close-up.21


    But unlike, for example, Nouvel’s exquisitely engineered facade of the Arab World Institute, with its fractal apertures dilating and contracting like a thousand brilliant camera lenses, Les Docks loses its resolution up close. There are imperfections at seams and joints, the kind of acceptable structural roughness that goes unseen on the phone-sized squares of Instagram. It is an architecture of visual effect, a photographic stage set for photogenic people to have photographable interactions. For me, the most appealing public spaces of the building are those tucked further in, contained by the original concrete of the 1907 warehouse. The contrast there, of standing under the cool shade of rough concrete, and looking out across the Seine through the apple-green exoskeleton in bright sunlight, is Les Docks at its best.



    Up close, the seams at the joints start to show on the “plug-over” at Les Docks (above). The spatial sequences that I found more compelling were those under the original Magasins Généraux—the reinforced concrete warehouse structures dating to 1907.


    Post-Photographic Architecture and Technological Abstraction

    Perched at the aft of a dry-dock in Helsingør, Denmark, I climbed a short ventilation structure to try to get a better shot. Even here, with a wide-angle lens and my camera held precariously overhead, the images I was getting were awkward, foreshortened, illegible. The object of my frustration was the M/S Maritime Museum, a building that flagrantly defies expectations of what a museum should look like by having no discernible facade. Another dramatic BIG project (are you sensing a motif of my time in Denmark?), the 2013 Maritime Museum contrasts with Copenhill’s aggressive visibility by being nearly invisible from ground level. With an eye to preserving views of Helsingør Castle, the museum is located entirely below ground; in and adjacent to a former dry dock.22 As a result, the M/S Maritime Museum is essentially viewable only in plan, and a distorted plan at that, as one peers down into the void of the dock from the surface. Indeed, the ideal view of this building is undoubtedly an aerial one, taken straight down, perpendicular to the earth’s surface.



    Attempts at photographing the M/S Maritime Museum In Helsingør, Denmark (Bjarke Ingels Group, 2013) tend to end in sloping ramps and mounting frustration.


    And, as I discovered, after descending the entry ramp into the museum exhibition behind the concrete dock walls, even once inside the museum, the building seemingly defies photographic representation. In trying to capture the spatial sequence below ground, one is fated to create perplexingly abstract angular images of sloping subterranean ramps and passages. It is a building that simultaneously defies representation and redefines it. Only in a digital rendering, where concrete can be made transparent, and the visitor can peer through the labyrinth of hidden corridors as though through an X-ray image, does the Maritime Museum make sense as a structure that can be visualized.



    Tangles of acute angles in the ramped interiors of the M/S Maritime Museum. As a visitor, the experience of inhabiting the space makes it difficult to visualize the museum in its entirety.


    In some ways, then, the M/S Maritime Museum is a result of advanced computer drafting and the imaging techniques of satellite or drone photography. But simultaneously, it might also be said to be part of a longer genealogy of historical dock architecture. Upon seeing the remains of the world’s first commercial wet dock in Liverpool, an archaeological site preserved rather fittingly under a contemporary mall parking garage, I was taken back instantly to the experience of the museum at Helsingør. The intensive engineering of this architecture was necessarily unseen once the lock was filled and the dock became operational in 1716. Art historical representations of docks (such as the two seen below) support this perception; it is the peopled, active dock that is interesting to us, rather than the hidden brickwork below. If Jan Svenungsson’s chimneys stand as invisible monuments, BIG’s Maritime Museum highlights the historic invisibility of subterranean naval architecture by transforming it into an object of contemporary architectural curiosity.

    The Liverpool Old Dock, a unique archaeological ruin that can be accessed via a free tour through the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The 1716 dock is now mostly buried and inaccessible, minus a single corner that has been excavated underneath a parking garage. The dock architecture here shows the marks of ship damage sustained over many years, and the remains of underground tunnels and architecture.

    Camille Pissarro, “Déchargement de bois, quai de la Bourse, coucher de soleil,” 1898, oil on canvas.

    Herman Heijenbrock, “Fabrieken an de Zaan (Factories on the Zaan),” undated.


    The exhibition itself seems to operate on the metaphor of condensing a voyage out to sea into a sprawling maze of ramps and linear exhibition halls. The experience of being a visitor exploring this artfully, perhaps obsessively, curated exhibition space is definitively cinematic—it’s a unidirectional movement through images, sound, and experience. The museum’s clear fascination with pop-cultural representations of maritime life only intensifies this sensation.



    A taste of the cinematic scenography of the M/S Maritime Museum’s permanent exhibition. Myth and fact, narrative and meta-narrative seemingly blend together as pop culture representations of naval life appear alongside archival materials and documentary evidence.


    The historic dry dock becomes the basis for this cinema; its external architectural particulars are less important than the orchestrated experience within. The set of photographs produced by my efforts inside and outside the museum reminded me recently of a piece from the Tate Liverpool’s Constellations: Hedda Sterne’s “NY, NY No. X” of 1948. Sterne’s painting takes on a familiar theme of modern art: anxiety over the nature and structure of urban life. But in her postwar abstraction, these neuroses are given new form as a disorienting morass of elevated train line structures, defined by their simultaneous and overlapping angular forms. Diverging from earlier artistic traditions that celebrated the rationality and logic of the machine age, Sterne’s painting derives its unnerving dynamic from the insinuation that modern infrastructure might also be irrational—unseeable, un-drawable, unknowable. It was perhaps this same fear of the unseen, or more precisely, the fear I was seeing only a select and tightly controlled version of the Maritime Museum’s underground maze, that left me feeling a little empty and disoriented at the conclusion of my visit.

    Hedda Sterne, “NY, NY, No. X,” 1948, oil on canvas, Tate Liverpool.


    At the Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode (the Museum of Lace and Fashion, or Cité Dentelle Mode for short) in Calais, France, the play of seen/unseen and known/unknown is also at the heart of the building’s architectural conceit. But while the Maritime Museum’s architecture is a cinematic abstraction of a sea voyage condensed into an unseeable building, the Cité Dentelle Mode is more interested in the abstraction of technology itself as a representational form. Given the design brief to create a lace museum out of a former lace factory, it would have been easy to tack some predictable lacy pattern to the skin of the exterior. Instead, architects Henri Rivière et Alain Moatti identified the revolutionary weaving technology behind industrially manufactured lace as the raison d’être of their 2006-9 renovation and expansion of the historic Boulart lace factory.

    The exterior L-shaped courtyard of Moatti and Rivière’s 2006-9 addition to the Boulart factory is part of a larger project to convert this former collective factory into a cultural center and museum. Operational from the 1870s until 2000, this collective factory worked on the principle of renting out space to smaller lace manufacturers, who paid to use the power that came from a large, central steam engine (the factory did eventually convert to electricity). The original U-shaped plan featured exterior staircases that let workers go to their respective workshops without disrupting other companies’ work — you can see some of these unique stairwells through the window photographs below.23


    Up until the early nineteenth century, woven patterns had to be created by artisanal weavers, who manually managed the shifting of warp threads on a loom back and forth to create the desired effect. This changed with the invention of the Jacquard loom in 1804 by Joseph Marie Jacquard. This revolutionary loom uses a series of punch cards to organize information about how the warp threads of the loom should be organized, in order to produce a specific woven pattern. These punch cards work on the understanding that an artistic design can be converted, in contemporary parlance, into 0s and 1s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Jacquard loom’s cards are the direct predecessor of early computer punch cards, which worked on precisely the same principle.24 Notably, in weaving, as in computer programming, the punch cards are highly abstracted information—they aren’t legible until they’ve been read by the machine. In other words, the pattern of holes on a loom punchcard doesn’t necessarily resemble the final woven pattern. Yet, the creation of punchcards is a necessary a byproduct of Jacquard weaving, and they constitute material artifacts that are aesthetically and technologically compelling in their own right. While these punchcards started out relatively simple, the ones created for manufacturing lace on modern looms often manage hundreds of warp threads, and are correspondingly complex.




    Above, a manual, hand-powered Jacquard loom in the workshop of K.A. Almgren Silk Weaving in Stockholm, Sweden. Today, a single artisanal weaver still completes bespoke orders, often for the Swedish royal palaces. Compare this loom’s size and complexity to the modern lace-making Jacquard loom at Cité Dentelle Mode in the two center photos, which was so large that I had to take two photos to get the idea across. On this massive machine, the punchcards are actually quite physically far away from the warp threads they control. Below, some of the many punchcards on display at Cité Dentelle Mode.


    So rather than celebrating the end product of this weaving process, that is, the lace itself, Moatti and Rivière elevated the Jacquard punchcard as the primary architectural motif. The facade of the addition, a structure that houses the lobby and gift shop, along with some exhibition space, features an undulating skin whose perforations recall punchcard holes. If the association wasn’t obvious enough, the drinking fountain in the front courtyard is wrapped by a metalwork representation of lace, and a punchcard.


    Architects Moatti and Rivière celebrate the simultaneous technological abstraction and materiality of the Jacquard punchcard in the dramatic facade of the new addition to the Boulart factory. In case the skin of the exhibition space is not explicit enough, a metal punchcard wraps this water fountain in the front courtyard.


    The association continues on the interior, where the lobby is sheathed in a shimmering chainmail-like covering. Look close and the resemblance to the punchcards again becomes apparent. The scenography of the interior, designed by the Pascal Payeur workshop, continues the visual play of partial visibility and punctured surfaces. The portion of the museum set in the reused nineteenth-century Boulart factory keeps the original architecture largely intact, while adding visual effects, such as multi-colored windows that again make homage to the Jacquard punchcards. Actual lace motifs appear as well, for while the punchcards and the finished product are not mimetic reflections of one another, they share a congruent aesthetic of semi-opacity and perforation.



    Semi-opacity and clever surface treatments can be found throughout the interior, referencing both the materiality of Jacquard loom punchcards and the finished lace produced with those looms.


    For a museum that features entire displays devoted to the historical evolution of lacy undergarments, this architectural game of hide-and-reveal using the trope of the Jacquard punchcard seemed even more fitting. Even the presentation of the historical and technical information is an intellectual fan dance of building curiosity and provoking questions, only to answer them in the next sequence of exhibits. While the M/S Maritime Museum can at times feel like a Disneyland ride transformed into a museum, its dry dock setting merely peripheral, Cité Dentelle Mode succeeds through the resonance of the architecture and the museum’s storytelling, which elicit a desire to explore and engage with the material presented.


    Images from the Cité Dentelle Mode’s permanent exhibition. A comprehensive historical treatment of the French lace industry leads into an informative sequence that explains how contemporary machine-made lace is produced.


    Conclusion: Architecture as Representation

    A few months back, I had the opportunity to see exhibits of René Magritte at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan and Vincent Van Gogh at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris. These two shows were unique from most other art exhibitions I’ve attended in that neither of them featured any actual paintings by their spotlighted artists. In Milan, where I first encountered this new style of projection show, I was skeptical, and honestly a little miffed that I had just shelled out 14 Euros to see a Magritte show with no Magrittes. At both venues, the interior of a former factory had been repurposed as projection space for these digitally immersive art shows. Set to music, high-quality scans of artwork are projected onto the walls, floors, and other architectural features, animated such that they are no longer static paintings but instead moving, dynamic images. Although the architectural transformation required for this new use is necessarily quite extensive, reminders of the factories’ previous uses remain. At the Atelier des Lumières, for instance, remnants of the site’s previous use as a tool factory, such as balconies overhanging the basement and a large cylindrical tank, have been repurposed as sites for custom-made projection. The “exhibitions” hosted here and at the Fabbrica del Vapore are intended to be an entirely immersive, site-specific art experiences. I swallowed my initial hesitations—what would Walter Benjamin have to say about all this?—and tried to keep an open mind.



    An “Emotion Exhibition” at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan, Italy. The factory on this site was originally used for constructing transport equipment, particularly for Milan’s expansive tram network. Following an economic decline, damage in WWI, and a crisis under the fascist regime, the building was reconfigured for warehouse storage, trucking, printing, pharmaceutical production, and textile manufacture. Today it has been reborn once again as an arts and culture center.25


    At both shows, my knee-jerk reaction softened, at least a bit, when I saw children enthralled and running vigorously back and form to catch waves of image and color moving across the walls. People of all ages hung over the balconies, and leaned against the factory walls. While I still have some reservations about these entertainment-based, purely spectacular shows as a way of experiencing art, I’ve come around to seeing them at least as a valid instance of industrial adaptive reuse. Are industrial heritage sites not already the loci of our own culturally-informed projections and reinterpretations?26 What Jan Svenungsson has found to be true of chimneys, one might argue, is also true for the disused industrial complex writ large. After all, the survival and continued relevance of most industrial structures depends on how the stories, whether visual, architectural, or narrative, that we create out of them connect to the contemporary public. Relying on familiar tropes or specific representational types might seem borderline gimmicky, but it’s also a way of finding that first “in,” that critical moment of connection between a visitor and a historic building. So when the song “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” came on as a parade of late Van Goghs danced across the walls, it seemed not only a plea on behalf of the artist, but from the structure itself.



    More immersive art at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris, formerly La Fonderie du Chemin Vert. This building, constructed in 1835, was used as a foundry until 1933, when it closed due to financial hardship. It was purchased two years later and reopened as a tool manufactory, which remained in business until 2000.27


    1. Royal Albert Dock Liverpool, “History,” accessed May 28, 2019, https://albertdock.com/history. ↩︎
    2. Letter from Franklin P. Wood to Roland Wank, October 23, 1939. General Correspondence, 1935-1953, Tennessee Valley Authority, Record Group 221, Records of the Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Archives Identifier 653877, HMS ID A1 1A. ↩︎
    3. “The Industrial Landscape,” tourist brochure for Norrköping, Sweden, scanned March 2019. ↩︎
    4. Jan Svenungsson, "The invisible identity of the chimney", in: De Chirico, Max Ernst, Magritte, Balthus – A Look Into the Invisible, Mandragora 2010, accessed May 19, 2019, http://www.jansvenungsson.com/by/strozzi_2010.html. ↩︎
    5. Tobias Berger, "1+n Chimney Stacks 9+n Meters High (n=n+l)", in: Skulpturbiennale Münsterland 2001, accessed May 19, 2019, http://www.jansvenungsson.com/on/tberge.html. ↩︎
    6. Jan Svenungsson, "Building Chimneys", in: Norden, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna 2000, accessed May 19, 2019, http://www.jansvenungsson.com/by/wiene.html ↩︎
    7. Akshat Rathi, “You can now ski on top of a $670 million power plant in Copenhagen,” Quartz, February 27, 2019, https://qz.com/1560143/copenhagens-state-of-the-art-power-plant-doubles-as-a-ski-slope/. ↩︎
    8. Ibid. ↩︎
    9. Susanne Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work , trans. Jeremy Gaines (Cambridge, Mass.; London: The MIT Press, 2005), 22-23. ↩︎
    10. Walter Gropius, “The Development of Industrial Design,” 1913. ↩︎
    11. See Lange, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Life and Work for more. ↩︎
    12. Matthew Schneier, “Armani’s Four-Story Wardrobe,” The New York Times, August 10, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/13/fashion/armani-silos-museum-four-story-wardrobe.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share. ↩︎
    13. For an example of this misattribution, see Luca Onniboni, “Armani Silos in Milano,” ArchiObjects.org, October 24, 2016, https://archiobjects.org/armani-silos-milan-the-architecture-designed-by-giorgio-armani/. ↩︎
    14. Armani/Silos, “About the Exhibition Space,” accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.armanisilos.com/about/. ↩︎
    15. Ibid. ↩︎
    16. Schneier, “Armani’s Four-Story Wardrobe.” ↩︎
    17. “A Multifaceted Venue,” Les Docks: Cité de la Mode et du Design, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.citemodedesign.fr/en/the-cite#event. ↩︎
    18. “The History of the Docks,” Les Docks: Cité de la Mode et du Design, accessed May 20, 2019,https://www.citemodedesign.fr/en/the-cite#architecture. ↩︎
    19. Lange, 21. ↩︎
    20. Claire Zimmerman, Photographic Architecture in the Twentieth Century (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 228. ↩︎
    21. “Architecture,” Institute du Monde Arabe, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.imarabe.org/en/architecture. ↩︎
    22. “The Architecture,” M/S Maritime Museum, accessed May 29, 2019, https://mfs.dk/en/the-museum/the-architecture/ ↩︎
    23. “The Boulart Factory,” Cité Dentelle Mode Calais, accessed May 29, 2019, https://www.cite-dentelle.fr/en/home/the-museum/history/the-boulart-factory++. ↩︎
    24. The podcast 99 Percent Invisible’s 2018 mini-series on clothing entitled “Articles of Interest” begins with a brief discussion of this relationship and is a good introduction to the topic. ↩︎
    25. Fabbrica del Vapore, “La Storia,” accessed May 29, 2019, http://www.fabbricadelvapore.org/wps/portal/luogo/fabbricavapore/spazio/lastoria. ↩︎
    26. I wrote about this several months back in my blog about the “Unspeaking Factory.” ↩︎
    27. “Histoire de l’Atelier des Lumières,” on-site signage, photographed March 5, 2019. ↩︎
  • The UNESCO Industrial Complex: Multi-Use Heritage in Germany and Belgium

    by User Not Found | May 07, 2019
    Rovang Blog 9

    Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    For all of their intrinsic claustrophobia, underground mine tours have been a reliable way to meet new people as the Brooks Travelling Fellow. A few months back, upon emerging from the mercury mine of Idrija in Slovenia and shedding my tour-mandated jacket and hard hat, I struck up a conversation with a young British-American couple. I’m always interested to hear why other visitors have made the journey to the industrial heritage sites I’ve been exploring, particularly younger people, who typically don’t have the same immediate connection to the sites that their parents’ or grandparents’ generations might. “Oh, we plan all our trips around UNESCO sites. We’re big UNESCO fans,” they told me. They had recently visited the saltworks at Arc-et-Senans (“You must go!”) and were already thinking ahead to their next UNESCO-centric trip.

    Spending time in tight quarters underground, such as at the UNESCO-inscribed mercury mine in Idrija, Slovenia, is an effective way to make new friends.

    Although I’ve been to several dozen industrial UNESCO sites at this point in my Brooks Fellowship, I’ve rarely encountered other visitors who have explicitly chosen their itinerary based on this criterion. Status as a World Heritage Site is something that I’d wager most visitors understand is prestigious and ostensibly important, but hardly the raison d’être for a vacation. That certainly described my own level of understanding, even for many years as a fledging architectural historian. After all, I strolled around the University of Virginia for four years as an undergraduate with only a dim awareness that those Jeffersonian grounds were listed as a UNESCO site, and almost no comprehension of what that meant.

    A 2009 shot of Thomas Jefferson’s famed rotunda from my undergraduate days at the University of Virginia, which I only later learned is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    When I started planning my fellowship itinerary, I seized on UNESCO sites as a way of selecting non-European countries to add to my list of destinations. With little prior knowledge of how industrialization proceeded in areas outside of Europe and the U.S. (or what the tangible cultural heritage associated with those sites might be like), the UNESCO website became a springboard for sourcing industrial sites and regions around the world. The recent inscription of Japan’s 23 sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution played a large role in my initial planning, as did the presence of Sewell Mining Town and the nitrate mines at Humberstone and Santa Laura in Chile. But I chose those sites without really understanding the system through which they had gained a UNESCO inscription, or the global politicking and conflicting ideologies of heritage preservation underlying the vetting process.

    As I built my global itinerary, the UNESCO list represented a collection of sites already evaluated and approved by preservation professionals and historians following rigorous criteria of integrity and authenticity. But actually traveling to these sites, of seeing them for myself, in all of their often bewildering diversity, has made me realize the extent to which the very idea of a “globally important cultural asset” is not an inherent fact, but itself a human and imperfect construction coming out of evolving ideas of what constitutes global heritage. Understandably, expert consensus about which sites are most deserving of preservation and interpretation have developed substantially from UNESCO’s origins in the rubble and rebuilding following World War II. But the more I encountered that ubiquitous logo of the square monument enshrined in its harmonious, unifying circle, the weirder it seemed to me. There’s nothing neutral about declaring a landscape to be “globally important”—in fact that’s perhaps the most political statement a cultural organization can make. And the declaration isn’t just a polemical statement; the inscription of a UNESCO site can have real impact on how that site is administered and maintained by the nominating country, how it is impacted by tourism, and its potential for receiving international grants or financial aid.

    The caption of the typical UNESCO plaque at Crespi d’Adda near Milan, Italy, reads: “Crespi d’Adda has been inscribed upon the World Heritage List of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Inscription on this list confirms the exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural site which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.”

    Although the establishment of UNESCO was largely a reaction to the loss of tangible cultural properties in the devastation World War II, the World Heritage Convention is not a static piece of legislation, and its criteria for selection have evolved over time in response to calls for greater inclusiveness and diversity within the inscription list. Although UNESCO’s original vision of heritage conceived of historic sites as particular to certain groups and cultures, the 1972 World Heritage Convention articulated a new formulation; “a cultural internationalist view—one advocating global ownership of heritage.”1 In 1994, the Global Strategy for a Representative, Balanced and Credible World Heritage identified categories both over-represented and under-represented on the list, and shifted UNESCO’s approach in order to counterbalance the disproportionate inclusion of European vernacular and Christian religious architecture on the list.2

    Using UNESCO listings as the basis for an industrial heritage itinerary would have barely been feasible even fifteen or twenty years ago. It was not until 1999 that a meeting of ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) specifically identified twentieth-century industrial heritage as an underrepresented category among existing UNESCO sites. Accordingly, in 2001, UNESCO commissioned a report (compiled and written by intern Michael Falser) entitled “Is Industrial Heritage under-represented on the World List?” Falser found that yes, industrial sites were broadly under-represented, accounting for only 4% of all World Heritage sites.3 Of the 28 industrial sites inscribed as of 2001, most were located in Europe or the United States, and the majority of those linked to “extractive industries” (i.e. mining).4

    Over the last eighteen years, the inclusion of industrial heritage sites on the UNESCO list has accelerated rapidly. However, as with other attempts in the 1990s and early 2000s to diversify the list, it is still true that “wealthy states in the Global North were quicker to make use of these new categories than those in the Global South, due in part to the huge costs involved in preparing the World Heritage List nomination files.”5 From my own experience, I’ve noted that across World Heritage sites, tourism infrastructure, interpretation, and site maintenance vary dramatically. Comparing the economic resources and curatorial approaches I’ve seen this year in the World Heritage sites of Western Europe to those I encountered in other parts of the world in 2018 has driven home the extent to which preservation and interpretation are still contingent on local resources and practices, no matter how equalizing or democratizing the idea of “global heritage” might sound in theory. Even within the same country and even within the niche category of “industrial heritage” places, UNESCO sites can take broad range of forms.

    As physical sites have become more diverse in terms of content and (gradually) geographic distribution, what constitutes “heritage” has also grown increasingly nuanced and heterogenous. The category introduced in the 1990s of “intangible cultural heritage” has proven an effective antidote to conventional, narrow Eurocentric interpretations of what constitutes material heritage (i.e. monumental architecture and culturally distinct vernacular building traditions).6 Among physical sites, nominating approaches have also proliferated, now including co-listings, international joint listings, and the broader consideration of heritage “landscapes” rather than isolated, independent structures. As cultural values change, so do heritage priorities. UNESCO’s newly expanded range of industrial sites indexes several significant contemporary concerns, such as the continuing climatological effects of industry on our planet and new respect for working class people and culture—concerns exaggerated by the aestheticization and dissemination of industrial ruins on social media.

    With that in mind, and understanding that the induction of industrial sites as “world heritage” is a relatively recent phenomena, this month I want to examine how UNESCO sites can function on the local level as both hubs of heritage tourism and venues for other programs and functions through three case studies: the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, the Fagus Factory in Alfeld, and the Major Mining Sites of Wallonia in Belgium. These sites not only exist within relatively close geographic proximity, but each can be considered living heritage—multifunction sites that serve not only as museums or historical interpretation of the industrial past but as office, dining, retail, art, event, and educational space. As our ideas about what constitutes “heritage” evolve, these sites present models for how sites might adapt to meet the challenges of changing economies and visitor expectations, balancing flexible multi-use functionality and strong interpretive programs.

    Zollverein: UNESCO Site as Regional Heritage Hub

    Inscribed in 2001, the Zollverein coal-mining and coking complex in Essen, Germany is one of the earlier UNESCO industrial sites added to the list around the same time that the report “Is Industrial Heritage under-represented on the World Heritage List?” was published. For sheer quantity of historical structures on a single site, Zollverein compares only to one other site I’ve visited: Humberstone nitrate mine in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. But unlike Humberstone, which is a sprawling urban aggregation of imported styles, building materials, and changing industrial technologies, Zollverein is a veritable Gesamtkunstwerk. Born of Bauhaus-inspired modernism at that unsettling historical moment in Germany when Weimar idealism was beginning to buckle under the strain of a sluggish economy and the potent tug of nationalism, Zollverein is a universe ordered by architecture on a completely different scale than Humberstone.

    Looking out over Zollverein from the panoramic viewing platform atop the coal washery, it becomes clear how dramatically the landscape of the Ruhrpott was altered under industrialization. All of the hills that can be seen across the horizon are artificially-created, the result of decades of mounding up coal slag.

    My first day at Zollverein was spent touring the innards of the coal washery, a towering, labyrinthine structure which has been repurposed into an interpretive center and museum. After a full day of climbing through old coal conduits and exploring the Ruhr Museum, I felt like I had just barely scratched the surface of what the site had to offer. When I returned a few days later, I stashed my things in a museum locker, put on my running shoes, and ran around the perimeter of the Zollverein, an approximately three mile loop that passes the complex around the coal washery, Shaft XII, Shafts 1/2/8, and the coking plant.

    The interior of the coal washery, where I spent my first day at Zollverein. The tour of the interior features a series of projected, abstract animations that effectively demonstrate how machinery would have functioned during the washery’s operational years.




    Photographs taken during my circumnavigation of the expansive Zollverein site. Many buildings near the old coal shafts and the behemoth coking plant have been adaptively reused as office and educational space, in addition to some dining and retail developments.

    The scope of architectural unity at Zollverein is confounding, presaging the immense ambitions of wartime industrial architecture on both sides of the Atlantic. Designed by Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer and constructed between 1928 and 1932, Zollverein’s architectural language comprises a rhythmic functionalism of dark brick and red steel trusses. The historicizing symbolism that I’ve observed at many nineteenth-century industrial sites (such as the UNESCO company town of Crespi d’Adda) at Zollverein gives way to a new vision of rationalized twentieth-century industry: one anchored in an all-consuming capitalist efficiency rather than worker virtue and clean living. Yet, even as historicist utopianism gave way to pragmatism, the symbolic function is retained. Indeed, in the already heavily industrialized Ruhr Valley, Zollverein attained the status of icon and showpiece—the Doppelbock winding tower near Shaft XII reaching the level of regional industrial monument.


    Above, the view of an elevated walkway on the return trip to Shaft XII reveals the architectural unity of Schupp and Kremmer’s design. Below, the Doppelbock winding tower, which today is still an icon of Ruhr Valley Industry; instantly recognizable on any number of souvenir t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags.

    Coal mining at Zollverein persisted into the mid-1980s and the coking plant remained operational into the early 1990s. Recently, a cadre of prestigious international architecture firms have intervened in the industrial site, transforming Zollverein from intimidating 1930s relic into a visually and haptically appealing multifunctional heritage space. At the excellent Ruhr Museum in the former coal washery, Rem Koolhaas’s contributions include the bright orange escalator at the entrance—the “longest and highest open-air moving staircase in Germany”—and a smoldering neon stairwell.7 Norman Foster + Partners designed the interior of the Red Dot Design Museum in the former powerhouse, a jarring but seductive juxtaposition of industrial rust and contemporary design. On the southern edge of the site, the SANAA-designed Folkwang University of the Arts (2010) presents a point of architectural contrast, a punctured white cube amidst a field of dark brick and (when I visited) the pale green leaves of early spring.


    Rem Koolhaas of OMA executed the 2002 master plan of the Zollverein mine complex. The architect’s most visible and iconic contributions to the architectural appearance of the Ruhr Museum in the old coal washery are the exterior escalator and the interior stairwell, both in blistering shades of orange.


    Foster + Partners reimagined the Zollverein powerhouse as the Red Dot Design Museum in 1997, before the overall site was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The reuse project capitalizes on the atmosphere and patina of the space, offsetting the rust of the former energy house with the sleek, new contemporary designs of the rotating Red Dot Design Awards collection.

    SANAA’S design for the Folkwang University of the Arts, opened 2010 on the Zollverein UNESCO site.

    In its curation and administration, Zollverein has fully embraced its role as the one of the most historically significant and best-preserved industrial heritage sites in the Ruhr Valley, leveraging its UNESCO inscription as further justification for its centrality within this landscape. It has become the hub of industrial heritage tourism in the so-called Ruhrpott, a landmark seemingly embraced by both locals and tourists. Indeed, the only art in the AirBnB where I stayed in Essen was a massive nighttime photograph printed on canvas showing Zollverein’s iconic Doppelbock headgear, and the only non-IKEA kitchen items were the “I ❤️ Ruhrpott” mugs featuring a stylized Zollverein skyline.

    In order to serve this role as hub more explicitly, the Ruhr Museum at Zollverein is a carefully curated repository of Ruhr history and culture, spanning all the way from the earliest fossil evidence to the post-industrial present. Additionally, the top floor of the Zollverein coal washery has been transformed into an Industrial Heritage Portal, where each of the other industrial “anchor points” in the Ruhr Valley can be explored digitally. Maps on the wall show other sites on the European Route of Industrial Heritage, along with historic worker housing sites and panoramic viewpoints in the Ruhr Valley. I actually used the Industrial Heritage Portal as intended: the Ruhr Valley is such an embarrassment of riches for an industrial heritage tourist that I was having trouble deciding which other sites to visit during my stay. Thanks to the information that the portal provided, I decided to visit the Gasometer and the North Landscape Park, along with the Zollern II/VI Colliery. These three other anchor points testify to the variety of redevelopment tactics and adaptive reuse strategies at play in the Ruhr Valley, a post-apocalyptic landscape that is gradually being re-forested and transformed to suit the demands of a post-industrial economy.


    The Industrial Heritage Portal at the Zollverein UNESCO site. Models of each of the region’s thirteen industrial heritage “anchor points” hang in the stairwell leading up to the portal (above), which also houses a daylight gallery for contemporary art from the Ruhr Valley (below).



    The Gasometer in Oberhausen is a 117.5 m tall 1920s German coking plant gas tank with 347,000 cubic meters of interior space. Today, it serves as a venue for educational exhibits and experimental art shows that try to maximize the Gasometer’s central space. When I visited, an exhibition entitled “Call of the Mountains” featured a dizzyingly immense scale model of the Matterhorn suspended upside-down from the ceiling.


    North Landscape Park in Duisburg is located on the site of the former Thyssen ironworks, which has been converted into a recreation space, complete with modernized stairwells and access routes that allow visitors to climb to the top of the towering blast furnace for an impressive view of the Ruhr valley.


    An earlier example of a showpiece colliery in the Ruhr region, Zollern is best known for its engine house, which features an elaborate Jugendstil entrance. The structure is used for a variety of concerts and other events.

    Zollverein is one of the few industrial UNESCO sites I’ve visited that has capitalized fully on that status to promote tourism to the rest of the industrial landscape that it is a part of. Today, each of the thirteen “anchor points” of industrial heritage in the Ruhr Valley can be accessed via a 400 km bike loop (perhaps a goal for a future, fitter Brooks Fellow). Even though it is entirely possible to spend a full day in the coal washery’s interpretive center alone—as evidenced by my own experience—Zollverein functions as so much more than just a repository of industrial memory. The Red Dot Design Museum is the world’s largest museum repository of contemporary design items. Shops and artist studios line the industrial arcade of the Shaft XII complex. Out near the cokery, industrial buildings have been repurposed into offices and at the Shaft 1/2/8 complex, more office space and dining options have been added. In the summer, a swimming pool transforms the old coking plant into a playground, reimagining this former space of work as a space of recreation. The grounds of the colliery are open overnight and artistic night-lighting reinvents the appearance of the solid, Bauhaus masses, transforming them into glowing, apparently ephemeral structures.

    Power in Numbers: The Mines of Wallonia

    In the initial optimistic folly of my fellowship itinerary planning, I had decided that I would visit all four of the UNESCO-inscribed mines of Wallonia in southern Belgium. But, after some Belgian friends advised me that renting a car would be prohibitively expensive, Belgian drivers are terrifying, and public transit can be patchy in the truly suburban parts of the country, I scaled back my lofty goals and visited just two of the mines: the Bois du Cazier and the Grand Hornu. My selection was inspired in part by convenience (both are within two hours of Brussels) but mostly the unique ways in which their original structures are currently being reused to meet the needs of their communities.

    After the United Kingdom, Belgium was the second-most industrialized nation in the world for much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A visit the Industry Museum in Ghent reveals the intense atmosphere of competition that accelerated technological exchange, smuggling, and sabotage between the textile industries of Belgium and that of the UK. It was the coal-rich Walloon region to the south that supplied much of the energy powering the textile manufacture in Ghent and other industrial cities. As in the Ruhr Valley, Walloon industry fundamentally transformed both the economy as well as the very topography of the land, punctuating a largely flat, wooded area with the mounds created by coal slag. Now several decades removed from the end of coal mining activities in the region, those slag heaps are mostly covered with undergrowth and new trees.


    The interior and exterior of the Industry Museum (MIAT) in Ghent, Belgium, a former cotton mill now converted into a museum about Belgian textile manufacturing. The mills of Belgium required vast amounts of power, much of which was provided by burning the coal sourced from the mines of Wallonia.

    These humanmade hills are certainly a major attraction at the Bois du Cazier (operational 1822–1967), where bike and hiking paths lace the slag heaps directly adjacent to the mine. As I approached the site around noon, a dozen or so bikers were departing the heaps (also called terrils), and heading for a post-ride beer at the Bois du Cazier’s bar—a brilliant stroke of marketing on the part of the interpretive center. Compared to slag heaps, the historic site itself was significantly less busy; I was one of the few visitors out using the audio guide to explore the mining landscape. Perhaps best remembered as the site of a catastrophic mining accident in 1956 that claimed 262 lives, including many Italian immigrant workers, Bois du Cazier still serves an important memorial function for the surrounding community. Integrated within the heritage landscape are historical and contemporary memorials, both figurative and abstract, to the miners lost over sixty years ago. But although the site’s roles as both interpretive center for the former coal mine and memorial site are both prominent, these were by no means the only functions of the constituent structures, nor even their most important use. As the audio guide (which I discussed in last month’s audio blog post) led me around the site, I explored nearly a dozen structures that have been reused to serve a variety of purposes. In addition to the Industry Museum located in the former locker and shower rooms, the Bois du Cazier’s energy house has been reinvented as an event space, and the former forge area has become a working space for glass artists, abutting the new Glass Museum. This multivalent functionality as memorial, museum, and creative space is reflected in the recent addition of contemporary public sculptures that address the site’s coal mining history as well as its revitalized present. Recently-added signage has also expanded the focus of the site’s interpretation from the specificities of Bois du Cazier and the 1956 mine disaster to the issues of migrant labor more globally and across time.

    The view of Bois du Cazier mining complex from halfway up the nearby slag heap. The heaps (or terrils) have been re-forested in recent years and are now used for recreational hiking and biking.


    Above, this nondescript staircase at the Bois du Cazier became a theater for much of the action and many of the canonical photographs taken during the infamous mining accident of 1956. Today, the stairs are cordoned off, but have largely been left as they stood during the crisis. Between architectural remnants and more formal memorials, such as the one seen below, where the names of the victims are read aloud as part of a site-specific sound installation, much of the landscape of this UNESCO site is devoted to memorializing this epoch-making mine disaster. Indeed, the closure of the mine in the early 1960s can be attributed not only to declining profits from coal mining, but to the lingering stigma of the site following the tragedy.


    The Industry Museum (above) is installed in the liminal space where miners would have changed into and out of work clothes, picked up their head lamps, and showered after a long day in the mines. Some material culture from that period, such as the ceiling racks for hanging jumpsuits and equipment seen here, has been preserved as part of the display. Below, the former energy house has now been reused as event space, with much of the interior equipment cleared away to make room for large gatherings.


    This niche at the Glass Museum (above) overlooks the main shafts and headgear of the Bois du Cazier. Below, a recent sculptural addition near the main interpretive space concerning the 1956 mine disaster confronts both the past and present of the UNESCO-listed mine.

    The Grand Hornu has been even more extensively redeveloped for arts and cultural use. Saved from a bleak future as a parking lot in the 1960s by the activist and architect Henri Guchez, the Grand Hornu’s neoclassical Utopianism draws directly from the architecture parlante of Claude Nicolas Ledoux at the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans. Built between 1810 and 1830 by early industrialist Henri De Gorge as a model coal mining operation and company town, the Grand Hornu today has been converted into art exhibition space, including both the Centre d’Innovation et de Design au Grand Hornu (CID) and the Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (MAC’s). Elsewhere on the site, the former machine workshop, a cathedral-like ruin that once provided the necessary horizontal and vertical spans for working on large-scale machinery, is used as an occasional community theater venue. Other spaces in the ovoid court have been converted to offices for local businesses. As at Zollverein, I was surprised by the extent of overtly contemporary architectural interventions; with the contemporary addition of the MAC’s gallery (which opened in 2002, ten years prior to the site’s UNESCO inscription in 2012) forming a marked contrast in mass, material, and style to the rest of the historic site.

    Part of the central oval courtyard of Grand Hornu; the former administration building shown at the center here has been taken over by Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (MAC’s).



    Above, the exterior of one of the two venues within the Grand Hornu now currently used by the Centre d’Innovation et de Design au Grand Hornu (CID). The design of the door is meant to evoke (both visually and tactilely) a coal seam, such as those historically mined at the site. In the center, an exhibition of award-winning present-day glass art produced through a collaboration with CID. Below, a show in CID’s other main venue at the Grand Hornu, which shares space with the main interpretive center and administrative offices for the historic site.



    The above three images show the range of contemporary architectural intervention that has been made at the Grand Hornu site. Above, the combination of new construction and the historic smokestack shows the ways in which the site has been modified to serve the community and visitors. The curved structure in this photo is the exterior of the theater that typically shows a film about the site’s history. In the center, the all-new construction framing the entrance to MAC’s, and below, the former machine workshop that has been largely unaltered. This latter space is occasionally used for community events and theater productions.

    The UNESCO inscription of the Wallonian mining region, with its four constituent sites, highlights the issues surrounding the duplication, competition, and co-listing of sites. What do UNESCO sites gain through a joint nomination that they would not on their own? Many of the sites that I’ve visited, particularly those inscribed within the past ten years or so, have featured unconventional nominating patterns, sometimes sharing an inscription across several sites within a country, or even across national borders.

    In the case of Japan’s sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution, many of the sites might not have had enough merit in terms of integrity or authenticity when considered individually, but when taken in total, constitute a compelling heritage landscape that cumulatively tells a fuller, richer story about Japan’s singular process of industrialization. The mercury mine in Idrija, Slovenia is also part of a joint listing along with Almadén, Spain. Historically, these two sites alternately competed and collaborated, together responsible for 48% of the world’s total mercury production. That historical relationship is preserved in the terms of the UNESCO nomination, which recognized the sharing of technology and expertise between the two sites over several hundred years.

    These kinds of joint or group nominations can be successful not only because they link several sites into networks based on related historical and architectural issues, making inscription possible for more sites, but because they have the capacity to call attention to wider heritage landscapes. At the Grand Hornu, one of the docents I met is working to save the Belgian coal mine where a young Vincent Van Gogh once evangelized to miners in his brief career as a priest (you can read more about this effort here). Additionally, even though the four inscribed mines of Wallonia vary significantly in terms of their historical contexts and architectural content, they speak to a broader and more enduring set of relationships between humans and fossil fuels during the nineteenth and twentieth century. As at Zollverein, the cultural visibility of the Walloon mines as UNESCO sites might spur broader discussions about how to reinterpret and reuse industrial spaces not only within the confines of the inscribed areas, but also regionally or even nationally.

    The Fagus Factory: UNESCO, Privatized

    It took me five trains to get from suburban Essen to Alfeld on a Sunday morning in April, and another three to reach Berlin later that day. But the intervening stop was worth it—a visit to the Walter Gropius-designed Fagus Factory (1911–1925) where I learned a lot about architecture, and more surprisingly, a lot about about shoe manufacturing, sustainable timber management, and foot ergonomics. During my five hours there, I watched a half-dozen tour buses arrive and depart (from what I could tell, mostly retired Germans). I was one of the sole international visitors, and one of the few who had arrived by rail. On the walk from the train station, I noted the standard German mining symbol prominently displayed on another factory or warehouse, and the cluster of industrial buildings around the rail corridor.

    The ubiquitous symbol of German mining, which recurs across historic industrial sites nationwide.

    The Carl Behrens corporation was once the employer of Carl Benscheidt, who founded the Fagus Factory. As in many other small, industrial European cities, the factories of Alfeld cluster around the railroad conduit. Knowing that the new Fagus building would be sited such that rail passengers could see it, Walter Gropius endeavored to create an architectural design that would function as an advertisement for the Fagus brand.

    The vast majority of UNESCO industrial heritage sites I’ve visited are no longer operational. In some cases, such as the mercury mine in Idrija, they have been closed for environmental and public health reasons, in addition to the more common economic reasons for closure (such as textile manufacturing moving to Asia). For those sites that still serve their original industrial purposes, frequently the operation has changed hands, or in the case of Sewell Mining Town (where the original 1910s copper concentrator is still in use), the El Teniente mine was nationalized along with the rest of Chile’s copper industry back in the 1970s. The Fagus Factory is one of the rare instances I’ve observed of an industrial UNESCO site that is still being used, at least partially, to serve the same industry for which it was built, and even rarer, to serve the same corporation and family of owners.

    Operational for over a century, the Sewell concentrator is still used at the El Teniente copper mine, even though miners no longer live in Sewell.




    Most of the component structures within the Fagus Factory complex are still used in the shoe last designing and manufacturing process. The original offices are still used as offices (top three photos), including the design workshop (second from the bottom). Below, the historic Chips House has been converted into the main UNESCO interpretive center.

    Correspondingly, and in contrast with the many publicly-administered UNESCO sites I’ve visited, the Fagus Factory is very much a corporate museum, in the same vein as the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory in Nagasaki, Japan. However, unlike the Pattern Factory, which has been entirely converted into interpretive space even though it stands on land owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Fagus Factory still functions much as it did 100 years ago, with the exception of the beechwood warehouse, which has been converted into a museum space. Beech shoe last originals are still created by trained artisans at the site, but today those wood originals are now scanned and converted to mass-produced plastic lasts for distribution to clients.


    Above, the 1898 Mitsubishi Pattern Factory in Nagasaki, Japan is still on land owned by Mitsubishi and is available for tours by appointment only. It no longer serves an active industrial function and has been converted entirely to a museum. By contrast, at the Fagus Factory, of the original buildings only the warehouse (seen below) has been entirely moved over to an interpretive role. While other parts of the factory complex have been updated to use new, computer-aided workflows, the structures are still being used for the design and production of shoe lasts. The warehouse, which is originally where the beechwood for the lasts was dried for many months, is no longer needed because only one copy per shoe design is now modeled by hand out of beech—the actual shoe lasts used by the Fagus Factory’s clients are now made from durable, long-lasting plastic.8

    On the plus side, the intimate relationship between technical function and built form was very well articulated and approachable from the standpoint of public storytelling—through the well-crafted audio guide I came to appreciate how each architectural volume and choice of building material corresponded to a particular workflow within the shoe last manufacturing process. In the exhibition building (formerly the warehouse), the original wood slat floors have been preserved, including the 3–4 cm gaps between slats that originally facilitated air flow and ventilation for the drying beechwood. But, at the same time, corporate promotion suffuses every aspect of the site’s interpretation. The main museum felt a bit like a giant advertisement, recalling other contemporary corporate museums I’ve visited during my travels (the Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama or the Toto Museum in Kitakyushu, e.g.). The multimedia audio guide provided the expected information about a young Walter Gropius’s design innovations, but also a three minute video about Fagus GreCon’s modern spark-suppression system, developed as a byproduct of working with dry-beech sawdust on an industrial scale for over 100 years.


    Two images from inside the interpretive center, now located in the former beechwood-drying warehouse. The well-ventilated wood-slat floor really required some sturdy German reform shoes—the flat-soled 1910s precursors to modern orthopedic shoes that I learned about in the several exhibitions devoted to shoe design and foot health history.

    Branding at the Fagus Factory extends all the way to manhole covers.

    Somewhat frustratingly, while many portions of the museum dealing with the restoration of the buildings in advance of the UNESCO nomination, the manufacture of shoe lasts, and the development of the German shoe industry are bilingual, most of the more academic portions pertaining to the historic architecture of the building are only in German. Compared to many German sites I visited that directly confronted their participation and sometime complicity in the Nazi war machine, the Fagus version of history seemed (at least in its English translation) to elide many of the more difficult questions around the company’s WWII past. Furthermore, the interpretation focused largely on the corporate protagonists behind the site’s restoration, a “great man” version of recent history that was also typical in many of the Japanese sites I visited last year. In a representative passage in the display about the restoration of the site’s architecture, Ulrich Pagels, a supervisor of the project and senior conservator of monuments, is quoted as saying:

    It was Ernst and Gerd Greten, the persons in charge throughout - with a visionary approach - who fought for the optimization of existing concepts...The warehouse’s hidden potential, recognized and developed by the Greten brothers in a courageous manner, could thus be put to optimal use for the company. The potentially conflicting framework of commercial aims on the one hand, and government restrictions and impositions on the other, was thus resolved. Nowadays, the exhibition displays a particular historic flair, thanks to its beautifully restored, timber-framed fabric.9

    The inherent assumptions behind this statement, including the notions of “optimization”, “putting to optimal use,” and capitalizing on “historic flair,” suggest that heritage exists mostly as a potentially lucrative resource—but one that can be potentially restrictive or problematic for the modern capitalist corporation. This view of heritage as having additive corporate value seems to run counter to the UNESCO belief that certain heritage sites possess intrinsic “global value,” which can be judged according to the criteria of integrity and authenticity.

    The Fagus Factory thus reveals the uneasy coalition of corporate culture and global heritage. By investing heavily in the history of the Fagus Factory, the current Fagus GreCon corporation has created an intense dependency on the continued preservation and maintenance of the historic Fagus site. At the same time, the interpretive landscape of the site is dominated and controlled by corporate narratives, which may ultimately serve to limit or circumscribe the range of possible future interpretations.

    The Archival Compulsion and Future-Proofing the Heritage Landscape

    Over the last twenty or so years, UNESCO’s efforts to diversify its list have led to the rapid-fire addition of new kinds of sites and listings, including the industrial heritage hubs, co-listings, and privatized sites described in the previous case studies. Notably, this infusion of “new heritage” has not been accompanied by a corresponding re-evaluation of older, existing inscriptions, even after the World Heritage Convention concluded that certain types of sites are over-represented.

    In a chapter entitled “Heritage and the ‘Problem’ of Memory,” scholar Rodney Harrison argues that the idea of “global heritage” is a fundamentally constructed category, one that may not always have the same cultural relevance or content that we ascribe to it today.

    If heritage is not a universal category of value, then it follows that certain aspects of heritage will at some point cease to be relevant and should be discarded. Instead, our approach has tended to be one that continually lists ‘new’ heritage without considerations of the values embodied in our past conservation decisions. I suggest that as a result of this, we face a coming ‘crisis of accumulation’ of the past in the preset in the early twenty-first century, which will ultimately undermine the role of heritage in the production of collective memory, overwhelming societies with disparate traces of heterogenous pasts and distracting us from the active process of forming collective memories in the present.10

    Harrison points out that as of 2012 only 2 sites out of over 1000 UNESCO sites have ever been de-listed.11 In other words, because sites are so rarely de-listed, the UNESCO list has become a de facto archive not only of heritage sites, but of changing cultural beliefs and assumptions about the nature of heritage itself. What will happen in the future, if the rate of UNESCO inscriptions continues at its current rate, or even begins to accelerate? Harrison argues that, as psychologists have suggested about individual human memory, intentional forgetting (in this case, the purposeful de-listing of sites), is critical to the formation of cogent historical memory on the societal scale. Whether or not this controversial option is feasible or advisable is too much to address fully within the scope of an SAH blog post, but I do think it is reasonable to state that at some point in the future, all of the industrial heritage sites added to the list between 2001 and 2020 will not have the identical cultural meaning or importance that they do during this particular historical moment. But even as conceptions of “global heritage” fluctuate and interest in industrial heritage waxes and wanes, the three sites and groups of sites described in this post have maximized their chances at viability in the long term, by creating programs that render their architecture and heritage landscapes relevant across a variety of audiences and uses. By revivifying these industrial heritage sites with new uses rather than solely construing them as mausoleums or monuments to a previous era, their curators, architects, and preservation experts have forged a usable past—a tangible and inclusive link between Europe’s industrial past and its post-industrial present.

    1. Aurélie Élisa Gfeller and Jaci Eisenberg, “UNESCO and the Shaping of Global Heritage,” A History of UNESCO, P. Duedahl, ed. (New York; London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 286. ↩︎
    2. Ibid., 287. ↩︎
    3. Michael Falser, “Is Industrial Heritage under-represented on the World Heritage List?” Global Strategy Studies: Industrial Heritage Analysis, World Heritage List and tEntative List, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 2001, 9. ↩︎
    4. Ibid., 13. ↩︎
    5. Gfeller and Eisenberg, 287. ↩︎
    6. Gfeller and Eisenberg, 288. ↩︎
    7. “Did you know... where the longest and highest open-air moving staircase in Germany can be found?” European Route of Industrial Heritage, accessed April 29, 2019, https://www.erih.net/did-you-know/question///where-the-longest-and-highest-open-air-moving-staircase-in-germany-can-be-found/ ↩︎
    8. On-site audio guide information, accessed April 6, 2019. ↩︎
    9. Ulrich Pagels, quoted in on-site signage at the Fagus Factory, photographed April 6, 2019. ↩︎
    10. Rodney Harrison, Heritage: Critical Approaches (New York: Routledge, 2013), 166. ↩︎
    11. Ibid., 169. ↩︎
  • Varying Responses to Urbanization in Four Central European Capitals

    by User Not Found | Apr 16, 2019
    Zachary J. Violette is the 2018 recipient of the short-term H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise noted.

    I write from the balcony of my short-term rental flat situated in a socialist-era housing block overlooking the Old Town of Bucharest, with the massive Palace of the Parliament towering in the distance. Bucharest is the fifth stop on the first leg of my three-month Brooks Fellowship, where I’ve set out to explore, among other things, the landscapes of urbanization and modernization in the half century or so before the First World War. Most of the cities I’ve selected underwent rapid transformations in this period, and represent both variety and uniformity in their approaches. I’m interested, fundamentally, in housing, but more particularly in not just how large increases in population came to be sheltered, but how rising social and living standards among a broad swath of that population from the urban working class through the bourgeoisie resulted not only in demand for space to live, but in new (or newly-expanded) social, cultural, and visual amenities, both public and private. There was a distinctive shift in both scale and quality in this period, and the places I’m going seem to demonstrate it well. While Paris and London (and to a lesser extent Vienna, my third stop) or perhaps New York and Chicago, are seen as the prime examples of the responses to the rapid growth of cities in this period, in many ways, I believe, the cities on my itinerary are more emblematic. And I believe the influence of these places—and these models of urban growth—on the American city, is not fully understood.

    Figure 1. Bucharest Old Town, with the Palace of the Parliament in the background: an incredibly mixed, complicated landscape.

    The journey began, about a month ago, in Berlin. Said to have been largest tenement city in the world by the early twentieth century,  many of its neighborhoods remains full of dense and tall buildings, housing units of varying socioeconomic status. Part of my interest in these buildings is for their street facades, which are interesting in part because they obscure many of the complexities that exist behind them. Rendered in stucco and cast stone over a brick structure, the buildings used ornamental forms in a variety of Renaissance Revival, Neo-Baroque, Art Nouveau, and a range of regional and ‘exotic’ styles with a facade whose composition recalled that, generally, of the Renaissance palazzo. This palazzo-type housing seems to form something of an international mode, found in large numbers throughout these growing cites: the basic building block of nineteenth-century urbanism on the European continent. But of course Berlin bears deeps scars of the turbulence of the twentieth century; most of the earlier fabric only survives outside the core areas of the city,  and many of those which survive  have had their richly ornamented facades stripped and replaced with smooth stucco, often painted in varying colors. Perhaps it was a pang of homesickness, but in many ways this landscape reminded me of the contemporaneous wood-frame tenements of North Brooklyn (most of which, incidentally, were built by German immigrants) which were almost entirely stripped in the twentieth century for synthetic siding, substituting variety of material and color for the former richness of form. 

    Figure 2: Acker Straße, Berlin, a comparative well-preserved street of stucco facades on large tenements. Most others like this have been stripped of their ornament.

    One of the most unexpected pleasures that came out of my time in Prague was a renewed (or if I’m being completely honest, sparked) interest in Baroque architecture, and of the dense Gothic-era street pattern of the Old Town. Expecting to devote the majority of my time and attention to the nineteenth-century extensions, I was surprised by how I much was drawn to these older landscapes with their layered, complicated, dense environments. And in these places the nineteenth-century interventions—such as the running of Pařížská Street, a fairly broad late nineteenth-century avenue with tall, elaborate apartment buildings through the old Jewish quarter—formed a striking, and perhaps to my growing fondness of the surroundings, unwelcome contrast. This juxtaposition is familiar, of course, from Paris (indeed, the name of the Prague street is a direct reference to the French capital). But here the complex rooflines and broken facades of the Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings provided a particularly interesting counterpoint to the surviving fragments of the earlier town, providing almost a bit of (perhaps unintentional) contextualism, especially compared to the rather staid monumentality of the apartment buildings of Haussman’s Paris.

    Figure 3: The gothic-era Old New Synagogue (c.1270) and the Baroque Jewish Town Hall (c.1586), Prague, contrast to the large Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque Pařížská Street, cut in behind it in the late nineteenth century.

    In these old quarters I found myself seeking out every Baroque church and palace that was open, hunting forms that I was familiar with in other contexts (as well as coming to fully appreciate the transcendent power of a Baroque church interior; I filled many pages of contemplative writing in these spaces). Certainly this era had provided designers of the nineteenth century with a deep reserve of ornamental forms, but their use in these earlier buildings was far different. Particularly on private, secular buildings, the reserved use of shells, cartouches, painted panels, and figural ornament, set mostly on smooth, planar surfaces, seemed a marked departure to the profusion in which I was more used to seeing them in the later period—or in the most monumental of earlier buildings. This was fully on my mind in Vienna, where the depth and richness of the carving on the Baroque palaces of the Innere Stadt, provided an interesting study in the later use, perhaps abuse, of the same forms. Does the evocative power a form such as the atlantes that flank many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century portal, lose or gain from its repetition, seemingly ad-infinitum, on not just the large rental palaces of the Ringstrasse, but throughout the more modest neighborhoods that surrounded it on all sides? Still, in the comparatively pristine landscape of Vienna one is most able to hold the space of the late nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, in all its ponderous scale and dizzying complexities. But, in a darker moment, it also becomes possible to more fully sympathize with Adolf Loos’s dismissal of these buildings as a ‘Potemkin village’ than I certainly ever did before. (Although I don’t have any intentions of becoming a medievalist; the thrust of my work remains on the delight of the nineteenth century in ornament, apart from its later critics.)

    Figure 4: While numerous portals of the Baroque-era palaces of the Vienna Innere Stadt had human sculptural ornament, like these atlantes on a 1710-1714 court chancellery building on Judenplatz, often contrasting to planar surfaces of the remainder of the building.

    Figure 5: Many of the forms found in the Baroque quarters are reproduced, nearly ad infinitum, in the nineteenth-century extensions, which Adolf Loos dismissed as “Potemkin villages” for the bourgeoisie. Here, a series of atlantes hold up balconies on the secondary elevation of a large ‘rental palace’ off the Ringstrasse. This motif in particular was common throughout Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. 

    It was back to reality, of sorts, in Budapest, which was said to have grown at an  “American” scale and pace in the nineteenth century. The small Castle District near Buda Castle, and the even smaller early settlement on the Pest side of the Danube, are overwhelmed by the nineteenth century expansions. Here, radial avenues, enclosed dense blocks of mostly five- and six-story buildings, of type by this point quite familiar from the other cities. This landscape is bisected by the fabulous Andrássy Avenue, one of the finest examples of a nineteenth-century monumental street anywhere in terms of legibility, unity of treatment. Here is set the Opera, that most important institution of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, although its building (currently under wraps for restoration) seems diminutive in scale compared to the rental palace that flank it. And the avenue, unlike most others like it, gives way at its eastern end to freestanding villas on garden lots. The liminal zone between the five- and six-story apartment buildings and freestanding villas, particularly on the back streets off the avenue, demonstrate interesting strategies for handling dissimilarities of form and scale. And Andrássy Avenue opens into a large landscape park, complete with a zoo with a delightful collection of early twentieth-century buildings, including a fantastical (if painfully orientalist) glazed-tile elephant house in the shape of a mosque.

    Figure 6: The beginning of Andrássy Avenue, one of the finest monumental avenues of nineteenth-century Europe.

    Figure 7: Andrássy Avenue’s rows of rental palaces give way first to freestanding villas, then to a large landscape park, including a zoo with a delightful glazed-tile elephant house. (1912, Kornél Neuschloss architect)

    The stripped facades of the buildings of Berlin, and the almost perfectly maintained facades of Vienna both contrasted to the pattern of deterioration of the stucco facades of Budapest. While many of these are increasingly being restored—the city was abuzz with construction sites—the gentrifying Budapest also fetishizes these “ruined” facades a bit, many are stabilized to front on newly reactivated buildings, particularly in the Jewish quarter there. While this choice, and the taste it represents, is a bit startling to me, the upshot, of course, is that this deterioration provides a lens into the way these facades were put together. For instance, sometimes deeply rusticated surfaces have reflect a pattern in the course brick behind them Other, thinner stucco stucco has no pattern of brickwork behind. Throughout these cities the depth of this modeling seemed to be perhaps the best indicator of the cost of the treatment of these exteriors. Most of the other forms seem quite democratic in their distribution.

    Figure 8: This thin veneer of a rusticated ground level has failed, revealing the structure behind. In more ambitious treatments the pattern of rustication can be seen in the rough brick beneath. Note also the segmental brick relieving arch above the false full arch.

    One of the more surprising things that emerged was the extent to which the international uniformity of the palazzo-type facade of the apartment buildings hide a surprising variety of spatial arrangements behind them, reflecting clearly regional preferences behind an outer uniformity. The buildings where I stayed in Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest—all with similar facades—each had a distinct pattern of interior circulation between units, and for provision of light into interior spaces. In each case their arrangements seemed typical to each city. In Berlin the building was set on a deep lot, with the formal front building concealing three back houses, and, in the rear yard, what appeared to be a small industrial building. The level of finish within the public spaces of each diminished noticeably; my flat on the primary floor had high ceilings and elaborate moldings clearly not present in units higher or further back. In Vienna, the front house was U shaped, with a central courtyard that gave access to a single rear building. My small flat on rear of the top level was simple in comparison to Berlin. Finally in Budapest only a single building stood on the comparatively shallow lot, standing between a major avenue and a narrower back street. (This resulted in to formal facades—both the front and rear of the building were finely ornamented.) Units in that building were arranged around a central courtyard, to which the staircase and galleries to each unit opened. Exterior circulation within the courtyard seemed quite common throughout Budapest. 

    Figure 9: Three nineteenth-century apartment buildings in Berlin, Vienna and Budapest each have a formal, neoclassical facade, which obscured quite different handling of space behind (Figure 10).

    Figure 10: Sketch of the ground plan of three nineteenth-century apartment buildings, in Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest, respectively. Note the deep lot with buildings decreasing is size and accommodation in Berlin, while the Budapest building had two street fronts and a central courtyard. In Vienna a courtyard divided the front and back houses.

    Although as of beginning this writing I have been in Bucharest for less than 48 hours, it is clearly the most different of the cities, mostly free, perhaps, of the influence of Habsburg rule and German culture that dominated about the other cities. Developing much later, the nineteenth-century buildings here are lower, and much more in the form of the traditional merchant house with courtyard; or small freestanding cottages. In addition to a close connection to aesthetic development in Paris, there is a very compelling regional Neo-Romanian style here, built in great numbers through the 1920s, until it gave way to a quite remarkable collection of early International Style apartment buildings from the 1930s. But more about Bucharest will come in my next entry. 

  • Not another Greek Tragedy

    by User Not Found | Apr 02, 2019

    Aymar Marino-Maza is the 2018 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Image 1
    Odeon of Herodes Atticus, amphitheater at the base of the Acropolis, Athens

    For an architect, language has always been a beautifully malleable thing, filled with words to be used, abused, made up, or entirely redefined. Architecture theorists use language the way architects use building material. The architecture theorist strives to be more than a technical expert, but also a philosopher or an art critic. As a result, architectural writing has sampled—sometimes willy-nilly—from other fields and has kept a safe distance from that boring reality of the lived experience of space. The consequence is that architectural writing has for too long been able to confound its readers and get away with it.

    In architecture, we rarely have to worry about something like the inappropriate use of the words “culture” or “religion.” This is not the case in a field such as anthropology, where every word that is not a preposition or an article needs thorough explanation. What’s more, in anthropology, there seems to exist a universal guilt over methodology, as ethnographic field notes are held up against such things as flow charts and graphs and, my least favorite, excel sheets. The architectural writer has never had to submit to a standard methodology for conducting research nor to a critical development of language—because neither exists. And some people might consider that a problem…

    In the next twelve texts, the curious and free-spirited architecture will be confronted with its cautious and experienced neighbor, anthropology. Together, they will tackle a topic that might bring them together like a pair of love-blind newlyweds, and then send them crashing apart when confronted with such things as differing politics, complicated histories, and opposing lifestyles. Hopefully, though, we’ll be able to glean something of consequence before architecture finds itself a new mistress.

    In a way, this methodological marriage will mirror the very topic being discussed: the way that displaced people integrate with host communities. Architectural space will serve as a platform upon which these scenes of interaction develop and will be analyzed alongside the actors.

    It’s a wonder that architecture hasn’t used the ethnographic model more often, considering how significant the way people inhabit space should be for an architect. After all, architecture is space designed for habitation. I hear a chorus of groans from across college campuses as professors read those words. And yet, though we may—nay, should—have many definitions of architecture, this one should not be disregarded because some accessory-wearing starchitect deems it unworthy of the coveted capital A. To this end, let us get these two crazy kids hitched, and let’s see if we can’t gain a little insight into the way displaced people actually inhabit space. 

    We begin in Greece, where national identity and human movements have played an intricate game of cat and mouse, forever at each other’s heels, from the migrations of the first millennium BC to the most recent caravan to reach its Mediterranean coast. 

    Athens Panorama
    Panorama of Athens

    A woman sitting in the plane lifts her forefinger, middle finger, and thumb to her forehead, to her chest, and to her lips, repeating the act in swift successive movements. A man in his motorcycle takes a sharp turn and, straightening out, lifts a hand to his forehead, to his chest, and to his lips. A group of children runs out of a house, backpacks bounding behind them, and from within the doorframe, a woman’s fingers come up to meet her forehead, her chest, and her lips. 

    This is a quintessential Greek image, one that any visitor will see repeated over and over across the country. Like an abbreviated sign of the cross, it seems to mark the beginning and the end of any voyage. An image that is similarly typical is the kandilakia. Kandilakias are roadside shrines in the shape of miniature chapels that dot the Greek landscape from Xanthi to Heraklion. They commemorate both those lives lost to the road and those who were lucky enough to survive it.

    Just as every town has a church, it seems that every bend in the road has a shrine. Erected by the families of those lost souls, these shrines are a symbol of a deep sense of spirituality and a responsibility toward preserving and celebrating a person’s life. And to the foreigner, they are a physical reminder of the strong spiritual and cultural links that tie the Greek people together.

    A selection of photographs of kandilakia from across Greece.

    The reason these symbolic images are so quintessentially Greek is because the Greek identity is intimately tied to a shared understanding of religion and ancestry. It’s no accident that the Panhellenic (pan meaning “all” and hellenic meaning “Greek”) games that marked the rise of the Greek city states were held in religious sanctuaries such as Olympia and Delphi. For this reason, it is impossible to speak about displaced people within Greece without speaking about these aspects of the Greek identity: religion and ancestry.

    Greece, which, seen on a map appears as disintegrated as the USSR, is in fact a nation whose many individual islands share an indelible Greek-ness. This is especially interesting when considering the history of the country, which saw these islands broken up, abandoned, fought over, colonized, re-colonized, over and over throughout the years. But even in Ancient Greece there was a sharp distinction between those who were Greek and those who were not. It is not surprising when noting that the word xenophobia comes from the Ancient Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning foreign, and φόβος (phobos), meaning fear. More specifically, though, the Ancient Greeks termed barbarian (which comes from “barbed Aryan,” which funnily enough means “bearded noble,” for anyone interested) those who did not speak the Greek language. Greek-ness was therefore on a certain level a linguistic distinction—interesting, as language is something that can be learned, and therefore a characteristic which, unlike color or race, can be acquired. One could hypothetically become Greek by learning to speak Greek. There are obviously more shades to this definition, layers of cultural heritage and shared beliefs, but the message is clear: to consider yourself Greek, you must first understand the Greek way and express yourself in the Greek manner.

    A selection of photographs of Kandilakia from across Greece.

    One of the interesting aspects of studying the history of displacement, and also one of the most frustrating, is that there never seems to be a good place to begin telling the story. It is impossible to define a single original people against which migrants can be studied. The analysis seems to always have a variable constant, as the displaced ultimately place themselves and a new displaced replace them. And Greece is no exception. Actually, due to its location in the Mediterranean, it is a prime example of how variable this constant can be.

    Pelasgians, the people that inhabited the Aegean region before its Hellenization by the Greeks in 12th century BC, the people that were the supposedly indigenous to the area, are named pelasgi, as referring to “the sea.” And, as some sources cite, were migrants themselves, as their name also denotes, linked as it is to the word pelargo or “stork.” Ancient Greek religion, for example, came out of a mixture of Pelasgi and the incoming Greeks, just as the changing foundation of Classical Greek art is a product of the increased contact with Egypt and the Far East in the 7th century BC. Many of the images and myths—such as the palm leaf, the siren, and the griffin—depicted in Classical Greek art are eastern motifs assimilated into the Greek repertoire, both aesthetic and spiritual.1  All this is to say that even in the very first definitions of Greek-ness there is an ever-present cross-pollination, leading one to wonder if Greece can truly be defined without referencing all the people, cultures, and customs that it has had contact with.

    These are people that not only interacted with Greece, but were colonized by Greece, were themselves colonizers of Greece, were incorporated into Greek cities, or were kicked out of them. All of the spaces that will be discussed in this text incorporate a mixture of these different forms of interactions and a layering of these different people.

    A great place to start is with the monastery. At first sight, one might not think to speak of a monastery when discussing displacement. But then again, the definition of displacement has for too long been grossly limited to describing the destitute and the weak. This is not the definition that will be used in these texts. In the paragraphs that follow, the displaced people will range from monks to lepers, from soldiers to anarchists, and through their differences, they will all speak to the one true element that unifies them, having had to leave one’s home.

    Meteora monasteries
    A selection of views of Meteora monasteries.

    As early as the 9th century AD, a group of hermit monks began to occupy the cliffs of Meteora, hiding in hollows along the lowest mountain ranges. For some incomprehensible reason, they decided it was a good idea to exchange caves for buildings, and began to build monasteries at the pinnacles of these mountains. These fortification-like spaces were built in a way that the only way to reach them was if the monks lowered stairs, ropes, or nets to grant access.

    The inaccessibility of these monasteries was originally intended to separate the hermits for meditative and spiritual reasons. Yet, these fortifications quickly served a second purpose. In the 14th century, this solitude was threatened by the increased attacks of Turks against the Ottoman Empire, who themselves had allowed the Orthodox to remain intact when they invaded the region in 1386. During the Turkish occupation that followed, the monasteries served as refuge for the people persecuted by the Turks. These spaces served both as safeguard for the inhabitants, but also their faith. The few buildings that still remain stand proudly as symbols of a people unwilling to give up faith—and yes, there is a double entendre there. 

    monastery Crete
    (left) Lower Monastery, Preveli, Crete; (center right) Rear Monastery courtyard; (right) Church Façade, Rear Monastery, Preveli, Crete.

    In the sleepy coast of south-western Crete, hidden behind the winding roads of its mountainous central spine, on a sun-drenched hill overlooking the ocean, is the Preveli Monastery. This peaceful scene is actually the setting of one of the most inspiring examples of the Cretan revolutionary spirit. For those who do not know, Crete has a long and complex history of resisting invasion, a disease to which the island is unhealthily prone. The largest of the Greek islands, it has seen empires come and go, from the mighty Minoans, considered to be the first European civilization, to the Mycenaean Greeks, the Romans, the Iberian Muslims, the Venetians, the Ottomans, the British, and to top it all off, those pesky Germans. But throughout it all, the Cretans have managed to maintain a fiercely independent identity.

    Like many across Crete, the monks at Preveli rebelled against each of the armies that invaded the island. The monastery served on multiple occasions and against multiple enemies as an outpost for rebel forces, a haven for religious refugees, a storehouse for supplying resistance, and a final point of rescue for those who escaped off the island. More accessible than Meteora, Preveli experienced the backlash of this resistance and its Lower Monastery and fields were burned down on numerous occasions.

    Driving up the quiet hill to the complex, it is easy to miss the ruins of the Lower Monastery, tucked away under a bend in the road and fenced off from visitors. One can pass it almost unwittingly, stopping instead at the monument that stands at the entrance of the Rear Monastery. This monument commemorates the courageous acts of those who resisted invasions and fought for freedom. Here, as in Meteora, the space of displacement isn’t shelter-less or helpless. Instead, it is a space of resistance, of unyielding belief, fraternity, and hope. So, removing the guns and violence, it doesn’t seem a bad model to follow.

    (left & center) Spinalonga Bay with Kalydon island, Crete; (right) Google Map aerial of Kalydon

    A few hours from Preveli and just a five-minute boat ride from the northern coast is the island of Kalydon, commonly referred to as Spinalonga. Originally connected to the Cretan mainland, this marooned fortress was carved apart from the main island during the Venetian occupation, intended as a defensive measure against pirate and Turkish attacks on the ancient port of Olous. This severing of the umbilical cord allowed the island to survive the many attacks on the motherland that it was originally built to protect.

    The island was so well designed as a defensive structure that it could have been the poster child for “nations barely hanging on.” While the rest of Crete fell under Ottoman rule in the 17th century, the island remained under Venetian control and functioned as a refuge for Christians until 1725. In an ironic twist of fate, the island later became a refuge for Ottoman families after the Cretan revolt of 1878, when the Ottoman Empire surrendered the island to the Christian Cretans.

    From 1913 until 1957, the island was used as a leper colony. Born, a man who lived on the island at the time and recounted his story to the BBC, stated that until 1930 the inhabitants of the colony “sought solitude to escape the face of the other.”2 This statement is grounding for those of us who have not been exposed to such a socially handicapping illness. On a certain level, many of us have experienced this sensation of dread at seeing our own pain reflected in our fellow man. And yet, as these people demonstrated, this dread can be turned on its heel: in 1930, a new movement led by the Brotherhood of the Sick sparked a sort of urban renewal on the island and a new sense of community amongst these secluded people. A commercial street developed, community gatherings such as concerts started to be held in public spaces, and part of the medieval fortress was torn down, breathing some much needed sea breeze into the lives of these people.

    It is possible to study the experience of this group of people as occupying an oft-forgotten form of displacement: displacement due to illness or handicap. And yet, this very specific form of displacement carries many of the same basic implications that one sees in displacements due to war or famine. For example, once a person was taken into a leprosarium, he or she was typically disrobed of citizenship, unable to marry or even handle local currency. This state of citizenship limbo and the camp as a form of quarantine are elements that inevitably affect displaced people on social and emotional levels. The small-scale intervention that was executed within this almost “controlled conditions” urban space can serve as a case study of how to begin to infuse normality and a sense of home into even the most inhospitable habitat.

    abandoned buildings across Greece
    A selection of photographs of abandoned buildings across Greece.

    Something that will surprise no one is the sheer amount of ruins there are in Greece. But what is actually surprising is that most of these ruins are not ancient monuments; they are simply abandoned buildings. They are the 19th and 20th century architecture that has fallen into disrepair, due in part to the recession and the bursting of the housing bubble, but also to the Nazi occupation, to the civil war, and to a history of urban planning measures that have left many urban spaces buried in layers of red tape. These buildings are not only in large cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, but also small villages and picturesque tourist sites.

    abandoned buildings across Greece
    A selection of photographs of abandoned buildings across Greece.

    It just so happens that in one of these urban ruins something magical and definitely a bit illegal happened. In 2016, City Plaza, an abandoned hotel in the anarchist (verging on gentrified) Athenian neighborhood of Exarcheia was taken over by a group of activists and transformed into a refugee shelter. Sustained without government funding, the hotel runs as a form of commune-meets-shelter typology. The space is somewhere between a squatter’s den and an urban Eden.

    Eastern Orthodox Church, Thessaloniki
    (left) Thessaloniki; (center) Eastern Orthodox Church and Greek Refugees Monument; (right) Eastern Orthodox Church façade, Thessaloniki.

    A very different image can be seen in a city like Thessaloniki, a major port in North-Eastern Greece and a hub for incoming refugees from Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, among others. As many countries around it have closed their borders to refugees, Greece is in an impossible position of being the lone doorman to the flood of unexpected visitors. Cities like Thessaloniki have had to bear the brunt of the weight. The entrances to the city’s police stations have become the unlikely base for many of these refugees, who have camped out there in the hope of processing their asylum applications, which they achieve, ironically, by getting arrested. Surrounded by a sea of abandoned buildings, the displaced here is in a state of urban limbo, but this time in full view of the public.

    Thessaloniki is nicknamed the “Refugee Capital,” but not because of this current situation. It refers to an earlier one, which came about after the Greco-Turkish War, when the two nations implemented a population exchange, essentially swapping out Orthodox Turks for Muslim Greeks in what feels like a super inappropriate game of Rummy. This decision stemmed from the strong sense of religious identity that defined both Greece and Turkey at the time, and is an example of the use of a millet system, wherein religious groups were considered akin to nations, given certain forms of autonomy within a country and certain forms of legal protection. The exchange was intended as a way of stamping out the persecution that was being committed against Orthodox citizens in Turkey, many of whom were ethnically Greek. After the influx of these forcibly displaced people, Thessaloniki experienced a new and uncontrolled urban growth, which marks the city up to this day.

    Panorama of Kavala
    Panorama of Kavala with a view of the Imaret.

    The effects of the 1923 population exchange weren’t felt only within Thessaloniki. Kavala, a smaller city a few kilometers to north, tells a different story. The ethnic Greek refugees were originally housed in the city’s imaret, the Ottoman poor house built in the city by Mohammed Ali in 1821. The imaret, now a hotel, remains a symbol of the Muslim culture in the region, while the steep, winding streets that serve as its backdrop are a clear depiction of east meeting west, with such architectural elements as sachnisi (a bay window with wooden beams) and bagdati (a Baghdad wattle-and-daub technique) embedded into the predominantly Macedonian architecture.

    But what’s truly remarkable isn’t the architecture; it’s the way history books describe the influx of the refugees from Asia Minor. Here, the migrants aren’t described as a burden but are said to have contributed to the newfound prosperity of the city, both agriculturally and industrially. Though it is easy to be contented by this idyllic clean-cut depiction, readers should remember that the story of displacement is never so very clean. In truth, the population exchange, much like the overall relationship between Turkey and Greece throughout the years, was little if not strained.3 It is a story, like all those that have been told up until now, of violence, confusion, and a whole lot of human error.

    This story will be described with more of the detail it deserves in a few months, when a text on Turkey comes out. Until then, let us simply end with this idealized image, of people helping people, of rebels fighting for freedom, of lepers making themselves at home, and of a Greece that can never be explained in such a short piece of writing.

    1 Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Greek Art in the Archaic Period.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/argk/hd_argk.htm (October 2003)

    2 Warkentin, Elizabeth. "Travel - The Abandoned Greek Island Shrouded in Mystery." BBC. September 22, 2017. Accessed March 30, 2019. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20170921-the-abandoned-greek-island-shrouded-in-mystery.

    3 Cooper, Belinda. "Trading Places." The New York Times (New York), September 16, 2016.

  • Soundscapes of Industrial Heritage

    by User Not Found | Apr 02, 2019
    Rovang Blog 8 Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    This month, in lieu of a traditional blog post, I am submitting an “audio post” in the form of a two-part podcast. The “Sundowners” podcast that my partner John Golden and I started in July 2018 has been a way to keep friends and family apprised of my Brooks travel, and to workshop ideas that eventually make their way into this SAH blog series.1 You can access this month’s special two-part episode by clicking the links below, or by searching for Sundowners wherever you typically download your podcasts. Below the links, you’ll find a complete transcript of both episodes, including references and supplementary visual material.



    Part 1: Sounding Industrial Places

    Sarah Rovang: Hello, and welcome to a special two-part episode of Sundowners. You’re listening to part one, Sounding Industrial Places. I’m Sarah Rovang, the Society of Architectural Historians' 2017 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow. As usual, I’m joined on this podcast by my spouse and sometime traveling companion, John Golden. Hi, John.

    John Golden: Hi, Sarah. It’s good to be here. I like to call myself the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow’s Fellow. Anyway, if you've been following this podcast, you know that it’s usually structured as a conversation.

    SR: But today we’re doing something a little different—this episode will unfold as a spoken word essay, soundtracked by many of the ambient and interpretive soundscapes I’ve encountered during my travels. John has offered to provide another voice as part of this essay, and do a little voice acting, which you’ll hear in a minute.

    JG: And this two-part podcast will double as your monthly blog post for the Society of Architectural Historians, right?

    SR: Yes, exactly. So, if you want to read a written transcript of this podcast along with supplementary visual materials, please go to SAH.org, where there’s a link to the Brooks blog on the home page. You will also be able to find footnotes and reference materials there, along with more complete descriptions of the various sound clips we’ll be playing throughout both episodes.

    JG: As a bit of background for those new to the podcast, I traveled with Sarah in Chile, Japan, and South Africa for the first half of her Brooks Fellowship during 2018. Since then I’ve been back home watching the dogs while she continues her travels abroad. So we’re recording this via Skype—my audio is captured by a nice mic, and hers is coming through AirPods. So that explains the difference in audio quality. Anyway, in these two episodes, we’ll be placing particular emphasis on the places that Sarah has traveled solo in Europe since January.

    SR: In part one, “Sounding Industrial Places,” we’ll talk about the soundscapes of industrial heritage, how sound impacts our experience of architecture, and how we can understand the different types of sound we might encounter at an industrial heritage site.

    JG: In part two, “Listening to the Industrial Past,” we’ll talk about what it means to hear industrial heritage sites as contemporary listeners, and how sound can be effectively curated and deployed as part of a public history experience.

    SR: So put on a pair of stereo headphones, and get ready for this special extended two-part episode on architecture, sound, and industrial heritage.

    Intro Music: The Limiñanas, “Tigre du Bengale - Instr.,” The Limiñanas, Trouble In Mind Records, LLC, 2010.

    SR: Last month, I made a journey to the coal mining landscape of Wollonia in Southern Belgium. Here, four nineteenth-century coal mines share a UNESCO inscription. Upon arriving at the Bois du Cazier, a mine about one and a half hours South of Brussels, I picked up an audio guide.



    The most distinctive architectural feature of the Bois du Cazier site is the mining headgear, marking the shafts where miners would descend far below the surface of the earth. The two towers were nicknamed “les belles fleurs” (the beautiful flowers). In addition to the headgear, the administration buildings and several of the processing and engineering structures have also been preserved and reused as interpretive sites and museum spaces. Several memorials commemorating the tragedy of August 8, 1956 also exist on the site, such as the mural seen here.


    JG: I imagine that by this point in your stint as the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow, you’ve listened to your fair share of audio guides in all kinds of industrial heritage places.

    SR: Yes, and I’ve heard a lot of different approaches. This audio guide though was a little different. Instead of the omniscient third-person narrator, you know, the one who sounds like this...

    JG (voiceover): On your left, you will see the remnants of a 1895 coal shaft. Note in particular the craftsmanship of the Flemish brickwork.

    SR: This one featured two voice actors, playing the roles of Luigi and Monica—a former coal miner and his sister. It was an interesting idea and surprisingly effective. In the story created by the guide, the character of Luigi was returning to the site for the first time since a tragic accident in 1956. This catastrophic event claimed the lives of over 250 miners at the sites, many of them Italian immigrants like Luigi and his family. The first few stops on the audio guide feature Luigi reacting to the site’s transformation from working mine to touristified industrial heritage site.

    JG (voiceover): It’s quiet now... you can hear the birds chirping. It’s so peaceful, and so nice. How will people ever know what the mine was actually like? How will they know what that day was like... the day of the accident?

    SR: This commentary was some of the first that I’ve heard to acknowledge how industrial places change once they are transformed from active, working sites into curated heritage sites for public use. Beyond that, the audioguide addressed the idea that this transformation is not limited purely to the visual component, but to the complete sensory experience.

    JG: How did that change the way you were interacting with this particular site?

    SR: Luigi’s comments prompted me, once I was done with the audio guide, to listen more consciously as I explored the site. For example, later in the afternoon, I climbed one of the former slag heaps at the site, which today are laced with trails. Besides the occasional shout of kids playing soccer in the distance, or the roar of a jet overhead, the only sounds I could hear were those of birds chirping and the leaves of new growth-trees rustling around me.

    Sound Clip: Birdsong at the Bois du Cazier Slag Heap, Bois du Cazier UNESCO Site, Belgium, February 27, 2019.


    Today, the former of slag heaps of the Bois du Cazier are covered by new growth forest and feature a network of popular hiking and bike trails.


    SR: The process of noting and recording sounds in the various places I’ve visited has given me new tools to engage with a site. As an architectural historian with only a few years of studio training and a graduate education in an art history program, I usually rely on visual perception in making sense of an architectural space.

    JG: Why did you choose to focus on sound specifically though for this project?

    SR: Well, I didn’t pick sound as an aspect of this study because I’m a gifted audio engineer, or because I’m even especially attuned to sound. I guess I chose to focus on sound for two reasons: the first was aspirational. The only way I was going to get better at listening was if I actually practiced.

    JG: And the second?

    SR: The second was because: of all of the other senses we engage when we explore a space, sound, besides sight, is the sense most transmissible through digital media. I might not be able to share with you the chill of a mercury mine in Slovenia, or the chocolatey smell near a cocoa factory in the Netherlands, but I can upload a relatively high-fidelity audio recording of both of those places and at least give listeners an approximation of what those sites sounded like. And through that, perhaps bring our listeners a different impression of these industrial heritage spaces.

    Sound Clip: Recording of Swedish pop music at the Norrköping Arbetets Museum (Museum of Work) in Norrköping, Sweden, March 13, 2019.

    SR: I want start then today, by talking briefly about what kinds of sounds we might hear at an industrial heritage site.

    JG: Right, let’s run through a few examples. To start with, as at any tourism site, you’re probably going to hear the sounds of other people at the site. There might be conversation, footsteps, or the sounds of other visitors engaging with the different interpretive displays or activities.

    Sound Clip: A field trip at the M/S Maritime Museum In Helsingør, Denmark, March 21, 2019.

    A group of young visitors explores the M/S Maritime Museum In Helsingør, Denmark, designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (completed 2013). The museum is situated within a former dry dock.


    SR: Depending on whether the site is outside or not, there might be natural sounds, created by weather events, flora, or fauna.

    Sound Clip: A flock of chickens at Skansen, an open-air living museum in Stockholm, Sweden, March 9, 2019.


    Opened in 1891, Skansen is the oldest open air museum in Sweden. The architectural collection includes vernacular structures of the indigenous Sami people, farmsteads from various eras and regions in Sweden, along with civic buildings, churches, and other structures. The scene with the chickens seen here is from a townscape with structures dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.


    JG: There will probably be some incidental sounds. Depending on the site’s location, there might be the sound of a plane passing overhead, or of car traffic...

    Sound Clip: Car traffic and construction at the former industrial site NDSM in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Feburary 22, 2019.

    Previously one of the largest shipyards in the world, NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij) neighborhood in Amsterdam is today an artist community. Recent development and gentrification have changed the soundscape of the site—construction and traffic sounds are omnipresent.


    SR: Or for an indoor site, maybe the roar of the ventilation system in the background.

    Sound Clip: HVAC Sounds in a gallery at Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town, South Africa, August 30, 2018.

    Designed as a “separate architectural universe,” the gallery space of Zeitz MOCAA resembles a convention white cube format, in stark contrast to the cathedralesque core space. See my SAH blog post on adaptive reuse in Johannesburg for more on Zeitz MOCAA.


    SR: In addition to these incidental sounds, there is the whole range of sound that has been curated as part of the visitor experience—what we might call intentional or interpretive sound. The first and most obvious part of the interpretive soundscape is one we’ve already mentioned—the audioguide or audio tour. As we move through the site listening, that audio narration becomes part of our sound experience of that heritage space.

    JG: And depending on whether that guide is transmitted through headphones, or the single-speaker model where you hold the guide up to one ear, the audioguide may or may not make it more difficult to hear and notice other sounds.

    SR: Or, the audio narration might be a shared experience, such as this voiceover at a gold-pouring demonstration at the Gold Reef City theme park in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    Sound Clip: Gold pouring demonstration at Gold Reef City theme park in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 25, 2018.

    Gold Reef City is a theme park and casino complex located adjacent to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. Built directly on top of a former gold mine, historic gold mining has been incorporated into the theme park’s attractions. In addition to touring the uppermost level of the old gold mine and a small mining museum, visitors can witness a demonstration of “gold pouring” (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, does not feature real gold).


    JG: But there are other types of sounds that are used in an interpretive and intentional capacity to shape the visitor experience of a space.

    SR: At an industrial heritage site, we might hear the sounds of created by operational machines onsite, such as this seventeenth-century windmill turning at Zaanse Schans in the Netherlands.

    Sound Clip: The operation of a flour-grinding windmill at Zaanse Schans, Netherlands, February 19, 2019.

    One of several operational windmills at Zaanse Schans, this one still grinds flour using a mill stone. For more about the architecture of Zaanse Schans, refer to my SAH blog post on European architectures of wind and water.


    JG: Or, to give a more contemporary example powered by electricity, this industrial cotton loom at the Museum of Industry in Ghent, Belgium:

    Sound Clip: A contemporary industrial cotton loom at the Museum of Industry in Ghent, Belgium, February 24, 2019.

    A docent at the Ghent Museum of Industry (MIAT) operates the contemporary industrial cotton looms shown here as part of a permanent installation that illustrates the complete process through which raw cotton is transformed into consumer-ready woven textiles. The operator wears ear protection, as a single loom can generate up to 90 decibels of noise, which is the equivalent of a power mower, or an airplane one mile away. The museum space was originally a textile factory, and the demonstration looms operate in an acoustical condition similar to those in which they would have been heard when the factory was still in business.


    SR: We might also hear recorded sounds, played on loudspeakers, through sound cones, or other sound transmission devices. Back at the Bois du Cazier, there was also a recreation of a mine gallery, or tunnel, complete with an atmospheric sound installation.

    Sound Clip: An audio recreation of a mine gallery at the Bois du Cazier in Belgium, February 27, 2019.

    An above-ground recreation of a mine gallery at the Bois du Cazier mine in Belgium, complete with atmospheric acousmatic sound recording.


    JG: And all of these sounds, whether recorded or live, intentional or incidental, interact with the spaces where they are generated. Broadly speaking then, you can say that sound activates space.

    SR: Although, theoreticians of sound sometimes argue whether the sound component of a place can be separated out from the holistic impression of space we get as embodied beings.2

    JG: So in other words, sound is just one of many non-visual sensory inputs that our bodies receive while exploring an environment—there’s the temperature of the space, the feeling of the materials, the smell. And so you could say that it’s hard to isolate just the sound from all the rest of that experience?

    SR: Exactly. And I do believe that sound is part of a more complex, emergent phenomena that, with those other senses, forms our overall experience of a space. But I also think that by considering sound in isolation, we can still learn new things about the built environment, which is—as an architectural historian—ostensibly my aim.

    JG: So, how can we think about the soundscape of an industrial heritage site more concretely?

    SR: Well, the term “soundscape” was coined in the 1960s by R. Murray Schafer, a composer and audio ecologist. Because of Schafer’s background, much of sound studies has its origins in the environmental movement.

    JG: Many of the first works by Schafer and his followers focus on the ecological aspects of sound, using terms drawn from environmental studies, such as the “overpopulation of sound.”3

    SR: Or even just think of the title of Rachel Carson’s famous book Silent Spring. Soundscapes were used as a way of understanding changing global ecology. The decline or extinction of certain species could be observed through their absence from the soundscape.

    Sound Clip: Wilderness National Park, Wilderness, South Africa, August 13, 2018.

    JG: Schafer’s pioneering work on sound has given us many of the terms that scholars of sound still use to describe the makeup of a soundscape.

    SR: We’re not going to go through Schafer’s full theory here, but there will be links on the SAH website where you can learn more. (See Further Reading list below.)

    JG: As more scholars continued to contribute to the emerging field of sound studies, certain critiques developed of Schafer’s original idea of the soundscape.

    SR: One of these was that Schafer’s soundscape seemed to be a kind of acoustical dataset—the net sum of the sounds in a place. For cultural historians, this presented a problem. They argued that listening, like seeing, is shaped by cultural expectation. So, some scholars reformulated the idea of a soundscape to include that element of culture. For instance, French historian Alain Corbin believed that:

    JG (voiceover): Like a landscape, a soundscape is simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make sense of that world.4

    SR: We are going to be coming back to this idea in part two, but for now, just keep this in the back of your minds—this notion that sounds are inseparable from all the cultural baggage they carry.

    JG: Now let’s switch gears for a second and talk about the intersection of sound and architecture, in particular the idea of “spatialized sound.”

    SR: To illustrate this idea, we’re going to do a little experiment. I’m going to play the same music clip three times.

    Music Clip: 03 Gymnopédie No. 2 Lent et Grave, composed by Erik Satie, c. 1888.

    SR: And here's the second version...

    Music Clip cited above, overlaid with Sound Clip: Footsteps in the Atacama Desert near Humberstone nitrate mine, Chile, December 11, 2018.

    SR: And finally here’s the third...

    Music Clip cited above, overlaid with Sound Clip: Footsteps in the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France, February 13, 2019.

    JG: Which of those three recordings called up an image of a place? Probably the second two, right?

    SR: And how did the auditory quality of those footsteps affect the way you imagined the space? The first recording, I created while I was walking through the desert landscape around nitrate mine at Humberstone in Chile. And in the second, I was walking across a creaky wooden floor at the Arts et Métiers Museum in Paris.



    The two very different built environments heard in the preceding sound clips. Above, Humberstone nitrate mine in Chile and below, the hall of machines at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, France.


    JG: The echos and reverberations, along with the human element of the footsteps naturally creates a sense of space in addition to the musical component.

    SR: And what kinds of acoustical qualities do we associate with industrial heritage sites? These come directly from the architectural form and materials of the site.

    JG: Obviously not all sites are the same, but many industrial places are characterized by large, open spaces—the rational and open factory floor, the cylinder of a former gas tank, or the broad sprawl of an airplane hangar.

    SR: In addition, particularly in later industrial sites, we start to see the use of new materials in large quantities—concrete, steel, and glass, for example.

    JG: These materials and the shapes of the spaces themselves create reverberatory effects.

    SR: You hear this art installation at the Färgfabriken contemporary art museum in Stockholm and you can instinctively know, without any other information, that you’re not listening to, let’s say, a living room full of draperies and overstuffed furniture.

    Sound Clip: Sound from a video installation by artist Theresa Traore Dahlberg at Färgfabriken art gallery, Stockholm, March 10, 2019.



    Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s “In the Wake of Shifts and Memory” at Färgfabriken in Stockholm. This show stitches together the cultural contexts of Sweden and Burkina Faso, touching on themes of the artist’s transnational identities and more broadly, the legacies of colonial industry in today’s postcolonial hightech production practices. The former factory structure of Färgfabriken was renovated in 2011 by Petra Gipp Arkitektur, who describes the building as an “archive,” encoding layers of time through the building’s various uses over the past century as ammunition factory, paint factory, and art museum.


    JG: So now that we’ve established what a soundscape is and how it might interact with the architecture of a space, let’s talk a bit more about how we might categorize sound at a heritage site.

    SR: We’ve mentioned the difference between incidental and interpretive sounds already. The next key feature we will address is the source of sound—is it created by something live on the site that we can see and identify, or is it being piped in?

    JG: Sound theorists have used the term acousmatique, or acousmatic, to refer to sounds whose sources can not be seen, such as loudspeakers or any other similar sound transmission device.

    SR: The term derives from the Greek term, akousmatikoi. This referred to certain students of the mathematician Pythagoras, who, as the story goes, had to sit behind a screen and just listen without actually seeing the teacher.

    JG: For some sound theorists, using a loud speaker is the modern equivalent of putting a screen between an orator and the audience.5

    SR: Acousmatic sounds can serve several purposes in a heritage context. They can reanimate the site through the addition of sound that was historically accurate to that space—for instance, here in this recording of the Norrköping Museum of Work. The Museum of Work is located in a former textile factory, and this sound installation, played in a small, enclosed room, is meant to simulate both the quality and the volume of the industrial textile machines that would have been used in the space during the mid-twentieth century.

    JG: Don’t worry, we turned down the volume for the podcast version!

    Sound Clip: Textile factory volume demonstration, Norrköping Arbetetsmuseum (Museum of Work), Norrköping, Sweden, March 13, 2019.


    Another museum in a former textile factor, the Norrköping Museum of Work (Arbetetsmuseum) in Sweden is notable for the focus that it places on the lives of women workers, and issues of unionization, personal liberty, child care, and pay equity. Norrköping boasts one of the best preserved industrial cores in Europe, and the work museum sits at the heart of this waterfront industrial district. Many of the former industrial buildings are now used by the local college for student life and classroom space. The sound installation you can hear in the clip is shown in the first image above.

    Acousmatic sound might also take the form of spoken narration, such as voice actors or recorded oral histories telling human stories, giving voice to certain experiences. This might also include other non-industrial sounds, such as the actions of daily life.

    SR: For instance here, at the pulperia, or general store, of Humberstone nitrate mine in Chile, an acousmatic sound recording evokes the sounds and the dialog of the fabric shop within the general store.

    Sound Clip: Acousmatic sound representing the action of a fabric shop in the pulperia, or general store, at Humberstone nitrate mine, Chile, December 11, 2019.

    The pulperia, or general store, supplied everything nitrate miners and their families needed for daily life, because the location of remote mines like Humberstone made regular travel to larger port cities impossible. The scale and complexity of this structure testifies to the prominence of the pulperia in the daily life at a salitrera (Chilean nitrate mine). Miners were also frequently paid in tokens rather than actual currency, which were only exchangeable for goods at the general store.


    JG: Another category of the industrial heritage acousmatique is that of art sounds, installations meant not to recreate the past, but to engage the space in a new auditory way.

    SR: Here’s an example from Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town where the recording of a unaccompanied choral piece is projected into the museum’s core space, a vast latticework of concrete grain silos partially carved away to create a new public space for the museum.

    Sound Clip: Acousmatique site-specific art installation at Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, Johannesburg, August 30, 2018.

    The core space of Zeitz MOCAA, which spans a carved-out atrium comprised of the interstitial space between the old elevator building and silo building, is animated by the addition of sound installations, which magnify the cavernous feeling of the space.


    SR: Sometimes, acousmatic sounds are used metonymically, or as smaller pieces that represent or stand in for the idea of “industry” or the “industrial revolution” as broad abstract concepts.

    JG: We’ll be talking more about this potentially problematic approach a lot more in part two.

    SR: Yes, we’ll be building on the ideas and concepts that we discussed today, and returning to this critical notion that listening is not a neutral act.

    JG: It might seem like an obvious fact, that the way we hear and make sense of sound is deeply influenced by culture.

    SR: Many of us, particularly those in predominantly visual fields like art and architectural history, understand that a photograph does not 100% represent “reality”.

    JG: In other words, the lived moment seemingly preserved in a photograph is gone, irrecoverable, and the image we see in a photograph is not a direct reflection of reality. We’ve been taught this, and most of us regard photographs with a bit of suspicion, knowing that we are always getting a cropped or Photoshopped fragment, mediated by the intentions of the photographer, edited to make it a hit on Instagram.

    SR: While this is also true of sound recordings, I think there’s less awareness of them as incomplete records of a moment in time and space. We treat acousmatic sounds as acoustical facts rather than part of a multi-sensory, interpreted heritage experience. Frequently, we don’t recognize the way in which we, as listeners, are listening in ways that are culturally contingent and colored by our own preconceptions about industry and the very conditions of modernity.

    Sound Clip: Acousmatic sound of a spinning mule jenny at the Ghent Museum of Industry, Ghent, Belgium, February 24, 2019.

    JG: That wraps up the first part of our two-part series. Part 2: Listening to Industrial Spaces is available wherever you get your podcasts.

    SR: Script, editing, and producing for this episode by me, with additional editing assistance from John Golden. All sounds in this podcast were recorded by me in my capacity as H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow unless otherwise noted. You can see more visual material and read the complete transcript of this episode at SAH.org.

    JG: Our theme music is by The Limiñanas. And it wouldn’t be an episode of Sundowners without our signature sign-off.

    SR: Happy trails, listeners.

    Exit Music: The Limiñanas, “Tigre du Bengale - Instr.,” The Limiñanas, Trouble In Mind Records, LLC, 2010.

    Part 2: Listening to the Industrial Past

    Sarah Rovang: Hello, and welcome to a special two-part episode of Sundowners. I’m Sarah Rovang, the Society of Architectural Historians’ 2017 H. Allen Brooks Traveling Fellow. This part is called Listening to the Industrial Past. If you haven’t yet heard Part 1: Sounding Industrial Places, I suggest you go back and do so now. Once again, I’m joined by my spouse and sometime traveling companion John Golden. Hi, John.

    John Golden: Hey, Sarah. It’s good to be back.

    SR: In this second part, we’ll be talking about the ways in which cultural conceptions of industrial sound have changed over time and how, as contemporary listeners, we can better understand industrial heritage by learning to listen with a contextual awareness of the past.

    JG: We’ll also talk about the ways in which curators and museum professionals can use sound at industrial heritage sites to help audiences experience these sites in new and unfamiliar ways. So let’s jump right in.

    Intro Music: The Limiñanas, “Tigre du Bengale - Instr.,” The Limiñanas, Trouble In Mind Records, LLC, 2010.

    SR: In the previous episode we talked about how, within the field of sound studies, some cultural and social historians critiqued the initial formulation of what we call a “soundscape.” These historians argued that a soundscape should include both the culture of listening and understanding as well as the actual sounds themselves.

    JG: As a refresher, scholar Alain Corbin (paraphrased here by scholar Emily Thompson) defines a soundscape as: “simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make sense of that world.”6

    SR: So let’s break that definition down into its two parts and address each in turn: first, the environment, or the sounds themselves, and second, the way in which we as listeners understand and make sense of that environment.

    Sound Clip: Corazza Monoblock Machine at the Museum of Industry, Bologna, Italy, February 2, 2019

    The clip heard here is from the Museum of Industry in Bologna, an institution which is notable for its adaptive reuse of a former brick and terra cotta factory. Seen here is the kiln, which has been transformed into interpretive space on the museum’s ground floor. The museum also owns an impressive collection of functional machines from Italy’s post-WWII manufacturing boom.


    JG: The whir of a motor, the whistle of a train, the clacking of a loom, the shudder of a lift pulling up raw ore from deep within a mine—these are the sounds that we typically associate with the Industrial Revolution.

    SR: Today, we live in a built environment where sound is heavily engineered. Acoustical designers can use advanced materials and spatial forms to shape the soundscape of the buildings where we live, work, and play.

    JG: But industrial sounds such as those I just mentioned predate the advent of modern sound engineering.

    SR: In the groundbreaking book The Soundscape of Modernity, cultural historian Emily Thompson explored the ways in which during the twentieth century, sound was “gradually dissociated from space until the relation ceased to exist.”7

    JG: In other words, the new field of acoustical engineering tried to eliminate the reverberatory qualities of architecture that used to so directly link sound and place. And in addition, many of us now listen to music or podcasts like this one on headphones, further divorcing the source of sound we hear from our immediate environment.

    SR: Yeah, it’s a pretty radical contrast with some of the very site-specific sounds I’ve encountered during my travels. One of the most significant revelations of my time in Europe has been how loud industrial machinery could be even in the era before steam power and electricity. A windmill like the one we heard in part one at Zaanse Schans, or even a hand loom, can produce a staggering amount of noise.

    Sound Clip: The operation of a flour-grinding windmill at Zaanse Schans, Netherlands, February 19, 2019.

    JG: But the scale and quality of that industrial noise changes significantly in the nineteenth century, when both the machines themselves, and the buildings that contain them, begin to have more metallic components and harder surfaces. A wooden loom in a wooden and stone room, however loud, sounds radically different from a metal loom in reinforced concrete room. Similarly, a nineteenth-century water-powered rice pounder made from stone and wood...

    Sound Clip: Water-powered rice pounder at Shuiseikan UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kagoshima, Japan, September 19, 2018.


    JG: (yelling) Sounds very different from a mid-twentieth-century concrete hydroelectric dam!

    Sound Clip: Shimizusawa Hydroelectric Dam, near Yubari, Japan, September 13, 2018.

    Though I wasn’t able to access the Shimizusawa Thermal Power Plant when I visited in September, I did get some impressive footage of the nearby hydroelectric dam, along with an impromptu self-guided tour Japan’s postindustrial and economically depressed Yubari region on Hokkaido.


    SR: So, much of the twentieth-century desire to eliminate reverberation and echoes had to do with the ways in which architectural sounds changed during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. And with the advent of steam power, and eventually electricity, machines got larger and more powerful. And building surfaces became harder and interacted with those machine sounds in new ways.

    JG: This change in the acoustical qualities of industrial architecture came even more to the fore when the architects of the modern movement began using these industrial materials to design “machines for living in.”

    SR: For example, this Danish critique of the architecture of the Bauhaus cleverly conflates the visual reflections created by all those new hard surfaces with the auditory equivalent:

    JG (voiceover): “In acoustic terms, the room is like a tin box, each word pounding on the lid, sides and bottom. The glazed area in itself is too big, and light from the lower panes bounces in vicious reflections off the floor and tables and into the eyes, which cannot shield themselves from light coming from below.”8

    SR: In the wake of such critiques, the architectural soundscape of the twentieth century became increasingly homogenized and detached from any sense of place. As Emily Thompson puts it:

    SR (voiceover): “Clear, direct, and nonreverberant, this modern sound was easy to understand, but it had little to say about the places in which it was produced and consumed.”9

    SR: This drastic shift points to the fact that somewhere, between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, attitudes towards industrial noise and the associated modern spaces where this noise was created, changed.

    JG: Which means, to move onto the second part of our soundscapes equation, the culture of listening must have changed as well.

    SR: As many scholars of sound and industry have noted, for the nineteenth-century listener, the sound of modern industry was widely regarded as positive, and synonymous with technological progress. James Watt, the British inventor of the steam engine, once remarked upon the connection between sound and industry, noting that:

    JG (voiceover): “I once adjusted the machine so that it made less noise. But the owner cannot sleep, when he cannot hear its rage. People seem to join the power of the machine because of the noise. Modest skills are neither recognized by humans nor machines.”10

    Sound Clip: Diesel engine demonstration at DieselHouse, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 17, 2019.


    DieselHouse Museum in Denmark, Copenhagen. This massive Diesel engine built by Burmeister & Wain was the largest in the world for more than a decade after its construction in 1933. The building that houses it was part of the H.C. Ørsted Værket company and was built in anticipation of this massive generator in 1932. The engine supplied much of Copenhagen’s energy demands for many years and served as a backup generator until the early 2000s. It is still operational today, but is only used for educational and demonstration purposes, such as the one in the sound clip heard here.


    SR: For Watt, industrial noise was a signifier of power and productivity. And even though this noise might have been unpleasant or undesirable for those living and working within earshot of factories, mines, and mills, little was done during the nineteenth century to mitigate that noise. Environmental historian Peter Coates even likens the expansion of noise to notions of manifest destiny and cultural imperialism:

    JG (voiceover): “An onward-marching Euro-American civilization filled the great auditory void of the wilderness with sonic meaning...To the early nineteenth-century modernist ear, mechanical sounds and the noisy bustle of commerce bespoke prosperity. Quiet was synonymous with indolence, backwardness, and stagnation. For the nineteenth-century advocate of industrial progress, a place where you could hear the grass grow (or only the cartwright's mallet and the horse's whinny) was not somewhere you wanted to be.”11

    Sound Clip: Diesel engine demonstration at DieselHouse, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 17, 2019.

    Sound Clip: Rooster and chickens in the yard of a house in the company town of Crespi d’Adda, UNESCO World Heritage Site, January 29, 2019.

    Since the cotton mill at Crespi d’Adda near Milan, Italy is no longer active, much of the company town now has a rural and pastoral feel, amplified by the rustic soundscape of chickens and gardening activity.


    SR: In other words, while contemporary listeners might call industrial sounds “noise pollution” and find solace in a soundscape of nature uninterrupted by human activity, listeners of 150 years ago would have had very different associations with those same auditory events.

    JG: As a result, when we (as contemporary listeners) hear interpretive sound at an industrial heritage site, even if those sounds are historically accurate to the site and space, we are bringing a different set of cultural expectations and beliefs to our listening experience.

    SR: In addition to cultural changes in how we listen, there are also the physical changes and acoustical changes that happen when industrial spaces are transformed from places of active work into heritage sites.

    JG: Spaces are renovated to accommodate the flow of visitors, new structures are added, and machinery is cleared away to expand museum space.

    SR: At the same time, the original architectural fabric may change over time due to weathering and decay. The soundscape of the Humberstone nitrate mine in Chile, for example, is now typified by rusted sheet-metal cladding that makes a very distinctive sound in the wind:

    Sound Clip: The whistling and creaking of rusted sheet metal in the industrial sector of Humberstone nitrate mine, December 11, 2018.

    The Humberstone Engine House, part of the salitrera’s industrial sector where the above sound clip was recorded. As the sheet metal cladding on these industrial structures has rusted and decayed, new sound elements emerge.


    JG: At many sites, nature has been allowed to reclaim former industrial landscapes, and birdsong and trees in the wind like you heard at the Bois du Cazier mine in Belgium have taken the place of active machinery.

    Sound Clip: Birdsong at the Bois du Cazier Slag Heap, Bois du Cazier UNESCO Site, Belgium, February 27, 2019.

    SR: So, knowing that the physical environment of a working nineteenth-century industrial site AND the culture of listening around it are both unrecoverable, how should curators and museum professionals approach the element of interpretive sound at such a site?

    JG: And further, what can interpretive sound add to an industrial site, knowing that a complete recreation of historic sound, and the historical culture of listening to that sound, are lost to the past?

    SR: To try to answer that question, I want to focus in for a few minutes on the most frequent interpretive sound strategy I’ve observed across the globe: adding a recording, played over loudspeakers, of a period-appropriate industrial machine in action.

    JG: This goes back to the idea of acousmatic sound we talked about in part one: that particular category of interpretive sound where the original source of the sound is hidden or dissociated from the listener. Here’s an example of this kind of an acousmatic recording being played at a heritage site:

    Sound Clip: Acousmatic sound of a spinning mule jenny at the Ghent Museum of Industry, Ghent, Belgium, February 24, 2019.

    SR: The sound you heard just now is from a recording at the Museum of Industry in Ghent of a spinning mule jenny.

    JG: This is a vast textile machine that spins raw fibre into thread in mass quantities. The automatic, or self-acting version of the machine, was invented in the 1820s. These machines were often operated by children before the eventual introduction of child labor laws.

    SR: The museum in Ghent has a rare example in its collection, presented as the single artifact in a long, custom-built space. At one end of the darkened room, archival film footage plays, showing child workers using one of these machines.



    The permanent exhibition on the top floor of the Ghent Museum of Industry (MIAT) is comprised of a series of single-room exhibitions that flow in chronological order, each in separate, enclosed structures scattered across the open daylight factory floor. One of these room-sized displays is the darkened room that houses the spinning mule jenny, one of the rarest and largest artifacts in the museum’s collection.


    JG: This museum in Ghent is located in a former textile factory, where such a device would have been operated. The interaction between the space, the machine artifact, the film, and the sound, creates a complete sensory experience.

    SR: A few days later, I went to the House of European History museum in Brussels. In the part of the general exhibition devoted to industry, I was surprised to hear this sound again:

    Sound Clip: Acousmatic sound of a spinning mule jenny at the Ghent Museum of Industry, Ghent, Belgium, February 24, 2019.

    SR: But in this second experience, the acousmatic sound of the spinning mule jenny was disconnected from any signification of what created that sound. Gazing at industrial artifacts from across Europe, some of which did have to do with textile manufacture, I realized that this sound was being used metonymically, or symbolically.

    JR: So, in other words, by using this distinct sound in an exhibition meant to encompass the entire European Industrial Revolution, this recording of the spinning mule jenny was meant to signify a lot more than just a single advancement in textile machinery—it was standing in for broader abstract concepts like mass production, rationalization, and the dehumanization of the factory worker.

    SR: There’s nothing wrong with using sound to evoke a feeling or idea. Many industrial sites use sound in precisely this way. What I think can be problematic though is the use of sound in a way that conforms to visitor’s preconceptions.

    JG: Ideally, a public history experience prompts us to confront the past in a new way, causes us to examine our entrenched beliefs and maybe revise them.

    SR: The issue I have with so much acousmatic sound used at industrial heritage sites is that it functions as glorified audio set dressing. Take the M/S Maritime Museum in Denmark, for example.

    JG: This building has gotten a lot of press because it was designed by the famous contemporary Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, and cleverly reuses the underground site of a former shipyard. The installation itself presents a highly produced but very general view of Danish maritime culture. The exhibit is soundtracked by old film footage and sound effects:

    Sound Clip: Acousmatic maritime military soundscape from the M/S Maritime Museum, Helsingør, Denmark, March 21, 2019.


    A slick, high production-value historical display at the M/S Maritime Museum In Helsingør, Denmark, which opened to much acclaim in 2013. The theatrical polish of the permanent exhibition rivals that of the architecture, an award-winning Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) design sunk below the earth in a historical dry dock in the Helsingør shipyard.


    JG: Within the model of museum as entertainment, the richness of the Maritime Museum’s soundscape creates atmosphere and enhances the overall museum environment.

    SR: But I would argue that creating atmosphere is not exactly the same as historical storytelling. Catering to stereotypes of seafaring culture, these sounds effectively perpetuate our preconceptions rather than prompt us to examine them. For that reason, some of the auditory interventions I’ve found the most enlightening and rewarding in industrial heritage spaces are those that strive towards art over historical accuracy.

    JG: Sound installation art broadens the range of visitor experiences in an industrial site and might even inspire us to look closer, in addition to listening closer. Take that formative sound art piece by composer John Cage: 4’33”.

    SR: In the performance of 4’33”, which can be executed with any instruments and number of performers, musicians are instructed not to play their instruments for the duration of the piece. What is typically at the forefront of such a performance—that is, live music, drops away, revealing instead the incidental soundscape of the performance hall.12 A cough, the rustling of a program, the sound of the ventilation system—all these sound events became part of the piece.

    Sound Clip: Visitors being “silent” in a piece by James Turrell called “Open Sky” at the Chichu Museum of Art, Naoshima, Japan, October 10, 2018.

    JG: Other more recent examples of sound art engage specifically with industrial heritage. For instance, the work entitled “A View of a Landscape” by artist Kevin Beasley currently at the Whitney Museum in New York.

    SR: In this work, Beasley repurposes a twentieth-century cotton gin as a kind of musical instrument, employing this industrial machine for its auditory potential rather than its original intended use of processing cotton fibre. In doing so, Beasley defamiliarizes this potent historical object, bringing to light issues of space, race, power, and industrialization in the American South.

    JG: Links to more information and videos of this work can be found as part of the podcast transcript at SAH.org.

    SR: I’ve encountered sound installations in a variety of contexts in a number of the industrial heritage sites I’ve visited. For instance, there was this really evocative sound installation by the Belgian artist François Curlet as part of a recent solo show called “Crésus & Crusoé” at MAC’s, or Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles at the Grand Hornu. But before we play you the clip, we need to describe the space.

    JG: MAC’s shares its space with the Grand Hornu, an early nineteenth-century Belgian coal mine, which shares its UNESCO listing with the Bois du Cazier, the site we discussed in part 1.

    SR: The space itself is pure neoclassical Utopianism. In fact, the architect of the Grand Hornu was very directly inspired by the French architect Ledoux’s plan for the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans.



    The architect of the Grand Hornu, Bruno Renard, was directly inspired by Ledoux’s 1804 book, and the site incorporates many features similar to the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans. A former coal mine and company town, this site was nearly razed in 1969 to make room for a shopping mall parking lot. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012 and today shares its space with two art museums, in addition to housing office space and serving as an occasional community gathering and theater space.

    JG: If you have no idea what we’re talking about, remember that you can see all the visual material by going to SAH.org and navigating to the Brooks blog from the homepage!

    SR: Anyway, so imagine this planned community, which centers around an oval shaped center courtyard. All of the structures are really monumental and quite imposing.

    JG: And one side of that oval, the former administration building, has been converted into this art museum, MAC’s, and several new, very contemporary-looking structures have been added.


    The blend of old and new construction at MAC’s, and the interior gallery stairs where I heard the sound installation that was part of Belgian artist François Curlet’s recent exhibition there.

    SR: So it’s in that space where I heard this sound installation piece:

    Sound Clip: Acousmatic sound from art installation by François Curlet at MAC’s, Grand Hornu, Mons, Belgium, March 1, 2019.

    JG: You’ve got some pleasant harp music, with the occasional bleating sheep in the background.

    SR: In this former industrial building, the overall effect upends your expectations of how the space should sound. Hearing this very idyllic and even rural sound collage made me really stop and think about the what expectations and assumptions I had brought with me to this site.

    JG: Rather than just reflecting visitors’ preconceptions about industrial spaces back to them, this kind of sound intervention disrupts cliché and stereotype and makes you wonder—what do we really know about the landscape of industry?

    SR: At the end of the day, the element of sound at industrial heritage sites is a conversation between museum professionals and listening audiences.

    JG: Visitors who are aware that the soundscapes they encounter are not just neutral backdrops have a much greater chance of appreciating the nuances of their public history experience.

    SR: And conversely, museum professionals who use sound as an integral interpretive element that transcends the standard soundtrack of industry have a greater chance of communicating the importance of preserving and interpreting industrial places.

    JG: Thanks for listening to this special episode of Sundowners. If you enjoyed this and would like to catch up on back episodes, you can search for Sundowners wherever you get your podcasts.

    SR: Script, editing, and producing for this episode by me, with additional editing assistance from John. All sounds in this podcast were recorded by me in my capacity as H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow unless otherwise noted. You can see more visual material and read the complete transcript of this episode at SAH.org.

    JG: As always, our theme music is by The Limiñanas.

    SR: Happy trails, listeners.

    Exit Music: The Limiñanas, “Tigre du Bengale - Instr.,” The Limiñanas, Trouble In Mind Records, LLC, 2010.

    Further Reading

    Coates, Peter A. “The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise,” Environmental History 10, no. 4 (October 2005), 636-665.

    Corbin, Alain. Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth-Century French Countryside. London: Papermac, 1999.

    Fowler, Michael. “On Listening in a Future City.” Grey Room no. 42 (Winter 2011): 33.

    Gunderlach, Jonathan. “Exploring a Character-Defining Feature of Historic Places.” APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology 38, no. 4 (2007): 13-20.

    Schafer, R. Murray. The Tuning of the World: Toward a Theory of Soundscape Design. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980.

    Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

    Thompson, Emily A. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004.

    Further Listening

    Gordon Hempton, “Silence and the Presence of Everything.On Being with Krista Tippett,original airdate May 10, 2012.

    Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast.

    Ways of Hearing,” Showcase podcast by Radiotopia.fm, originally aired Summer 2017.

    1. Conceived as “conversations architecture, place, and global travel,” “Sundowners” was named for the ritual that concludes the day on an African safari—a practice of gathering with friends and strangers over food and drinks to watch the sunset and reflect on the day. ↩︎
    2. One of the more prominent scholars to endorse this theory is social anthropologist Tim Ingold. Michael Fowler, “On Listening in a Future City,” Grey Room no. 42 (Winter 2011): 33. ↩︎
    3. Refer to Raymond Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977). For a succinct summary of Schaffer’s work within the context of historical preservation, see Jonathan Gunderlach, “Exploring a Character-Defining Feature of Historic Places,” APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology 38, no. 4 (2007): 13-20. ↩︎
    4. Alain Corbin, as paraphrased by Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge, Mass.; London, England: MIT Press, 2004), 1. ↩︎
    5. Fowler, “On Listening in a Future City,” 26. ↩︎
    6. Alain Corbin, as paraphrased by Thompson, 1. ↩︎
    7. Thompson, 2. ↩︎
    8. Quote from Danish magazine Kritisk Revy (Critical Review), founded by Poul Henningsen, published 1926-1928; quote as seen at the Danish Designmuseum in Copenhagen, Denmark. ↩︎
    9. Thompson, 3. ↩︎
    10. Quote from James Watt (1736-1819), as it appears on the interpretive signage at the DieselHouse Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. ↩︎
    11. Peter A. Coates, “The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise,” Environmental History 10, no. 4 (October 2005), 643. ↩︎
    12. Fowler, “On Listening in a Future City,” 38. ↩︎
  • Architectures of Wind, Water, and Wood: European Industry Before Steam Power

    by User Not Found | Mar 07, 2019
    Rovang SAH Blog 7

    Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    On the ground floor of Milan’s Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia is a parade of collection highlights. There is a massive 1895 steam engine named the Regina Margherita and a recreation of an alchemical pharmacy interior. A behemoth early computer holds court nearby. Behind a long panel of glass, there’s a dangling many-armed robot capable of learning from the movements of the visitors who stop to ogle it. The robot watched as I half-heartedly waved my arms at it; it merely shrugged (I later saw it engaged in a merry jig opposite an animated toddler). Right next to the robot display is a hulking Jacquard loom, a room-filling late nineteenth-century contraption capable, with the collaboration of a single human worker, of producing complex textile patterns through an automated process enabled by cards punched with holes that correspond to different mechanical actions. The machine is entirely mechanical, but looking at those punch cards, it was hard to avoid drawing a line to the 1960s computer nearby, and then to the prehensile robot. That was perhaps precisely the point of the display, as now each of these information machines share the same space: the former monastery of San Vittore whose high ceilings and large chambers are seemingly just as suited to displaying the typically oversized industrial items in the museum’s collection as they were to facilitating monastic ritual.

    The Regina Margherita, a 1895 thermal power plant that was used to power 1,800 looms in the silk workshop of Egidio and Pio Gavazzi in Desio, Italy.

    This Jacquard loom from the late nineteenth century is capable of managing 12,800 warp threads through the use of punch cards while a single worker manages the loom’s weft. The model seen here is notably complex, even compared to other contemporary Jacquard looms.1

    When I first formulated my Brooks Travelling Fellowship theme around the “public history of industrial heritage,” I narrowed my selection of sites to those from the nineteenth century and after. I wanted to focus on those sites dating to during or after the industrial revolution, and to spaces and technologies in particular that were influenced by the rise of steam and coal power. It’s modernist hubris though, to think that the industrial revolution was a true break with the past. The groundwork of industrialization, and indeed the architectural and economic infrastructure of the nineteenth century, was laid much earlier in many parts of Europe. In trying to pick up a story that I thought mostly began in the early 1800s, I’ve ended up following threads that wind back sometimes as far as the 1400s.

    Within the larger category of industrial heritage sites, those sites which predate the industrial revolution, or which have strong ties to industrial models before the rise of steam power, occupy a somewhat strange place in the cultural imaginary of Europe. There’s something outwardly nostalgic about them—on the surface their built landscapes seem to harken back to “simpler” times. Yet simultaneously, they complicate the easy narrative of global industrialization by showing that complex factory production methods and intensive resource extraction antedate steam power by several centuries.

    Further, many of the sites serve as architectural registers for the varied and uneven effects of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution. Some existing industrial sites or regions were almost wholly rebuilt to accommodate steam power, for others the structural changes were minimal and old lifeways and production methods prevailed despite the introduction of new technologies and sources of power. In this post, I examine the architectural legacy of the industrial revolution across three very different sites: Crespi d’Adda, Italy; Idrija, Slovenia; and Zaanse Schans, Netherlands.

    Crespi d’Adda: Symbolic Architecture at the Advent of Electrification

    Along the banks of the Adda River, about 25 km northeast of Milan, lies the former cotton-mill town of Crespi d’Adda. Built in the decades between 1878 and 1930, Crespi d’Adda sprung from the vision of priest-turned-lawyer-turned-speculator Cristoforo Benigno Crespi (1833-1920) and his descendants.2 Today Crespi d’Adda is both a UNESCO site and an inhabited town, a seemingly dubious distinction for the residents who face an influx of curious visitors during the summer months. When I visited on a weekday in January, I encountered no other sightseers, but the residents did not seem surprised to see a visitor with a camera roaming their streets.

    A walk along the Adda River. In the distance, the neogothic tower of the Crespi family castle and brick chimneys of the factory are just visible.

    Shortly after arriving, I climbed the Bersò, a steep cobblestone path framed by an arch of hornbeam trees, up to Via Stadium from which a new viewing platform provides a panoramic view of the town. The town follows a nearly orthogonal plan—a slender rectangle laid out against the riverside. Straight ahead lay the regimented rows of worker cottages, near perfect cubes topped with shallow hip roofs, surrounded by invariably tidy and well-kept gardens. Off to the right sat the industrial section of the town, marked most prominently from this vantage point by its monolithic brick chimneys, only paralleled in stature and monumentality by the octagonal church at the town’s center (an exact replica of Santa Maria di Piazza Church in Busto Arsizio, Cristoforo Crespi’s hometown), and the tower of the Crespi family’s ostentatious neogothic castle.3 The only deviations from the Cartesian grid of the plan were the suburban villas for the mill’s executives, which were added later and follow a slightly more suburban layout, and the cemetery, which forms the foreboding terminus to the main street running lengthways through town.

    The Bersò, or path, leading up to the elevated Via Stadium, where the homes of the town doctor and priest are located.

    Vista from the panoramic viewing platform showing the worker cottages and the industrial area in the distance.

    Crespi d’Adda’s church, a duplicate of Santa Maria di Piazza Church in Busto Arsizio, Cristoforo Crespi’s hometown.

    The Crespi family villa-castle, designed by architect Ernesto Pirovano and engineer Pietro Brunati, 1893-94. This castle served as the Crespi family summer home from 1894 to 1930. The top balcony, visible here above the high wall ringing the property, provided the Crespis with a panopticon-like gaze over the town and factory. Like most of the other architecture in the town, the power of the Crespi castle is in its forceful symbolism.

    One of eight executive villas tucked behind the worker cottages in a wooded area. The villas are notable for their distinctive styles, asymmetrical floor plans, and more suburban siting as compared to the neat rows of worker cottages.

    Portentously, the main factory road terminates in the cemetery. From this distance, the foreboding silhouette of the Crespi family mausoleum is just barely visible.

    I thought back to the mining town of Sewell in Chile, which I wrote about last month, with its lavish “Teniente Club” and single-family housing for the North American administrators, and simple wooden multi-story apartment blocks for the mine workers. Following the English worker cottages model, Crespi d’Adda quickly pivoted from apartment housing to single family dwellings—an arrangement that was designed to prevent strife between workers and provide the “necessary quietness to rest” but also, we might infer, conveniently impeded worker movements and unionization.4 The Crespi family castle makes the Teniente Club seem restrained and modest by comparison. While Sewell’s architectural hierarchy manifested in terms of scale and placement on the mountain, the whole town—from the director’s house to the lowliest miner’s barrack—was collectively fighting the forces of gravity. The colorful jumble of wooden structures spilling down the mountainside registers less as an attempt to impose order than to merely stay upright. Crespi d’Adda, on the other hand, is an entire architectural universe of ordered life, followed by an ordered death in the rigidly composed cemetery, encoded with nuanced hierarchies that are registered in both scale and style.

    It was that vision of order, of a reformed utopian worker community, that motivated the architectural designs of Crespi d’Adda. By the time that Italy began an intensive process of industrialization following Italian unification in 1861, the industrial revolution was well under way in other parts of Europe. Thus Italian factory builders like Crespi already had a range of precedents on which to draw in their designs and layouts. The new “sanitary-philanthropic” model of worker housing introduced by Henry Robert at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London strongly influenced Crespi’s plans, as did built examples such as the town of Mulhouse in France. Other rationalist, utopian precedents included New Lanark in Scotland and Saltaire in England.5 The platonic geometries of Crespi d’Adda and the strident, symbolic expression of stylistic features even recalls the much earlier architecture parlante of Ledoux’s royal saltworks at Arc-et-Senans. Aspiring to expressive architecture rather than archaeologically accurate historicist styles, Crespi d’Adda’s architects, including Ernesto Pirovano (1866-1934), Gaetano Moretti (1860-1938), Pietro Brunati (1854-1933), and Angelo Colla, employ rich detail, varied materials, and vivid polychromy to emphasize the stylistic features of the town’s structures. Although much of the architecture could be loosely described as “Lombardy neo-Gothic” or Renaissance, there are plenty of instances where neo-Classicism and even Vienna Secession peek through.6 Positions higher up in the factory hierarchy meant more elaborately ornamented houses in a wider variety of possible styles.

    The first housing built for workers in 1878-88 were these barracks-style lodgings called palazzotti. In the 1890s, under the management of Cristoforo’s son Silvio, the town switched to worker cottages following the model that had been introduced at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

    The worker cottages, such as this one, follow regular, symmetrical floor plans. The yards were meant to be vegetable gardens where workers could grow their own food.

    One of five cottages for clerical workers and department heads. Constructed after World War I, these structures are a testament to the growing managerial class at Crespi d’Adda—one of the byproducts of the expansion enabled by electrification. Their ornament, which picks up elements of the Vienna Secession and even recalls the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright, calls attention to their elevated position above the regular worker cottages. They featured reception rooms and their backyards were intended for recreation.

    The onsite signage describes Crespi d’Adda’s cemetery as a “self-contained universe.” While the graves on the left are modern additions, the rigid orthogonal rows of graves marked with crosses are those of former workers.

    The Crespi family mausoleum lords over the well-ordered worker graves. Constructed in 1905-1908, the mausoleum was designed by architect Gaetano Moretti in 1896 as part of a competition organized by the Crespi family for this commission. The eccentric stylistic hybridity and diverse allusions of the sculptural reliefs are arguably the culmination of the town’s overtly symbolic architecture.

    An undated aerial illustration, likely from around 1900. The hydroelectric dam is not shown, nor are most of the executive villas. Image source: “Crespi d’Adda in a Nutshell,” onsite interpretive signage, photographed January 28, 2019.

    While many of Crespi d’Adda’s design choices can be attributed to other European industrial precedents, and to Crespi’s own eccentric utopianism, the town is firmly rooted in Italy’s pre-electric industrial past. When the factory was first inaugurated at the end of the 1870s, it used hydraulic energy to mechanically power the devices in the cotton mill. In 1886, Cristoforo Crespi commissioned a thermal power plant, which would use steam power. This new power system allowed the cotton factory to expand from 12,000 to 20,000 spindles. Several decades later in 1909, a hydroelectric dam was built and the operation switched to electricity, which was more dynamic and adaptable to different uses within the factory settings.7 But the idea of building a textile mill using hydropower follows a long tradition in northern Italy.

    A few days after my visit to Crespi d’Adda, I took the train to Bologna to visit the Museum of Industrial Heritage there. Housed in a former brick and ceramics factory, the museum’s flagship exhibition shows the development of the silk crepe industry in and around Bologna—a large network of factories that relied on the motive force of moving water to power the mechanisms of vast and complex spinning and spooling machines. In the eighteenth century, as many as 74 silk mills were active around Bologna, along with other hydraulic factories making products such as paper, mangles, and millstones.8 So much of the process of making silk thread was done by water-powered machines, that some aspects only required a lone child supervisor to watch over the machines in case of breakage or error. Early industrialists likewise employed the Adda River for a variety of uses from the 1400s through the 1800s, including textile manufacture, paper-making, and irrigation.9

    A scale model of a spindle machine and child worker from the silk factories of eighteenth-century Bologna at the Bologna Museum of Industrial Heritage.

    For the Crespi family, who clung strongly to the idea of architectural unity in their plans for Crespi d’Adda, the change in power source did not necessitate an underlying reorganization of the town’s social structure, but merely an expansion of that structure and the factory facilities. Both before and after the introduction of hydroelectric energy, Crespi d’Adda’s positioning along the Adda River was critical—and the historic and technological context of that position remained essential as the company town switched over to a new system of power. The factory complex, which had initially measured 7,650 square meters at the end of the 1870s, expanded to 90,000 square meters by the late 1920s. The pattern of growth was organized to maintain the “overall architectural harmony,” building progressively outward from the original square plaza of the factory designed by architect Angelo Colla, and using compatible Lombardy neo-Gothic style with earthenware ornament.10 Additionally, with the rise of the new hydroelectric facilities, the managerial and engineer class employed by the factory also expanded, reflected in the addition of new houses for middle-managers and clerical workers.

    One of the remaining structures connected to Crespi d’Adda’s hydroelectric dam, constructed in 1904.

    An archival photograph of the richly ornamented interior of the hydroelectric plant, showing “the importance of aesthetics as well as efficiency.” Image source: “Hydroelectric plant,” onsite interpretive signage, photographed January 28, 2019.

    The monumental, symmetrical entrance to the main factory, added following the plans of Alessandro Mazzucotelli in 1925.

    The expansive factory sheds are ornamented with terra cotta in the same Lombardy neo-Gothic style used elsewhere in the town.

    The Four Phases of Crespi d’Adda, plans showing the town’s original development. Image source: “Maps and Drawings,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 28, 2019, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/maps-and-drawings/?lang=en

    Present day tourist map of the site. Image source: “Maps and Drawings,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 28, 2019, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/map/?lang=en

    Today in Crespi d’Adda, relics of the factory’s electrified years are integrated into the plan of the town, and have a similar architectural treatment to the older structures that predate them. An electric substation with neoclassic, gothic, and perhaps even Moorish elements has an idealized geometry and solidity to its design not fundamentally different from the church or worker cottages. For the Crespi family, electricity was just another tool that might be employed in the service of their ideal worker community—a mechanism through which the ordered architectural universe might be expanded further.

    The electric substation, added after the plant converted to electric energy.


    Idrija’s Mercury Mine: The Industrial Longue Durée at a Cultural Periphery

    The bus ride out to Idrija from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana traces a path from bucolic pastures into the dramatic foothills of the Alps. The kozolecs (or roofed hay racks) that dot the agrarian landscape are Slovenia’s most iconic vernacular structure—one Slovenian architecture student I spoke to even showed me his forearm tattoo depicting one. Pretty soon though, the kozolecs disappear, replaced by what Austrians call “the end of the Alps” and Slovenians know as “the beginning of the Alps.”

    On the road to Idrija; the “beginning of the Alps.”


    Sited among the low-slung mountains surrounding a bend in the Idrijca River, the topography of Idrija lends itself to architectural vistas encompassing five centuries of construction. Near the center of town the steeple of the Church of the Holy Trinity (c. 1500) cuts a distinctive silhouette. Nearby, on one of the hillsides is a sixteenth-century castle—the only Austro-Hungarian castle that never housed nobility. Instead, it was used variously as the mine headquarters and later to store the purified mercury before it was exported to other parts of the world. On another hill rests a former Italian military barracks from the interwar period when the Italians occupied western Slovenia and which is now a psychiatric hospital. Near the hospital sits the picturesque church of St. Anthony of Padua with the Calvary, a 1766 chapel built by miners who manually carried the building materials up the hill.11 On a third is the last of the mercury processing units to be built in Idrija, a facility constructed in the 1960s that operated until the 1990s when mercury production finally ceased. That mercury extraction unit is now part of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the main mine entrance and headquarters building. It was there—to the headquarters building at Anthony’s Main Road—that I headed first upon arrival.

    Topographic model of Idrija at the town’s Municipal Museum.

    This castle dating from the early sixteenth century has been variously used as the mine headquarters and storage for mercury, but today it serves as the Municipal Museum and a music school. The inner courtyard (seen later in the post) shows the eighteenth-century renovations that attempted to bring the castle up to a more fashionable baroque style.

    The view from the castle seen above looking down over the hills of Idrija.

    View across the Idrijca River of St. Anthony of Padua with the Calvary, on the hillside, with the stations of the cross on the distant hillside behind it.

    View of the industrial area of town as seen from the 1960s mercury smelting plant. St. Anthony of Padua with the Calvary is on the nearest hill; the barracks turned psychiatric hospital can just be made out on the second hill behind it.


    As visitors begin their tour of the historic mercury mine, they pass through the second oldest preserved mine entrance in Europe. Most industrial mine shafts I’ve been down (which is one of those strange phrases I can use with some authority by this point in the Brooks Fellowship year) are surrounded by conspicuous mining headgear to power elevators and lifts to extract the mined ore. Not so at Idrija—the mine entrance opens directly from out the back of the headquarters office at ground level, separated only by a door. On one side of that threshold is the order and symmetry of the mine headquarters, on the other, a maze of low, dark mine corridors radiating out for several kilometers and penetrating several hundred meters below the earth. The standard miner send-off is emblazoned above door: “Srečno,” meaning “good luck” in Slovenian. The gentle grade of that corridor slopes down to a small underground chapel where sculptures depicting the patron saints of Idrija and miners stand guard to the mine proper. Today only 5% of the original mine tunnels are still open, and these primarily for tourism activities pertaining to Idrija’s “Heritage of Mercury” UNESCO site. The rest have been back-filled with soil or water to slow the subsidence of the town above, which rests directly over the spiderweb of deep tunnels.

    The former mine headquarters at Anthony’s Main Road.

    The mine entrance at Anthony’s Main Road, which cuts directly from the mine into the hillside behind the building.

    The underground chapel where Idrija’s miners would stop to pray on their way to work each day.

    After a claustrophobia-inducing hour underground with my very international English-language mine tour group (eight Malaysians, two Romanians, and two Brits), I was glad to be back in the sunshine and fresh air. I wandered up to the Hg Smelting Plant to continue my “Heritage of Mercury” circuit. The tour there followed the course of the ore through the process of extraction, all the way from the top of the plant, where gravity was used to sort and grade the crushed mine ore, down to the massive tube where heated ore was melted to produce mercury vapors, which were then recondensed as purified liquid mercury. On one level of the plant, masking tape Xs dotted the floor—the remnants of the blocking directions for a small production of a Shakespeare play recently staged inside the processing facility. Our guide explained that he has been trying to bring new cultural events into the plant to reactivate the space.

    The 1960s smelting plant has been transformed into an interpretive center and much of the original equipment has been retained as part of the UNESCO site.

    The smelting plant’s extensive interior is now occasionally being used as an entertainment and community space.

    Remnants of the industrial mercury distillation process, these pipes are nicknamed “macaroni” for their distinctive shape. The name is also a reminder of the Italian occupation of the region during the interwar years and World War II, a period during which Slovenian ethnic culture was harshly suppressed.

    It’s anecdotes like that that might explain why, even though the mercury production at Idrija has ceased (the EU banned the production of commercial mercury in 2011), this town doesn’t have the same hollowed-out feeling of many other post-industrial communities I’ve visited. There’s a little sadness around the edges—you could hear it in this young guide’s voice when he described the high levels of mercury still in the river and in the bodies of people living nearby. The environmental and public health effects of mercury will still be felt in Idrija for many years to come. However, Idrija is one of the few places I’ve visited where industrial heritage tourism does seem to be palpably adding to the economy and prestige of a post-industrial community.

    The lavishly decorated baroque interior courtyard of the Municipal Museum (the exterior of this sixteenth-century castle can be seen above). Idrija’s impressive Municipal Museum housed here recently won an award for being the best industrial or technical museum in Europe. Industrial heritage tourism has put Idrija back on the map since the UNESCO inscription.

    The architecture of the area is a bit of an enigma though. Despite the overt modernity of the smelting plant, the rest of the town has a distinctly old world feel. As I walked around the town after the tour, I thought about all of the things that this town has endured in its 500-year history. In contrast to the rapid boom-and-bust cycles of other industrial places I’ve visited, the mine at Idrija has witnessed the Protestant Reformation, the Counterreformation, the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and two world wars. And over the course of that same half-millennium, the miners of Idrija have used at least six different methods of extracting mercury.12 In the earliest iterations, miners would heat crushed ore in earthen pots, allowing the mercury to pool at the bottom. Later, furnaces using the same principals as a still for the production of distilled alcohol improved extraction rates and made the industrial-scale production of mercury possible for the first time. The final iteration—the 1960s rotary furnace that has is still extant—is the culmination of those many developments.

    But for all of the industrial advancement of mercury mining and extraction in the twentieth-century, much of Idrija’s architecture is distinctly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century. During the eighteenth century, extraction technology improved dramatically at the same time that miners were exploiting some of the densest, richest ore. That period of lucrative production spurred the addition of technologically more advanced mine pumps, as well as investment in the public sphere. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, Idrija witnessed the construction of a theater, a grain storage magazine, and new housing—many of these structures reflecting the Baroque styles popular in Vienna at the time. The next great spat of new civic building dates to the end of the nineteenth century, following the Europe-wide fervor for industrial reform (think Crespi d’Adda and its precursors). Many of the buildings dating to this second period of rapid construction pertain to education and the formation of community, including a town hall, a formalized school of lacemaking, an elementary school, and the first Slovenian non-classical school.

    Idrija’s 1770 theater building. Foreign troops performed at this theater, and local Slovenian-language productions were also staged here.

    The 1764 grain storage warehouse has today been converted into a library, art gallery, and the Idrija War Museum.

    This school, constructed in 1876 as the Mining Folk School, still houses educational organizations such as the Idrija Lacemaking School.

    Typical worker housing in Idrija dating to the late nineteenth century.

    To say that the built landscape of the town depended on the success of the mine is accurate to some extent, but overlooks the nuanced global politics in which the mine was embroiled throughout its history. As Idrija blossomed from a provincial village to an increasingly more cosmopolitan town, it attracted engineers, scientists, and cartographers not just from the Habsburg Empire, which controlled the region for many years, but from across Europe. In addition to its role in an increasingly global economy, Idrija also became a center of lace production. Lacemaking was a vital way for women to generate income in the (sadly likely) event that their husbands died young due to mercury poisoning.

    But even with artisanal lace and an itinerant population of educated elites, Idrija remained somewhat of a sociocultural backwater. The town’s relationship with the Hapsburg Empire, and later with Italy, was very colonial—the Slovene ethnic population were viewed as minority outsiders rather than citizens. As the architecture student with the kozolec tattoo told me, “We Slovenians are for all minorities, being a minority ourselves.” That marginal position as a town with a massively valuable resource always on the cultural and geographic fringes of more powerful empires and nations shaped its architecture more than the technological progress of the mine. Idrija’s architecture is less a snapshot of rapid industrialization than a case study in the ways in which an industry changes over the longue durée, and the people and lifeways contributing to that industry change alongside it.

    Zaanse Schans: Nostalgia for Wind and the “Invention” of Zaan Architecture

    Stepping off the bus at Zaanse Schans, it was the smell that hit me first. If the wind is blowing off the sea—and it almost always is—the odor of Dutch-processed cocoa is unrelenting, punctuated only by an occasional fragrant whiff of marsh and livestock. Along the Zaan River stands a row of historic windmills, and the recreation of a village comprised of historic homes and businesses dating mostly to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nearby is the Zaanse Schans Museum and the associated Verkade Pavilion, a model of a historic chocolate biscuit factory that smells even more strongly of cocoa than the air outside.

    Zaanse Schans purports to be the oldest industrial area in the Netherlands “and perhaps in the world.” While practically every Dutch town historically had a flour mill at its center, the mills of Zaanse Schans used the motive force of wind to power saw mills, paint and oil production, starch refinement, paper making, spice grinding, and of course, cocoa. By the end of the eighteenth century, the landscape was a swirling mass of windmills, following a variety of architectural models. Those windmills kept turning all the way through most of the nineteenth century, even after production rates in Britain, and then in France and Belgium, soared with the adoption of steam power. Eventually, the economic incentives to switch to coal and steam became great enough that new, modern factories joined the windmills along the Zaan and eventually supplanted them. Today, the vista from the viewing platform above Zaanse Schans includes swampy marshland in the foreground, the historic windmills of the recreated historic village in the midground, and the steam-stacks of modern, operational factories in the distance.

    The vista from the viewing platform overlooking Zaanse Schans and the Zaan region.

    Historic windmills line the Zaan River.

    De Kat Windmill, dating originally to 1646 (rebuilt following a fire in 1782). It is the only remaining windmill in the world that manufactures paint. Unlike some of the other models at Zaanse Schans, only the top of this windmill rotates to follow the wind.

    The Zaanse Schans living history area is akin to a Dutch Colonial Williamsburg. The historic structures themselves, which include merchants’ houses, shops, warehouses, and windmills, were relocated starting in 1959, as part of a plan by the Dutch architect Jaap Schipper.13 This open-air portion of the site can be ostensibly visited for free, though many buildings, including the larger windmills, cost a small fee for entrance. After struggling with the audio guide app, I gave up and stood in line for overpriced hot chocolate. Screaming children and stoned teenagers thronged through the cheese museum and the goat petting area, so I headed for the less popular merchants’ houses and the clock museum. Later, I climbed up to the platform of a working windmill, whose giant mill stones were furiously grinding flour, and then entered another that was grinding cloves—a fiercely festive scent powerful enough to temporarily overwhelm the ubiquitous odor of chocolate. All these buildings are presented rather uncritically as mimetic architectural manifestations of Zaan culture (and also of historic Dutch culture in general). The level and quality of interpretation in each of the buildings is highly variable—with few exceptions, windmill and wooden shoe kitsch prevails.

    The petting zoo attraction at Zaanse Schans.

    Outside the Wooden Shoe Museum at Zaanse Schans.

    A restored merchant’s house. The status of the original owner and his occupation are communicated symbolically and materially by the ornament around the door.

    A combination of house and warehouse, located near the Zaan River to facilitate easy unloading and storage.

    Several dozen structures have been relocated to form the “historic” village of Zaanse Schans, including a number of residences, some of which are inhabited.

    The blurred inner workings of the spice grinding mill, rotating quickly as the windmill grinds cloves.

    It is only the excellent Zaanse Schans Museum, which costs 12 Euros and is accordingly less popular than the “free” area, that acknowledges the way in which the very conception of a Zaan cultural identity was really a reaction to the incursion of modern industry, and to nineteenth-century anxieties about changing lifeways in the region. One exhibit, entitled with intentional irony “Typical of the Zaan Region,” recreates an 1874 exhibition entitled “Tentoonstelling Zaanlandsche Oudheden en Merkwaardigheden” (“Zaan Antiquities and Curiosities”). The exhibit asks:

    ”What really typifies the Zaan region? Is it the landscape with its little wooden houses? Or is it the people with their Zaan customs, wearing traditional Zaan clothing, keeping their treasures in Zaan-style cabinets? Or is it just a cliché? And if so, where did this cliché come from?”14

    Through the reinterpretation of the original artifacts displayed in 1874, the exhibit elucidates the ways in which our contemporary conception of historic Zaan culture was really a construction of the upper classes, motivated by a fear of losing specific elements of material history and intangible folklore to a new era of steam power and mass production. It was arguably that hegemonic vision of Zaan identity that motivated the construction of Zaanse Schans starting in the late 1950s.

    The entrance area of the Zaanse Schans Museum.

    One of the original artifacts that appeared as part of the “Zaan Antiquities and Curiosities” exhibition. This painting depicts a local legend known as “The Cruelty of the Bull.” It later became synonymous with Zaan heritage, and was reproduced in paintings, on commemorative plates, and other consumer items.

    La Zaan-Holland, windmills on the Noorder Valdeursloot, Frans Courtens, 1897. Some artists, like Courtens, focused on the remaining windmills and pre-steam “traditional” architecture of the Zaan region even as new industry began to move in, changing the area’s architectural character.

    Factories on the Zaan, Herman Heijenbrock (1871-1948; painting undated). Other artists, such as Heijenbrock, chose to depict the changes to the region, highlighting the transformations wrought by steam and coal.

    The Verkade Pavilion, though, at the Zaanse Schans Museum, shows another, equally valid aspect of Zaan culture—that around the industrial manufacture of chocolate-coated biscuits at the Verkade factory. With a strong focus on worker life and the lives of the “Verkade Girls,” this interpretive experience highlights the diversity of the women workers and their experiences. I found myself immersed in a digital game of assembling boxed chocolates off a fast-moving conveyor belt, a frantic and ultimately frustrating experience based on actual historical tasks assigned to factory workers. Later I donned the Verkade factory uniform and posed in front of a giant vat of chocolate. This industrial heritage experience is in some ways more immersive than the “living history” museum outside. Complete with archival corporate materials and oral histories of former workers, the Verkade Pavilion conclusively demonstrates that the formation of Zaan culture did not cease with the purportedly definitive Zaan Antiquities and Curiosities exhibition in 1874. Twentieth-century industrial heritage is as much a part of the region’s history as its eighteenth-century windmills, though perhaps coal-fired steel-framed factories don’t look as good on a commemorative mug.

    The exterior of the Verkade Pavilion.

    Machinery on display at the Verkade Pavilion, demonstrating how chocolate biscuits are manufactured. The display also features extensive archival material pertaining to worker life and experiences.

    The author, dressed for work as a “Verkade Girl.”


    At Zaanse Schans, the industrial revolution really did register as a rupture with the past because the replacement of wind power with coal power fundamentally reorganized the architecture and social structure that had been in place for hundreds of years, precipitating a cultural crisis and a desire among regional elites to identify and preserve authentic “Zaan culture”. But at Crespi d’Adda, the pervasive utopian architectural vision of the founder meant that the switch from hydraualic to hydroelectric power didn’t perceptibly alter the town’s urban plan or architectural imagination, merely the scale of production. And in Idrija, town and mine remained connected but ultimately independent architectural identities. The architecture of the town was ultimately more closely linked to the vicissitudes of global empire than it was to the technological advancements of mining and mercury production.

    It is perhaps for that reason—that Idrija’s fortunes were tied from very early on to distant global markets—that the public interpretation there also had the largest worldwide focus of all three sites. At the Hg Smelting Plant and the Municipal Museum, Idrija is shown as part of an expansive and complex global trade network as early as the 1500s. In contrast, I was struck at Zaanse Schans and Crespi d’Adda at how local or regional both sites felt in how they were being presented to public audiences. I’ve noted that historical sites that were built during and for the industrial revolution tend to focus more on big, abstract concepts like “labor” and “capitalism.” So it was no surprise to me that “labor history” appeared explicitly in the Verkade Pavilion but not in the open air windmill museum. Even in modern museum interpretation, I think there is a tendency to conflate these pre-steam-power sites with the romance of the preindustrial and the provincial—to focus on ideas like “authenticity” and “place” rather than “capital.” But the potential of early industrial sites like Zaanse Schans and Crespi d’Adda is that they challenge our assumptions as architectural historians and public storytellers, prompting us to go beyond the usual tropes of pre-industrial versus industrial and to see a more complex picture. Getting comfortable with the grey areas of what constitutes architectural “industrial heritage” opens the door to new ways of thinking about the Anthropocene and the shifting present-day landscape of global industry.

    1. All caption information is from onsite signage unless otherwise noted. ↩︎
    2. “Cristoforo Benigno Crespi,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 24, 2019, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/cristoforo-benigno-crespi-2/?lang=en. ↩︎
    3. “Architecture,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 24, 2019, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/architecture/?lang=en. ↩︎
    4. “Palazzotti,” on-site signage at Crespi d’Adda, photographed January 28, 2019. ↩︎
    5. “Models,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 18, 2018, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/models/?lang=en. ↩︎
    6. “Architectural Styles,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 18, 2018, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/architecture/?lang=en. ↩︎
    7. “Hydroelectric Plant,” onsite signage at Crespi d’Adda, photographed January 28, 2019. ↩︎
    8. “In the Pedini Mill,” onsite interpretive signage, Museum of Industrial Heritage, Bologna, photographed February 2, 2019. ↩︎
    9. “Context,” Crespi d’Adda, UNESCO, accessed February 24, 2019, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/context/?lang=en. ↩︎
    10. “Factory,” onsite interpretive signage at Crespi d’Adda, photographed January 28, 2019. ↩︎
    11. “Church of St. Anthony of Padua with the Calvary,” onsite interpretive signage, photographed February 9, 2019. ↩︎
    12. These include, in chronological order, burning mercury in heaps, roasting sites, retort furnaces, Spanish aludel furnaces, Leithner furnaces, horizontal and shaft furnaces, Čermak-Špirek furnaces, the modern rotary furnace that can still be seen at the site. Hg Smelting Plant, onsite interpretive signage, photographed Feburary 9, 2019. ↩︎
    13. “Founder,” on-site interpretive signage at Zaanse Schans, photographed February 19, 2019. ↩︎
    14. “Homage to Our Ancestors,” Typical of the Zaan Region exhibition, Zaans Schans Museum, onsite interpretive signage, photographed Feburary 19, 2019. ↩︎
  • 2018 Cuba Field Seminar Report - Part Two

    by User Not Found | Mar 07, 2019

    Day 7. Friday, December 7th, 2018. Firefighters, astronauts, and sunny beaches.

    With our bags packed we boarded the bus towards Matanzas, an important port city and home of the famous Afro-Cuban band Sonora Matancera. The road (and Monty) had a surprise prepared for us, the incredible rest-stop Mirador de Bacunayagua with its striking concrete roof, delicious piña coladas, live music, and breathtaking views of the Yumuri Valley and the impressive bridge across it, the Bacunayagua Bridge, the tallest of its kind in Cuba.

    Bacunayagua bridge

    Bacunayagua Mirador

    Dan, Paul and Monty enjoying the view

    Linda, Susane, Pat and Julia sipping pina coladas

    More of the Bacunayagua bridge

    We continued our journey of the day stopping at Matanzas, where we walked around the historic center and visited a neoclassical fire station built early 20th century. Still active today, the fire station is also a museum where many firetrucks from different eras and historical artifacts related to Cuban firefighters are displayed. After that, we arrived in Varadero; we had lunch in Xanadu, a beach house designed by Govantes y Cabarrocas in 1926 for the affluent American businessman Irènee Dupont. Our next stop was La Casa de Los Cosmonautas, a house intended for relaxation, recreation, and the physical and psychological recovery of Russian cosmonauts. This building with its traditional architecture of gable roofs, red tiles, and white walls surprises its visitors when they realize it cantilevers spectacularly, almost like it’s floating and ready to take off.


    Fig_77 B_1
    Matanza's fire station

    View from one of the windows at Xanadu 

    David and Dan enjoying the view from the Xanadu Mansion

    Fig_79 B_1

    Fig_79 C_1

    After our visit to La Casa de Los Cosmonautas we checked in to our hotel, an all-inclusive resort in Varadero where we got to experience a couple of hours of delightful blue, sandy beaches, relaxing swimming pools, unlimited cocktails, and an overly exotic Cuban music show. I found it sad (the show, just the show; not the beach, swimming pools or sweet drinks) especially after visiting the art school and its prodigious students. I found depressing that this is the image of Cuba some tourist take home, especially with so many kids in the audience.  In the end, three women dressed as Cohiba cigars were too much to take, I called it quits on the free cocktails and headed to bed.

    Dancers dressed as Cohiba cigars

    Day 8. Friday, December 8th, 2018. Fading houses, plastic houses, and wooden houses.

    Next morning, we continued with our trip; our first stop, Cardenas, was the perfect detox for the excesses we experienced in Varadero. Cardenas is a dormitory city for resort workers and a very modest town. Most of the houses here are faded and deteriorated, giving the part of town we visited an overall ruined atmosphere. While visiting the building that brought us here, the dilapidated yet beautiful Molokoff Market, I thought that any person staying in a resort in Varadero should take a day trip to Cardenas to experience the contrasting realities inside this sunny island.

    Horse carriages are the main form of transportation in Cardenas

    Fig_81 B_1

    Molokoff Market

    Cardenas shoemaker

    Next stop: Cienfuegos. I was particularly excited to drive to Cienfuegos because on our way there we planned to stop in the Simon Bolivar Urbanization, a complex of 100 Petrocasas. Petrocasas, short for “petroleum houses,” are small dwelling units built from by-products of Venezuela’s oil refining industry, more specifically polymerizing vinyl chloride. Each set of houses ought to be close to a profile factory where the kits to build the houses are manufactured and packaged. This highly advertised “technology” consists of lost formwork in the form of rigid PVC panels which are fitted together LEGO-like, and inserted on a concrete base. Later the PVC panels are filled with concrete and steel and iron girders resulting in loadbearing walls, which make a steady structure. I’ve been studying Petrocasas in Venezuela, paying close attention to post-occupancy transformations and adaptations, and today’s stop in Cienfuegos was one of the reasons why I applied and was granted this prestigious fellowship. In my application, I mentioned that I was very interested in visiting this complex of plastic houses in Cienfuegos to compare it with the cases I’ve documented in Venezuela. SAH and Monty listened, not only by making it possible for me to be on the trip, but also including the petrocasas on the tight schedule and stopping the tour bus in the Simon Bolivar Urbanization to allow us to disembark, take pictures, and chat with some of the occupants.

    I was flabbergasted to find so many significant differences between the Venezuelan and Cuban projects. First, here in Cuba, the project includes a playground, ample streets for car circulation and wide pedestrian boulevards with gardens and adequate lighting. Also, the pristine white houses came with a contrasting front garden with green grass, carefully manicures bushes, palm trees, and flowers, which are (today, 11 years after completion) impeccably maintained by governmental agencies. The houses, which are rather small, especially around the kitchen area, were slightly enlarged by an additional space. These added sheds were built with traditional concrete blocks and zinc roofs, all identical in shape and size but painted in different colors, which affords an orderly yet cheerful effect to the urbanization. Lastly, windows and doors were protected with uniform white iron grids for further security. These small additions significantly improve the quality of the overall project and answer to some basic needs left uncovered by the initial plan and default houses. Why are the Cuban petrocasas better adequate than their Venezuelan counterparts? In my perspective, these changes respond to a housing agency more attuned with people’s housing needs. At the same time, an authoritarian government where “democracy” is on hold, hires architects who are more attentive to honoring their profession and actually delivering quality housing. Without overlooking the Cuban administration’s many, many flaws, I must say that one thing they’re not doing is trying to win elections; hence, they’re not responding to clientelism nor the devastating effects of extreme corruption.

    Simon Bolivar petrocasas urbanization

    A kitchen built inside one of the added sheds

    Fig_85 B_1

    Fig_85 C_1

    Fig_85 D_1

    Fig_85 E_1

    With my head spinning and my heart pounding after the petrocasas, it was time for lunch. Before moving on, I would like to thank Victoria and Monty again for their pedagogical generosity, also a heartfelt thank you to all the trip participants who patiently and attentively listened to me, asked insightful questions, and gave much appreciated feedback. I’m deeply grateful and humbled by your support. To finish our day, we embarked on a delightful walk along Cienfuegos’ shore, which had an amazing collection of wood villas fully restored and painted in bright colors.   

    Colorful wood houses in Cienfuegos

    Fig_86 B_1

    Fig_86 D_1

    Fig_86 E_1

    Day 9. Friday, December 9th, 2018. Large windows, stone roads, and burning fields.

    Trinidad was memorable since minute one, when enjoying a splendid breakfast in our hotel restaurant (a restored colonial mansion) we encountered a huge Tiffany-like lamp shaped like a pineapple. Some of us (David C. and Liliana, especially) found this glass fruit fascinating and hypnotizing especially because of its gravity-defying size. After getting over our infatuation with the piña lamp, we went out for our morning exploration of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Trinidad is a breathtaking 500-year-old city, impeccably preserved. We started our walk up a narrow stone street with colonial houses on each side. Amative of domestic architecture I must say that the magnitude of the windows, its beautiful latticework, and the contrasting bright colors of the walls pushed me to the edge of hyperkulturemia. I tried to snap as many pictures of windows and doors as possible, looking to preserve the beauty of that day in a more tangible medium than my memory.

    Incredible pineapple-shaped lamp

    Beautiful street in Trinidad

    Fig_88 A Windows Trinidad_1

    Fig_88 B Windows Trinidad_1

    Fig_88 C Windows Trinidad_1

    Fig_88 D Windows Trinidad_1

    Fig_88 E Windows Trinidad_1

    Fig_88 F Windows Trinidad_1

    Up the street, the main square, church, government house, and museum were waiting for us, equally splendid. On a particularly hot day we took comfort first on the church’s breezy porch and later exploring the Casa Iznaga, an 18th-century house today repurposed as a colonial architecture museum, where some of us took advantage of the airy patio to recharge energy. Later we walked to the Cantero residence, a 19th-century opulent mansion with an ample patio and a spectacularly high belvedere where all of Trinidad could be seen and photographed (or sketched if you were Paul or Dan). The breathtaking views from the top of the Cantero home resemble a patchwork of orange roofs and green treetops. Before departing from Trinidad, we visited the San Francisco de Asis Convent, today a museum of the revolution, with displays of tanks, cars, and a large number of framed images of Fidel, Che, and other revolutionary heroes. Being the architecture lovers that we are, we didn’t spend much time looking at the exhibition and decided to invest the remaining period (and energies) climbing yet another bell tower for yet another fabulous views of the city.

    Belvedere in the Cantero residence

    View from the Cantero Residence

    Fig_90 B_1

    Fig_90 C_1

    Convent Bell tower

    Dan sketching inside the convent bell tower

    On our way to Camaguey, Monty gifted us with a stop at Manaca Iznaga, a Mirador overlooking an 18th-century sugar plantation called El Valle de Los Ingenios. This Mirador, located at the top of a hill, allowed us to appreciate the landscape, an immense extension of fertile land previously used as sugar plantations—the moment we visited this site many of the hilltops were burning, adding a dramatic effect to the landscape. Next, we had lunch in a fully restored manor house surrounded by spectacular greenery, a watchtower, smaller houses, which seem to have belonged to slaves in previous times, and a fully functioning train. I believe that this very well-maintained sugar plantation with its adjacent service structures would be a magnificent place to document thoroughly.

    Victoria enjoying the sugar plantations view

    Fig_93 B_1

    Fig_93 C_1

    Steve and Liliana chillin' in a beautiful manor

    Fig_94 B_1

    Fig_94 C_1

    Day 10. Friday, December 10th, 2018. Bicycle rides and defiant citizens.

    Camaguey is the third largest city in Cuba, characterized by very high temperatures and an impetuous sun. Also, Camaguey doesn’t follow the Leyes de Indias town layout. Instead, it has a maze-like configuration with blind alleys, forked streets, and different sizes of plazas. Another interesting fact about Camaguey, which places it on my top-three favorite places in Cuba, is its picturesque bicitaxi landscape. Bicitaxis drivers park neatly on the side of buildings and constantly move to the rhythm of sun and shadows creating a beautiful choreography of wired frames and colorful canopies.

    Like many things that are highly valued and praised in Cuba for their aesthetic qualities, bicitaxis are not exempt from controversy, at least in my own internal and deeply personal debate. These human-powered touristic vehicles, which I feel so guilty to have enjoyed so much, are like many other means of earning a scarce living in Cuba: highly oppressive and physically demanding. In Camaguey, unlike other provinces in Cuba, it didn’t take much effort to get people talking, or ranting, about life in this enigmatic island. When I enquired about his peculiar bike seat, our bicitaxi driver bitterly expressed that after being diagnosed with manifold medical conditions resulting from his long pedaling on an uncomfortable bike seat, he decided to engineer his own. “It’s not pretty, I know, and I ignore the mockery of my fellows because what’s really important to me is to continue working and providing for my family.” By no means I thought his seat was ugly. On the contrary, I found it ingenious and a true testament to human adaptability and resourcefulness. I shared my opinions with him, he thanked me for my observations and promised to send me pictures once he had improved it. Sadly, I doubt that I’ll ever receive news from him (or any of the other people I asked to contact me) given that one hour of internet costs approximately 5% of an average Cuban salary. When I asked if he gets rides every day he laughed at my naiveté. “I wish,” he responded and later explained that regardless of his monthly rides he must pay a standard registration fee to the government for his bike. I bitterly thought, as I have many times before on this trip, that it’s almost impossible to visit Cuba and avoid supporting the revolutionary government.

    Bicitaxis resting in the shade in Camaguey

    Our bicitaxi driver (on the right) discussing his creation with a colleague

    Steve and Liliana enjoying our day in Camaguey

    Fig_97 B Camaguey_1

    Fig_97 C Camaguey_1

    In between rides with my forthcoming motorist, I got to experience the Colonial city slowly as his words and facial expressions rumbled in my head. On the Plaza San Juan de Dios stop, Paul and I stepped in a scenic pulperia driven by our shared curiosity of what kind of staples one can acquire in Cuba. In my case, this curiosity is founded in the appalling food crisis that has taken over Venezuela in the last decade. Unprecedently, in what not long ago was a very wealthy country, supermarkets’ and convenience stores’ shelves are empty except for non-basic foods like soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, spices, Cheetos, etc. Finding basic food provisions in Venezuela is an insurmountable task, and I’ve always been interested to see how the situation compares to Cuba. So far, or at least in this pulperia, Cuba was doing much better than Venezuela with a shelf replete of two products extinct in Venezuela: rice and oil.

    The tall and jolly owner greeted us and patiently answered our questions: yes, pulperia is an outdated word for a convenience store and not a place where they sell octopuses (pulpos in Spanish), the rice came from Thailand, the store belonged to his grandfather. When he picked up on my accent, the interrogation switched. Yes, I’m from Venezuela. No, I haven’t been living there for over 10 years. Yes, I love Canada. It is a great country and yes, I identify myself as a strong oppositionist to the current Venezuelan regime. His smile faded, and his eyes filled with sadness, how can you tolerate that man? He shouted, without mentioning his name I knew he was talking about Venezuela’s current “president” Nicolas Maduro.  Surprised by an unprecedented political outspokenness and an astonishing knowledge of current Venezuelan politics, I stayed inside the store wanting to hear more. We chatted about Venezuela’s lost opportunities for liberation and about his estranged wife who left for the Cuban doctors’ exchange program and never came back with his daughter. “These governments are tearing families apart,” he said at the end. I apologized for having to leave our conversation. I was really sorry to leave, but it was time to move on to our next stop. While walking back to the bike, I thought about Cuban doctors all over Venezuela and how their lives were being affected by all the political impositions. In my opinion, without losing sight of its beautiful Colonial architecture, Camaguey stroke me the most as a strong, resilient, brave town.

    We left Camaguey and, as Monty described it, we entered uncharted territory. We were about to drive and stop in small rural towns where tourists don’t usually go. But we were no regular tourists, we were architecture devotees, with a knowledgeable leader and a very audacious bus driver, willing to go anywhere for a remarkable building. We drove along hundreds of kilometers of tall, green sugar plantations that, Monty explained, were ready to harvest once the fluffy white flower had appeared on top. On our many bus rides, we also learned about all the infrastructure necessary to process sugar canes into sugar, and how proximity and speed were key to avoid inopportune crystallization in sugar canes. The architectural response to these processes is evidenced everywhere around Cuba in manors, fields, trains, slave housing, and mills. On our next stop, we benefited from visiting what in the 20th century had been the fourth most important sugar mill in Cuba: La Central Argelia Libre de Manati. In this sugar town, we visited a 1930’s theatre and passed by a sleek modernist school, both still functioning. After buying some fried corn snacks for the road, we boarded the bus and dove to Gibara, our next stop. We arrived at Gibara late in the afternoon after the sun had set. The town was very dark, but still we were able to make sense of the small scale of the place, which was inundated by the sound and smell of the sea.  

    Our hotel was a big, reformed, well illuminated colonial house, which contrasted with the town’s washed out façades and humble, narrow streets. Some of us had dinner at the only available restaurant in Gibara, or at least the only one offered to us. Also inside a colonial house, the restaurant was an extension of the hotel a couple of blocks away by the seashore. It had the same Iberostar finishes and furniture, the same polite treatment for tourists, and even some of the same employees would walk us back and forth.

    Day 11.

    The next day, following Monti’s advice we woke up early to walk around our host town to explore it before we left. It was worth it. Gibara’s architecture is homogeneous, comprised of different types of modest colonial houses with ranging levels of preservation. What made Gibara special for me were three things: first, a collection of colorful Spanish mosaics spread around the town’s façades and some interiors, these tiles reservedly reference a more affluent past; second, the ubiquitous presence of the sea through its smell, sound or view; and lastly, an authentic cigar factory right in front of the main square. Once we encountered it by chance on our explorative walk, we were captivated by it and didn’t move until it was time for us to leave town. The gate of the factory was guarded, and we were denied access, but the sentinel didn’t have a problem with us peeping through the windows and observing the process. Luckily, we were greeted by a charming, chatty, and very friendly worker sitting by the window. He patiently explained to us the phases of production of cigar making and even posed for the pictures. He answered our questions while working under the rhythm of Juan Gabriel, a popular and beloved Mexican singer to which most of the employees were humming after. The architecture of high ceilings and large windows allowed the working space to be fresh and naturally lit. However, working conditions were deteriorated by the precariously lit working stations—I know it’s contradictory, but for such fine work additional light is needed—and very basic, uncomfortable seats. For some reason, oppressive work seems less so inside a repurposed colonial house under the Caribbean sun. Fortunately, we were reminded of it by our worker-friend, who told us they made approximately 15 CUC a month and they were supposed to produce about 200 cigars a day. One cigar may range in price between 5 to 15 CUC; you do the math.

    View from our Hotel in Gibara

    Fig_98 B Gibara_1

    Gibara's beautiful tiles

    Fig_99 B Gibara_1

    Fig_99 C_1

    Cigar factory

    Our "guide" inside the cigar factory

    Fig_101 B_1

    On our walk back to the bus and five minutes to spare, I was spontaneously invited inside the house next to our hotel. When I say “spontaneously invited,” I must reveal my method. I stand in front of the doors of the houses (sometimes even uttering a melodic Buenas!) with a wide smile. Once someone looks at my eager eyes and listens to the reasons behind my standing there—I’m an architect and would love to see your house—they say “sure, come on in.” The inside of the colonial house was well adapted to “modern” living with a new kitchen and bathroom. The central patio afforded all the surrounding spaces illumination and ventilation. The well-preserved furniture was scarce but neatly distributed around the social spaces, which were impeccably clean. That generous invitation to one of Gibara’s homes evidenced how people in smaller cities outside of Havana have access to better living conditions and larger spaces.

    A beautifully preserved colonial house where I was "invited" in

    Fig_102 A Gibara_1

    Fig_102 B Gibara_1

    On our way to Santiago de Cuba, we visited Holguin, a prosperous city characterized by colonial, neoclassical and eclectic architecture. Holguin is Cuba’s fourth largest city and a popular destination for tourists (mostly Canadian) due to its airport, which serves the region’s nearby beach resorts. Holguin houses one of Cuba’s two Canadian Consulates and is the home of the Bucanero and Cristal brewery (also in conjunction with Labatt, a…wait for it…Canadian brewery. Surprised?). All these economic activities translate into a vibrant city with a substantial number of well-preserved buildings and lively commercial streets.

    On one of the sides of Calixto Garcia’s Park is the 1939 Teatro Eddy Sunol, a gorgeous theatre that, even after receiving an unfortunate paint job, stands proudly symbolizing Holguin’s culture. This Art Deco treat is the home of Holguin’s symphonic orchestra and a vivacious cultural heart for the city. Another outstanding building devoted to cultural and artistic expression is the Centro de Arte y la Cultura de Holguin; originally called La Casa de las Moyuas, it was commissioned in 1845 by a wealthy doctor and his family to live in. This large colonial house has had many lives as a family home, hospital, police station, movie theatre, hotel, and retail store, until the year 2000 when it was finally revamped as an art gallery and school. Inside this artistic hub, music and color are everywhere; many of us (especially David C., who didn’t want to leave) acquired prints and paintings, enjoyed a coffee, and quietly observed a couple rehearsing for a play in the spacious patio.


    Fig_103 B Holguin_1

    Teatro Eddy Sunol in Holguin

    Casa de las artes y la cultura Holguin

    Fig_105 B_1

    After leaving Holguin, we stopped for lunch and a tour of Bayamo where we visited the charming Catedral del Santísima Salvador, which dates back to the 16th century, and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes home. Right outside of Bayamo, Juanito, our heroic driver, took us through a very intricate unpaved road to see an outstanding building, the scientific forestry research station built in 1968 by Walter Betancourt. The brick and traditional roof tile building is a superb structure, standing in perfect harmony with its natural surroundings. Because it is an active government building with research activities happening inside the premises, we were denied access and were only permitted to photograph it from the exterior. Nevertheless, the magistral use of traditional materials and the richness of the forms made this trip worthwhile. Later that evening we entered the energetic Santiago de Cuba, our home for the next two days.

    Catedral del Santísima Salvador Bayamo

    Fig_106 B Bayamo_1

    Fig_106 C Bayamo_1

    Santiago is Cuba’s second largest city and an amazingly dynamic urban municipality, even today. I’ve heard of Santiago, but I wasn’t prepared for what it had to offer. I can say now that it was one of the trip’s most pleasant discoveries. Our hotel was located at the beginning of a busy commercial street called Jose A. Saco, with brightly colored façades, lots of lights, a handful of restaurants, and well-supplied stores with wide window displays. Naturally, seduced by this explosion of color, light, and people, I went walking up this street where I found Lazaro, our local tour guide, thrilled about a newly open Reebok store, taking pictures to send to his wife back in Havana. He kindly rejected my invitation to walk around, because he wanted to check out another Puma store nearby and see what else the Saco street had to offer commercially. Deep inside I knew this flagship, a pedestrian street with rich displays of wealth, was deliberately staged for tourists. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is welcome to walk on these streets, but its prohibitive prices discriminate regular Cubans from lingering too long. As an experiment to keep some spatial and social perspective, I decided to return to the hotel from a parallel street. I wasn’t wrong. The Jose A. Saco street was not the rule in Santiago but the exception. I didn’t expect to find contrast in such proximity, but I wasn’t surprised. Spatial inequality in Cuba is complexly ubiquitous. Both extremes are usually intertwined; the richly ornamented, carefully staged tourist areas share walls and passageways with Cubans’ neglected, dark, everyday spaces. On the street I used to return to my starting point, there were no Reebok stores. It was pitch dark, the sidewalks were narrow and full of people waiting for the bus or off standing in queue waiting for bread distribution. This street’s only relationship to its rich twin was through a courtyard where a group of people was doing tai-chi with an open gate on one side and a closed one on the other. Dare to guess which one was which?

    View of the Jose A. Saco street from our hotel

    Parque de Ajedrez by Walter Betancourt

    Day 12. December 12, 2018. Santiago de Cuba

    On our first full day in Santiago we had two outstanding local guests/guides: from the town’s historian office, the chief archaeologist for the city, and the head of the city planning office, Gisela Mayo. Our city visit began in Parque Cespedes, Santiago’s main square. Around it, respecting the Leyes de Indias were the Santa Ifigenia Cathedral, the Palace of the Municipal Government, and the Diego Velazquez’s house, originally the Governor’s residency. Fortunately, we visited the interior of the Museum Casa Velazquez, the oldest house in Cuba, which dates back to 1516. The exquisitely kept home is divided in two main bodies, the original Spanish structure built in the 16th century with heavy stone and brick arches and columns, and the new 19th-century Creole addition with slender wood columns and beams to resist earthquakes common in Santiago. But the differences between the two parts of the house go further. In the oldest portion of the house the exterior windows were heavily protected by mahogany wood lattice-work to keep indiscreet gazes away from the respectable ladies of the house. The patio was used for water recollection and storage and as ventilation for a nearby oversized furnace. On the newest (19th century) portion of the home, the windows were covered by slim metal bars, allowing in large amounts of light, air, and visual contact. The second patio became a social place, especially for the ladies of the house who would paint, sew, take lessons, and eventually entertain on this open area. An additional coach room was added, and the furniture selected was lighter, made of wicker and slimmer pieces of wood. On the original house, the furniture was heavy, solid, and made of hardwood.

    Palace of the Municipal Government Santiago de Cuba

    Interior view of the 16th century portion of the Velazquez house

    "Old" living room inside the Velazquez house

    Second (19th century) patio inside the Velazquez house

    "New" living room inside the Velazquez house

    After the Velazquez house, we boarded to the bus for an overlook of the city guided by Gisela, who explained to us that special emphasis had been given to conserving the historic district but also connecting it with other important areas of the city to create a well-articulated metropolis. We drove along spacious avenues, passed by the spectacular Mariana Grajales square, explored residential neighborhoods, and finally stopped in the famous Cuartel Moncada. The imposing military structure dates back to the 19th century, but after a demolishing fire destroyed the original building, it was rebuilt in 1930 with an Art Deco style. The well-known July 26th, 1953 attacks which sparked the Cuban revolution left three important traces in the building. First, the bullet holes have been purposely left in the west side of the main façade as a reminder of the first rebellious attempt.

    The second reminder is the large, red number “26” on top of the main entrance, commemorating the day when 135 men led by Fidel Castro attacked the barracks. The last and definite architectural trace comes in the form of the building’s current programs a museum of the Revolution and a public school. I was surprised to visit this military structure, so representative of the Cuban revolution and to find such obvious similarities with Venezuela’s “Cuartel de la Montana,” the military academy built in 1910 in Caracas and where Hugo Chavez’s remains are. In Venezuela, the Cuartel de la Montana, originally white, is now painted with yellow, white, and red, very similar to the Cuartel Moncada. Also, a large, red “4F” was built on top of the entrance of el Cuartel de la Montana, remembering Chavez’s first failed attempt against the government of Carlos Andres Perez on February 4th, 1992. The similarities between the military structures are far reaching and merely esthetic, which in my perspective represents a clear analogy of Venezuela and Cuba’s alliance: superficial and desultory.

    Bullet holes in the Cuartel Moncada

    Cuartel Moncada Santiago de Cuba

    Fig_116 B_1

    Cuartel de la Montana next to Cuartel Moncada. Image credits: Radio Rebelde and Cuba Holidays

    After a long visit to the military museum inside the Moncada barrack, we drove by the opulent neighborhood Vista Alegre, home to Santiago’s 20th-century large fortunes like Bacardi and Bosch and ironically the area where Raul Castro stays today when visiting the city. We had lunch near El Castillo de San Pedro del Morro and briefly visited the 17th-century impressive fortress. Afterward we went to see the outstanding Universidad de Oriente medical school, built in 1964 by the Colombian architect Rodrigo Tascon. The faculty of Medicine layout develops around a main uncovered courtyard with greenery and vegetation that keep the interior spaces fresh and illuminated. The most appealing characteristic of the building is its roof, a structure comprised of a series of concrete inverted pyramidal hyperbolic paraboloids.

    Faculty of Medicine interior view

    Faculty of medicine cafeteria

    Before moving on to our next and last stop in Santiago, I would like to invert the order of the tour for the reason that I would like to close this blog entry with my reflections about the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.

    On our last day in Cuba we visited the city of Guantánamo. It had nothing to do with the Guantánamo Bay military prison except for a glance from the mirador we stopped to eat at. In Guantanamo we drove by the Plaza de la Revolucion, and we discovered a charming modernist church and walked around the small town. We also visited the house of architect José Lecticio Salcines Morlote, built in 1919.

    Detail of cross in Guantanamo's modernist church

    Interior of Guantanamo's church

    Modernist church in Guantanamo

    José Lecticio Salcines Morlote built in 1919.

    Back to Santiago de Cuba, as I stated before, I end this blog post with our visit to the Saint Ifigenia cemetery, a place where I want to come back. The Cemetery is an extensive, beautifully landscaped resting place where many illustrious Cubans lay today. The history of the country can be reconstructed by walking this extended plot of land and carefully examining the tombs and mausoleums. The most important occupants of this piece of Santiago are Jose Marti and Fidel Castro. The Jose Marti Mausoleum was designed by Jaime Benavent with sculptor Mario Santi. This breathtaking, 26-meters-high structure was completed in Jaimanitas’ stone and top quality white marble. The Art Deco mausoleum is replete of significance including the sun always shining on Marti’s tomb through a carefully designed skylight and six caryatids representing the first six provinces of Cuba (Camaguey, Havana, Las Villas, Matanzas, Oriente, and Pinar del Rio). This outstanding mausoleum is a work of art and engineering with the ability, essential to any piece of architecture, to move you almost to tears while inside. However, I was equally impressed by a much less monumental tomb: Fidel Castro’s grave. Castro’s tomb is comprised by a grey boulder significantly brought from La Sierra Maestra featuring a small plaque that reads Fidel. This puzzling act of humility certainly adds another layer of complexity to the highly controversial character that Fidel Castro was.

    Jose Marti's mausoleum. Image courtesy of Victoria Young.

    Jose Marti's sculpture made of white marble. Image courtesy of Victoria Young.

    Fidel's tomb. Simple in contrast with its surroundings. Image courtesy of Victoria Young.

  • 2018 Cuba Field Seminar Report - Part One

    by User Not Found | Feb 06, 2019


    Cuba is beautiful, interesting, perplexing, but above all, I consider it the most controversial place on earth. Cuba means different things to different people around the world. Its geographic location is unequivocal, but the rest is up for interpretation. I’m Valentina, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University and a proud Canadian-Venezuelan; I decided to organize my dual nationality alphabetically as today I can’t tell which country I belong the most. The reason why this matters is because I constantly find myself struggling to reconcile the contrasting notions that Canadians and Venezuelans have of Cuba. On the one hand, Canadians jump with joy when they hear I’m taking two weeks off my schedule (and teaching responsibilities—thanks to my professors for their understanding!) to visit Cuba. On the other hand, Venezuelans look at me in disbelief with their eyes full of fear and anger, asking me why am I doing such thing, couldn’t I go somewhere else? Anywhere…? The reasons behind each reaction are clear: for my fellows in the north, Cuba is a sunny paradise, and for my fellows in the south, it represents a notorious political ally of the Chavez-Maduro regime. They are both right. There is no Cuba without the sun and beach, but there is also no Cuba without treacherous political ideology. With this in mind, six months ago I applied to the SAH Study Program Fellowship and disclosed my unapologetic, politically charged research interest. I explained that a tour that closely looks at Cuban architecture throughout history could help us answer in what way political power plays a defining role in domestic architecture (my field of interest). There’s no better place than Cuba to contribute to answering this question. Full of joy and pride for the architectural education system, I get my bags ready to embark on this amazing trip.

    Day 1. Saturday, Dec. 1st, 2018. Welcome to Miami, Bienvenidos a Miami!  

    There’s no better place to start our journey and to prepare us for Cuba like Miami. The “Latino Metropolis” houses around 1.8 million Cuban-Americans, which comprise 54% of its population. Cuban culture—from cafes and restaurants to the Museum of the Cuban Diaspora—has added to Miami’s vibrancy and azucar! 

    American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora

    Illustration of Celia Cruz in the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora

    I arrived at the hotel very excited. After all, this is no ordinary tour— all the participants share an immense passion for architecture. Gary, our tour operator, is waiting for us in the meeting room asking simply, “Architecture?” Gary is a tall, smiling fellow who spends half of his time in Cuba and will be our tour guide from beginning to end. The third person to arrive is Victoria Young, SAH’s First Vice President, an outstanding architectural historian, a strict timekeeper, a wonderful coordinator, and a delightful person to be around. Between cheerful greetings and joyful handshakes we distributed nametags and all the important documentation for our trip. Belmont (Monty) Freeman, a New York-based architect, writer, and Professor in Practice at Columbia University, is appointed to lead this tour; I’m sure that without his passion for Cuban architecture and personal and professional connections this trip wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. He brought not only a deep, grounded knowledge of architecture and the country, but most importantly, a sense of pride and belonging, which made us all honored to be seeing Cuba through his eyes. He delivered a very complete and sophisticated introduction to Cuba, which was the perfect appetizer for what was about to come. After we all introduced ourselves, we went to bed to prepare for an early morning flight that would take us to Havana.

    Our first group gathering in the Miami Crowne Plaza


    Day 2. December 2nd, 2018. Havana…. Here we go!

    The hotel agreed to open the breakfast bar early that day especially for us. At 5:30 a.m. recognizing the faces from the night before, we started greeting each other and shared the table for a fueling breakfast of fresh fruits, cereals, pastries, and coffee. The buses that would take us to the airport were readily waiting at 6:20 a.m. Things went smoothly in the airport, we presented our documentation, checked in our bags, and patiently waited in long lines to make it through security.  We boarded the plane, and 45 minutes later we were landing safely in Havana where our local tour guide, Lazaro, was waiting for us. “What’s your name?” we asked. “Lazaro,” he responded, followed by a mimic of someone coming back from the dead. We appreciated the biblical humor, which made it virtually impossible to forget his name. Lazaro was instrumental in making our trip safe, well-coordinated, and memorable. Trained at the University of Havana in international relations and close to completing his Ph.D. in Cuban history, he added precious knowledge that would help us understand Cuban history and society from an insider’s perspective. Lazaro’s perfect English and educated ways impressed us to the point that members of the group would line up to talk to him and ask many questions to which he would answer insightfully and honestly. 

    Freshly off the plane after retrieving our bags without inconveniences, Lazaro directed us to our bus—a big, long, blue and white Transtur guagua that we came to recognize as our comfortable second home in Cuba. The best thing about this bus that drove us all around the narrow streets of the cities and towns we visited wasn’t its efficient air-conditioning system or how clean it was, but the person driving it: Juanito. Juanito’s genteel ways, utterly professional driving, helping hand (always waiting for us at the bottom of the bus to avoid accidents), and persistent smile captivated us all and brought an extra good vibe into our trip. 


    Fig_4 B
    Our bus and our reliable driver, Juanito.

    Ready to begin the adventure, we each chose a seat on the bus, which, like schoolkids, we would always return to and seldom switched. As we drove to the city center for lunch, we made our first stop: Plaza de la Revolucion. This iconic square is a group of buildings and monuments devoted to the Cuban Revolution. Originally named Plaza Civica, the massive complex of monuments, buildings, and public space was planned by Jean Claude Forestier in the 1920s. On the northern part of the plaza, the Ministry of Interior, a 1958 grey concrete building serves as a canvas for the recognizable image of Che Guevara, by now impossible, at least for me, to disassociate from Fidel Castro. Che and Camilo Cienfuegos on its left act as the backdrop of political rallies, communist assemblies, and even a couple of high-profile Catholic masses like faithful servants to La Revolucion. On the other side of the street, overlooking the plaza, its events, and the city from an insurmountable height is the country’s national hero Jose Marti, father of the homeland. Marti’s monument is the largest built for a writer, it was designed by Raoul Otero de Galarraga and encased in Cuban marble.

    Monty, Julie and David admire the Jose Marti Memorial.

    A group of us posing for the picture in front of the iconic Ministry of Interior.

    We continued our trip to Havana’s historic district where we walked around the San Francisco de Assis square and had lunch in the Restaurant Café Oriente. Our first lunch was a great opportunity to get to know each other while listening to a live piano performance and enjoying a nice meal (and a mojito or two, but who was keeping score?). After lunch, we drove to El Castillo del Morro, a solid Spanish fortress dating back to the 16th century originally built to guard Havana. Today, el Castillo has stood the test of time, and although it has been partly damaged and reconstructed in the 18th century, it remains a permanent reminder of the importance of Havana for the Spanish crown. Placed on top of a small hill, this massive stone structure observed from afar becomes an elegant linear composition, almost blending with the horizon line. The vibrant green of the grass and a contrasting blue sky add to the sense of the majesty of the Castillo and to our joy of being in Cuban territory.

    Liliana tries to capture the beauty of the place while Steve and David talk.

    David and Susanne take a selfie.

    Castillo del Morro

    Later, it was time to check in at our Hotel Parque Central, in the heart of the historic district of Havana. With an excessively decorated lobby, our hotel was pleasantly filled with light, vegetation, and with the sweet noises of music and cheerful people. After leaving our bags in the room and resting for a while, we headed out for lunch in a close-by paladar. We walked about two blocks south of our hotel into a well kept 18th-century building with high ceilings, big, massive wooden beams and tall, magnificent windows. Once inside the almost empty lobby of the building, we went up three flights of stairs into a covered rooftop, which overlooked the illuminated plaza. Eating—or, more accurately—offering food to tourists in the highest point of the building seems to be a national obsession. Maybe locals believe that the city is prettier from a safe distance. The menu of the Paladar La Terraza was a choice of grilled seafood or meat platter, which we enjoyed under a perfect starry night while the warm air breeze reminded us that we were in Havana!

    Our hotel in Havana had a spacious lobby where we gathered every morning.

    Fig_10 B
    Lobby of the Terraza restaurant

    Welcome dinner in Havana

    More of our welcome dinner in La Terraza restaurant

    Day 3. Walking through La Habana Vieja. December 3rd, 2018.

    We met at the hotel lobby to start our walk through Old Havana. Our first stop was the Edificio Bacardi, an outstanding Art Deco building designed by Esteban Rodríguez-Castells and Rafael Fernández Ruenes and completed in 1930. Originally built as the headquarters for the Bacardi Rum company, it is arguably the best Art Deco building of Latin America and one of the finest examples in the world. Like the Bacardi Mansion we later visited in Santiago de Cuba, the government confiscated this building after the revolution and today both are used as office buildings. The only part of the building open to the public is the impeccably kept lobby, guarded by a watchman unperturbed by our presence. One thing I started noticing in Cuba’s tourism management is that they are cognizant of their architectural assets and take good care of them to keep the travelers (and their capital) flow to the island. The Bacardi Building entrance was impeccable, and its magnificent spotless golden lamps symbolize the government’s triumph over the unyielding Bacardi rum company. Right in front of this architectural gem is another rather dilapidated building, which evidences a different relationship with time and power. I couldn’t find any information on the name, date, or architect of this commercial hub, but I think it’s called Actualidades for the iron letters on its front, although I can’t be certain since five letters are missing. The Actualidades building hasn’t received any maintenance in years, but its tall arches, heavy iron lamps, and discreet moldings hint to a dignified past that is now long gone. There’s nothing really special about this building—there are thousands like it around Havana—but the contrast with the Bacardi building right in front of it inspired these lines. Back to the Bacardi building, we went inside the lavishly decorated lobby where every wall was covered with granite or marble, and the floors had intricate patterns of the same materials in exotic colors like red, orange, and yellow. Entering an Art Deco space (especially a lobby) is always a treat to the eyes and a reminder of a wealthier time filled with enthusiasm and jubilance, and this building brings that particular atmosphere to this area of Havana. While taking pictures of the marble, golden lamps, stain glass, and ironwork around the lobby, I developed a private exercise consisting of going inside and outside of the building, in and out, in and out…as a method of physically assimilating Cuba’s perplexing contrasts.

    Our group in front of the facade of the Bacardi building

    Facade of the Bacardi building

    Edificio Actualidades

    Interior of the Bacardi Building

    Fig_17 B
    The Bacardi Building inspired us in different ways. Our tour leaders had a hard time getting us out of the lobby.

    Juanito and the bus awaited us a block away to see other parts of La Vieja Habana. We hopped in and spent a physically intense afternoon going around Old Havana, in and out of majestic colonial buildings. Initially, we gathered under the shadow of a leafy tree where we carefully listened to Monty explain the buildings surrounding the square. The Plaza de Armas dates to the 16th century and is the oldest square in Havana. The place we were occupying was considered at the beginning of the Spanish Colony as the administrative heart of this Captaincy General. Around this square proudly stood El Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales, El Templete, the Royal Post Office and El Castillo de la Real Fuerza. The group of buildings cohesively represent the power once bestowed on this city. We continued our walk towards the cathedral passing by a great number of beautiful and perfectly kept buildings.

    Monty explaining the importance of El Templete while Paul carefully listens.

    El Templete

    Leafy trees and gallerias cast generous shadows for passersby.

    We developed the habit of peeping through the heavy wooden doors where we would usually find hidden architectural elements and details like stairways, interior patios, doorways, and ironwork. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which differentiates this section of the city from the rest because every building in this area is fully restored and impeccably kept.

    Fig_22 A
    Fig_22 B
    Interesting interiors in Old Havana

    Fig_22 C

    We made it to the cathedral, an exemplary piece of Cuban Baroque architecture. The slightly asymmetric two-tower building was built in 1748–1777 out of blocks of coral that gracefully reveal bits and pieces of fossilized sea life. The building underwent major renovations in 1946, which is probably why it’s very cohesive and homogenous in appearance.

    Havana's cathedral

    After visiting the cathedral, while walking through a narrow street, we encountered a small house close by which seemed to be out of place and out of scale. What interested me about it was a hand-painted sign above the door that read: Te Estoy Mirando, I’m looking at you. When I peeped inside its wide-open door, I spotted a Santero sitting inside who smiled at me and asked me to come in. I was really tempted but had to reject his offer to keep up with the group. While rushing to catch up with everyone, I thought of the relationship between these two buildings. The cathedral and the small house are not only a representation of the two coexistent local religions—Catholicism and Santeria—but also of the two sides of Cuba—one put in place for tourists and visitors and the other side of the city that one has to look further to appreciate: Cuba for Cubans. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, nor do I intend to sound like one, but from what I could observe, gather, and infer, Santeria is deeply rooted in Cuban society but not represented in the city’s formal infrastructure.

    Te Estoy Mirando house

    A few blocks later we made it to lunch in a local paladar. For many this was one of the best meals we had, and I agree. The fully renovated 1890s house had a phenomenal atmosphere with amazing works of art and top-of-the-line musicians, great food, and young, energetic waiters representative of a new generation of Cubans. The owner, a young engineer, came to greet us and to tell us about his paladar, a project he initiated with his wife three years ago. Today he supports over 18 local farmers by only buying local produce and hires students and cooks who love to innovate and rediscover Cuban cuisine. After a succulent lunch, we continued our walking trip of Havana. Now it was time for El Paseo del Prado, an elegant boulevard designed by Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier in 1772. Originally it was surrounded by theaters, mansions, clubs, cafes, and restaurants, some of which still exist in an excellent state of conservation.

    Our lunch in a local paladar

    Fig_25 B
    Fig_25 C
    Fig_25 D

    After the Prado Boulevard, we visited a working-class neighborhood close to the Capitol and our hotel. Havana is full of contrasting architecture. Blocks of five-star hotels are surrounded by a larger number of dilapidated, impoverished blocks of literally crumbling housing. Interestingly, the two extreme realities cohabitate in peace with extremely low theft rates. The reason we walked into this underprivileged part of town (confusingly close to our part of town) was to look at some interesting examples of 20th-century domestic architecture, especially a couple of rare art nouveau houses Monty had spotted before. I must say, Monty knew no limits when it came to finding great architecture; our leader wasn’t restricted by a sense of scale and he was forgiving with the ungracious effects that time had on some buildings. He would share with us and talk with the same passion about the Bacardi headquarters or about a crumbling small Art Deco house in the middle of nowhere. I’m happy to report that this neighborhood and many of its houses were the cherries on the cake, the perfect closure to a day charged with magnificent architecture and history.

    Susanne, David, Dan, Pat, Tim, Ryan and Julie listen to Monty explain the buildings surrounding El Paseo del Prado.

    Art Nouveau houses in a working neighborhood in Havana

    Fig_27 B
    Right across the Art Nouveau houses, the group took pictures and took time to absorb the beauty of it without knowing that they made a pretty good picture themselves.

    Day 4. Tuesday, December 4th, 2018. Spectacular Cuban Modernism Part I.

    Today we incorporated a very distinguished guest to our cohort: architect and historian Eduardo Luis Rodriguez. Eduardo Luis is an internationally recognized expert, an outstanding scholar and a charming person whose smile, soft voice, and passion for Cuban architecture captivated us as soon as he started talking. We began our tour with the Solimar building, designed by Manuel Copado and built in 1944. The name of the building means “sun-and-sea” and Eduardo said that the sensuous shape of its balconies was a poetic reference to the waves. The seven story-high building is oddly out of scale in the middle-class neighborhood; this fact grants its upper floors an outstanding view of Havana and the sea.

    Solimar building

    View from the 6th floor of Solimar

    Monty caught smiling in one of his favourite buildings in Havana

    Moving away from Solimar, we drove to the Colegio de Arquitectos, the architect’s association, a 1944 elegant modernist building designed by Fernando de Zárraga and Mario Ezquiróz. I was personally impressed by the elegant tectonics of this building representing our guild.

    The green and grey construction consists of a semi-basement and two floors occupied by offices, a library, a fencing room, an auditorium, study rooms, and a large entrance hall, which was the only space we were allowed access. In the lobby, we photographed the slim and elegant staircases while a nervous secretary appeared to wonder the reason for all this commotion.

    Colegio de Arquitectos of Havana

    Eduardo Luis explaining the Colegio de Arquitectos

    Staircase inside the lobby

    After hearing Eduardo Luis talk passionately about several buildings on that same block, we took our conversation to the bus while Juanito drove south to La Universidad de La Habana. The massive neoclassical complex built between 1906 and 1940 inspired by the Greek Parthenon and Columbia University is located on the Arostegui hill overlooking the Cuban sea. The complex has seven different entrances; the main one was monumentally conceived with an 88-step staircase topped with a bronze statue of Alma Mater created in 1919 by the Czech-American sculptor Mario Korbel.

    Our group standing on the main entrance of Universidad de La Habana

    Resting inside the University's Aula Magna

    After visiting the University, we went for lunch in a local paladar called La Moraleja located in the El Vedado neighborhood inside a beautifully renovated eclectic house. What came next was one of the favorite parts of the trip for many of us: modernist Cuban houses. Our first visit was to the house of Guillermina de Soto Bonavĺa, built in 1957 by Mario Romañach. The modernist building, impeccably kept by its original owner, adapts Japanese and Corbusian concepts to the elements of the tropics. True to the research interests I walked to the back of the house hoping to find the domestic employee’s bedroom; there it was, transformed (like it usually is) into a storage room. Following conventional architectural patterns, it had been placed behind the kitchen, next to the service area and the posterior patio. What was interesting is that despite characteristic reduced dimensions and marginal location, the interior of the room complied with the rest of the house’s architectural language of wood louvers, brick, and cement. The tiny bedroom had a neat brick wall, wood, and tinted glass windows, indicative of the cohesiveness between the service area and the rest of the house.

    Our group arriving at the Soto Bonavia Residence

    Eduardo Luis with our host, Berta.

    Fig_38 B

    On the left the sliding doors are completely open, on the right they're open halfway. Jack, Julie and Victoria take pictures of the house and its amazing views.

    It was time to move on to our second house call of the day, also in the El Vedado neighborhood, the Farfante Residence designed by Frank Martinez in 1955. This phenomenal house was conceived for two sisters living in independent units yet sharing some communal areas. Today the house is occupied by two families of the father (on top) and son (on the first floor) relatives of the original owners and proud guardians of this architectonic gem. Knowing the importance of the house, the current residents take exceptional care of the structure and the original furniture. The most impressive feature of these houses is how they adapt modernist concepts to the tropics with their strategic use of crossed ventilation to regulate interior temperatures. Wood and glass louvers, brise-soleil, sliding doors, terraces, and vegetation are critical architectonic elements to adapt to the Cuban weather. This house can be manually open almost entirely to become a galleria where the wind can blow freely, refreshing everyone inside. In this home, I asked about the domestic workers quarters and was told they had been repurposed as a mechanical shop. The owner pointed out an additional set of stairs in the back of the house behind the kitchen that used to go to the servants’ bedrooms. This space was not given the same aesthetic considerations as the rest of the house neither in the original materials nor in the posterior upkeep.

    Cross ventilation is easy to regulate with these sliding wood doors still intact after more than five decades.

    Fig_40 B
    Fig_40 C
    Service area with stairs leading to the servants’ quarters

    To wrap up a wonderful day we visited a house designed for the Cuban painter Enrique Garcia Cabrera. The Art Deco home by Max Borges features two reliefs in the brilliant façade, one by Garcia Cabrera himself and another by one of his students, Manuel Rodulfo. The interior of the house has carefully kept all the original materials, furniture, and artwork and the artist’s large studio still displays his last unfinished work on the easel. The current residents of the house, a couple of intellectuals related to Monty, invited us for refreshments and a joyful evening of pleasant conversation.


    Fig_42 B
    Part of the group without host in the backyard of the Garcia Cabrera house

    Garcia Cabrera's studio

    Relief by Garcia Cabrera


    Our group having a wonderful time

    Fig_46 B
    Fig_46 C

    Day 5.  Tuesday, December 5th, 2018. Spectacular Cuban Modernism part II.

    Excited to see and hear Eduardo Luis again we arrived at our first visit of the day, the Hebrew Community Center by Aquiles Capablanca, built in 1951. Before the revolution, the Hebrew community in Havana used the main (and largest) part of the building for recreational purposes, social events, and administration. The almost hidden lateral section of the building—smaller, less monumental yet gracious and elegant—was, and continues to be, the synagogue with a large catenary arch that welcomes visitors with wide arms. Today, only this smaller section of the building belongs to the Jewish community as the other larger parallelepiped is the Bertold Brecht Cultural Center.

    Fig_47 B
    Interior Views of the Synagogue

    Exterior facade of the Synagogue

    Fig_48 B

    Our next two scheduled visits were contrasting examples of architecture and life stories. First, an elegant yet extravagant pink Italian Renaissance palace that the sugar magnate Juan Pedro Baró built for his creole Anna-Karenina-type-of-love named Catalina Lasa, supposedly the most beautiful woman in Havana. Designed by Evelio Govantes and Félix Cabarrocas in 1927, the building was the first in Cuba to have interior Art Deco spaces designed by Rene Lalique, also the designer of Catalina Lasa’s mausoleum. Art Deco is only present inside the mansion as the product of deep infatuation with the style that came too late in the construction process.

    Eclectic exterior of the Baro-Lasa residence

    Eclectic interior of the Baro-Lasa residence

    Art Deco interior of the Baro-Lasa residence

    Fig_51 B

    Next, we went to a very different home designed thirty years later for the de Schulthess family by Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra. Originally the house was commissioned by a Swiss banker to house his family of five in the upper-class neighborhood of Country Club, today known as Cuabanacan, in a 9,896-square-meter lot. De Schulthess contacted Neutra through a common friend who immediately accepted to build this house, writing to de Schulthess, “This project is not the beginning, but it is supposed to be a culminating event in my career at the service of human beings.”1 This house is a fascinating adaptation of Neutra’s iconic architecture to the Caribbean. Unlike most of Neutra’s projects, which have a steel structure, the de Schulthess residence is supported by a reinforced concrete structure following the standard local building techniques. Wood, concrete, and framed glass bring the exterior vegetation in and allow it to become part of the architecture. The extraordinary landscaping, an integral part of the global design, was planned by the world-famous Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. I knocked on the kitchen door and asked to see the kitchen and the back of the house; the answer was the same I receive everywhere, an incredulous “sure” followed by a “there’s not much to see here."

    Given that this house is the official residence of the Swiss ambassador, the service area is fully functional and occupied by a large staff as originally intended. The spacious kitchen and service area are segregated from the rest of the house by a large white wall and a wood revolving door. Inside this area, there is a servants’ lounge with a tiny table to eat and a garden definitely not designed by Burle Marx. Also, I discovered a long hallway of doors pertaining to the servants’ bedrooms, comparable with the upstairs bedrooms’ hallway. The difference was the size of the hallway and its windows, and the lack of interior vegetation and elegant light fixtures on the bottom floor. After a cocktail courtesy of the Swiss ambassador’s chief of staff, we went for lunch in a restaurant by the sea where we sat on the upper floor terrace of a fully renovated house with an incredible aquatic view.  

    Our group with Eduardo Luis and staff from the Swiss Embassy

    Interior of the de Schulthess home

    Gardens of the de Schulthess home designed by Burle Marx


    Fig_55 B
    Kitchen door and interior of the large kitchen

    Domestic servants eating area

    Service are view from above

    Servants bedroom

    Fig_58 B
    Family bedrooms

    Lunch with a view

    Fig_59 B

    In the afternoon we fast-forwarded to contemporary Cuban architecture as we visited the house/studio of the wonderful female architect Vilma Bartolome. The project started as her home and evolved into an art and architecture gallery. According to Vilma herself, the two story, fully renovated house blends minimalism with elements of Cuban and tropical architecture such as vernacular materials, vegetation, and use of light and ventilation. Vilma is in charge of redesigning the important Linea Street in Havana and represents the talent, wisdom, and pride of contemporary Cuban artists. I feel privileged to have met her and her team.

    Architect Vilma Bartolome

    Fig_60 B
    Fig_60 C
    Fig_60 D
    Vilma Bartolome's house

    Fig_61 B
    Fig_61 C

    Day 6. Thursday, December 6th, 2018. Revolutionary Architecture

    Our last day in Havana was devoted to education and revolution. We began by visiting the Centro Universitario Jose Antonio Echeverria (CUJAE). This colossal architectural work is considered the most important built after the revolution. CUJAE is an exemplary project that adapts brutalism to the local weather conditions by including local building and design traditions such as patios, long covered galleries, and shutters to regulate light and air flow. More than forty modernist buildings grouped in a 398,000-square-meter area house CUJAE’s faculties of architecture and eight engineering. The total complex includes classrooms, laboratories, conference rooms, libraries, workshops, warehouses, student housing, cafeterias, administration offices, sports facilities, and printing services. The main drawback of this polytechnic school is its isolated location and difficult, and expensive, access by public transportation. A student told me in the bathroom how one of her classmates couldn’t continue her architectural education because she couldn’t afford the bus fees to CUJAE.

    One of CUJAE's patios

    Fig_63 B CUJAE

    After CUJAE we made a quick stop in Las Ruinas Restaurant, a spectacular structure built around the ruins of an old sugar mill in the Lenin Park. Designed between 1969 and 1972 by Joaquin Galvan, the concrete and glass building gives the impression of a strong, brave guard protecting the delicate traces of a rich architectural past. Unfortunately, the building, which is currently underused as an unremarkable restaurant, suffered under the inexperienced hands of an uninformed interior designer who chose oversized crystal chandeliers and outdated ironwork handrails. Nevertheless, it is easy to distinguish Galvan’s intentions to the later thoughtless add-ons.  

    Las Ruinas Restaurant

    Fig_64 B Las Ruinas
    Fig_64 C Las Ruinas

    We left Las Ruinas to visit what many (myself included) consider one of the best examples of Latin American architecture: The Escuela Nacional de Arte designed by Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garratti between 1959 and 1964. Waiting for us at the entrance of the Art School was Universo Garcia Lorenzo, architect, university professor, and professional in charge of coordinating the renovation of the project since 1999. In the complex five schools are spread throughout the former Havana Country club golf course creating an ample campus devoted to arts.

    Entrance to the fine arts school

    First, we visited the fine arts school designed by Porro now fully occupied by exceptionally talented students. To enter, one has to choose between the three magnificent brick vaulted tunnels, walking through them is the perfect preamble to the outstanding interior. The fine art school is a conglomeration of smaller buildings connected by vaulted gallerias playfully unfolding around a large, uncovered courtyard. Inside the classrooms, the skylights in the gigantic domes are designed to shed zenithal light onto the works of art or live models.

    Skylight in one of the fine art school's classrooms

    Fine Art School's hallway

    Fine art school's patio

    Work of the art school's students

    After the fine arts school, we walked to the second and last fully functional building: the school of modern dance, also designed by Porro. On our way, we passed by Garatti’s School of Music and Gottardi’s School of Drama, only halfway built and totally abandoned and empty except for a couple of squatter students who, in search for a quiet space to work, decided to reside there. One art student used the welding techniques learned in his sculpture course to build a zinc door for one of the empty classrooms.

    A green door fashioned by an art student searching for a private space to work 

    Fig_71 A
    Fig_71 B

    After examining the abandoned structures, we walked to the dance school with a different atmosphere. The fully finished building was filled with dynamic young students chatting, stretching, and dancing to music everywhere. This building had a similar distribution to the fine arts school where classrooms are connected by ample vaulted hallways revolving around the main courtyard. Unlike the rest of the schools fully built in brick, here large, imposing, white walls contrast with the tile floor and roof, creating a more traditional effect. Lastly, we walk to the also abandoned school of ballet. For me, this was the best of the five buildings, even if dilapidated and only 80% completed. The game of shadows and lights created by the paper-thin non-continuous vaulted ceilings is moving and inspiring, like magic could be created here and nowhere else. It’s easy to imagine ballerinas pirouetting under this light, music filling the air around, and black and pink leotards adorning the grassy hills. With a perfect sunset, we say goodbye to this architectural tragedy, hoping that Universo finds a way to save it, to guard it against the inclement effects of time and nature. Goodbye Arts School, goodbye Havana!

    Fig_71 C

    Fig_71 CC
    Fig_71 D
    Fig_71 E

    [1] Richard Neutra to Alfred de Schulthess, August 26th 1955.

  • Incomplete Remains: Interpreting Mining Company Towns in Chile

    by User Not Found | Feb 01, 2019

    Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    The original railroad that ran through the Atacama Desert, connecting the string of northern Chile’s historic nitrate mines to its port cities, today very nearly matches Route 5, the Panamerican Highway. Plunging through the heart of the Pampa, Route 5 is punctuated only by roadside memorials and signs marking the sites of the long-abandoned nitrate towns, called salitreras. Many of these are not only visible from the roadside, but can be reached via a bit of off-roading. On the drive from Antofagasta to Calama, we did exactly that, pulling the car off the highway and trekking a few hundred meters out into the desert. At this particular salitrera, whose name I never learned, the best preserved buildings were long rows of packed-earth worker housing. The roofs were absent, but the bleached and desiccated palm fronds blanketing the floor of a few houses were clearly fallen roofing material. Faded house numbers and the remnants of colorful interior paint were the only hints of individuality in the dwellings along this anonymous street. I climbed up to the roofline to get a better sense of the space. From this vantage point, I could almost make out the ruins of the next salitrera up the road.




    This stretch of Route 5 is remarkable, but within the context of Chile’s history, it’s hardly exceptional. It’s hard to miss the impact of mining on Chile’s built environment. Dotted throughout this narrow country are countless historic and active mines—silver, copper, nitrate, coal, and lithium most prominently. Alongside the historic port architectures I discussed in my previous post, mining sites constitute another lynchpin in Chile’s growing heritage tourism sector. Of these sites, the company towns of Sewell (copper) and Humberstone (nitrate) are perhaps the best known. Both possess decidedly utopian intentions, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and have been extensively restored and redeveloped to support tourism. However, that’s where the similarities end.


    Sewell is perched high in the Andes, about three hours away from central Santiago, on an expansive parcel of land owned by CODELCO, the nationalized copper mining company of Chile. Visiting Sewell means booking a tour with an authorized guide, a long drive on a hulking tour bus, and passing through an official checkpoint to access CODELCO land. After the checkpoint, the last hour of the drive covers land so stripped bare it is simultaneously Martian and post-apocalyptic. As the road winds its way to Sewell, vistas open of decimated land stained green by oxidized copper remnants and current mining operations painted in phosphorescent hues; a postmodernist industrial distopia. The visitor’s first view of Sewell is the town’s old cemetery crumbling into the hillside over a parking lot filled with CODELCO buses. The second view is a dizzying composition of wood-frame buildings impossibly situated on a precipitous mountainside.



    Sewell’s lifeblood and the source of its copper was El Teniente, an active mine that is today one of the world’s largest underground copper mines. Founded in 1905, Sewell was Chile’s first copper mine company town. The town was occupied until the 1970s, by which point CODELCO had decided that it was more economical for the miners and their families to live in Rancaqua, a town off company land more than an hour away. Preservation efforts to conserve the remaining buildings began in the 1990s, and in 2006 Sewell was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.1 Today, though miners drive behemoth modern rigs nearby, only tourists climb the grand escalera (or great staircase) that runs through urban Sewell’s core. Situated on a steep slant, Sewell’s designers devised wood-frame worker housing and service buildings and steel industrial structures uniquely suited to this hostile and topologically challenging environment. As at most other company towns, the majority of technological and structural innovation was applied to the industrial sector (the copper concentrator built in 1915 is still in use today).2 Yet, even with the requirements of building on a vertiginous Andean mountainside, the architects of Sewell adapted traditional timber-framing to a unique urban layout reflecting of the values of the company founders.3 Some buildings are stuccoed or plastered, but all are painted in brilliant hues, striking even amidst the low-slung clouds obscuring the mountainside.


    The capital at Sewell, as at so many other Chilean copper and nitrate mines, came not from within the country, but from North American and Great Britain. Anglo-American financiers brought with them not only the technological savoir-faire to build mining operations but also cultural ideas about how a company should be run, and how those ideas should be expressed in architecture. The balloon-frame mansions that I described last month in downtown Iquique thus found their analogs in mining towns. The Norteamericanos who founded and ran Sewell only constituted 5% of the town’s population, but nevertheless made a dramatic impact on its culture and society. Workers at the mine were divided into A, B, and C roles. The Norteamericano minority held all of the A-role positions and lived in single-family dwellings segregated from the rest of the worker housing, further up the mountainside.4 Although all of the A-role housing was demolished before Sewell became a UNESCO site, the remaining structures give a vivid glimpse into its hierarchical society. A guided visit to Sewell begins in the Teniente Club, a building reserved for A-rolers and their guests, complete with a ballroom, dining rooms, and a heated swimming pool. For a moment, one can even enjoy the illusion of being in a turn-of-the-century club in New York or Chicago, until the views from the big bay windows spoil the effect.

    A view from the second-floor ballroom at Sewell’s Teniente Club.

    Teniente Club drawing room.

    Swimming pool reserved for Norteamericanos in the basement of the Teniente Club.

    Built as an urban agglomeration over several decades, the wooden buildings (and one-off concrete structure dating to 1958) reflect changing stylistic trends—the Teniente Club’s tall ceilings and crown molding are a stark contrast to the c.1930s/1940s mining school down the hill. Though the onsite signage goes to great lengths to emphasize the pragmatism and economy of the architecture (with “no place for unnecessary ornamentation”), the mining school nonetheless picks up the horizontal lines of International Style architecture and the sweeping curves of streamline moderne.5 This building hints to me that despite the town’s remote location, the administration remained plugged in to contemporary architectural trends, and that the desire to look as well as function like a modern mine town exerted some influence in the design decisions made for this building.

    The single concrete structure in Sewell, constructed 1958. At that time, there was a plan to replace all of the older wooden buildings with concrete ones, but after trying it once here, that plan was abandoned.

    The former mining school, which is today the mining museum. Beneath the plaster, this is purportedly still a wood frame building, but it’s hard to tell that from the outside.

    The tour of Sewell begins at the top of the hill with the Teniente Club and winds its way down, through worker housing blocks for those on the B- and C-role, and the numerous recreational, religious, and educational facilities provided to give worker life structure and meaning outside of the copper mine. Outside of questions of style, the architecture of Sewell invariably reflects the beliefs and mores of its founders, including social mobility, freedom of religion, temperance, and the right to education. Numerous services and amenities were designed to serve the town’s robust administrative middle class, and the church’s Catholic iconography is notably restrained in order to keep the space interdenominational.



    Though I’d booked a tour in English, it turned out that our guide spoke only Spanish. As a result, I spent much of the visit watching the other people on our tour, considering their reactions and wondering why they had left a lovely summer Saturday in Santiago to trek around in 40 F temperatures at Sewell. What did the experience of this place mean to them? I was seeing a company town with utopian aspirations, but what were they seeing? Of the thirty or so people on our tour, there were only two other Norteamericanos (also academics). The rest, judging by a glance I got at the tour roster, were Chileans. That ratio seemed about the same for the rest of the other tour groups visiting on the same day. The lack of English language reviews of Sewell online led me to (wrongly) believe that this was not a terribly popular attraction. But on the day we visited, there were at least 5 or 6 other tour groups of similar size running simultaneously. Adding to the crowd were those there to see a youth exposition of traditional Chilean dance taking place on the town’s central plaza. It quickly became clear that despite its remote location, Sewell is a site of living memory for many Chileans. After posting some photos of my visit to Instagram, the Chilean mother of a friend messaged me to say how meaningful the images were, as her great-grandfather had mined at Sewell. 


    The working class culture around mining is a pervasive aspect of Chilean nationhood. Unlike in South Africa, where mine owners intentionally used language barriers and ethnicity to discourage the formation of trans-cultural African worker movements, and where white unions often worked to the detriment of their black counterparts, Chile possesses a largely solidified working class culture. The narrative of the Chilean worker as a national “type” dates back to Nicolas Palacio’s polemical (and deeply problematic) 1904 book La Raza Chilena (The Chilean Race). In this work, Palacio valorizes the much-maligned Chilean worker, dubbed the Roto (or “broken”) Chileno. In reclaiming this term, Palacio denies any significant Latin contribution to the Roto Chileno’s character, instead attributing the unique culture and features of the Chilean worker to the miscegenation of Teutonic people and the indigenous Mapuche. This work, which fueled both early worker movements and anti-immigration campaigns, was similar to other contemporary works in that it argued that the Chilean character was based in mestizaje, or racial and cultural hybridity.6 But Palacio’s work is emblematic of a broader shift in Chilean culture towards recognizing and celebrating workers, and particularly miners, alongside heroes of the Independence and the War of the Pacific.7 Not coincidentally, this transformation paralleled the rise of worker movements and increasing class consciousness.

    Mining is today still a mainstay of the Chilean economy, copper mining alone accounting for 50% of its exports, and the miner retains a vaunted places within the national imaginary.8 Remember the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days back in 2010? Though the rest of the world was equally rapt by that story of survival and endurance, the way Chileans understood that event was undoubtedly shaded by the country’s longer narrative about miners and mining. I wonder then, if Sewell, located close to Santiago, and with a significant portion of its original architecture intact, might be considered the Chilean equivalent to Colonial Williamsburg, a metonymic place that conveys broader and more persistent narratives of national identity. Indeed, the presence of active mining within sight of the historic company town makes it easy to perceive an unbroken linkage to the past. The interpretive choices at Sewell strengthen than connection, by placing focus on the restored spaces where working- and middle-class Sewellians lived, worshipped, saw movies, and went bowling. Most visitors, I suspect, don’t make the trip for the formal qualities of Sewell’s architecture, but rather for the human stories contained within its walls.


    More than one thousand miles north of Sewell is the nitrate mine and company town of Humberstone. Located 45 minutes east of Iquique, the drive to Humberstone loops up the coastal range and onto the Pampa, the elevated plain of the Atacama Desert. Today astrobiologists study the Atacama to learn about how life might survive on Mars—only the hardiest of microorganisms can eke out an existence on the Pampa, where the last rain may have come decades if not centuries ago.9 It is also here that the world’s largest mineralogical deposit of nitrates (also known as saltpeter) was discovered in the 1820s. When runoff from the Andes seeped up through the flat plain of the mineral-rich Pampa, long, stratified bands of different mineral contents were distributed through the process of evaporation. The fact that all of Chile’s former nitrate mines follow a straight path parallel to the coast is not for economic reasons, as I had assumed, but in fact geological ones. From the 1880s until the early 1930s, somewhere around two hundred salitreras were established along this strip of nitrate-rich earth stretching north along the Pampa from Antofagasta to Pisaqua. Each of these salitreras was connected to nearby port towns via a railway, allowing the so-called “white gold” to reach the rest of the world. The nitrate boom coincided with—and also precipitated—the rise of industrialized agriculture across the globe, yielding a fertilizer capable of restoring depleted fields to fecundity.

    Map of Nitrate mine distribution in 1890 from Iquique to Pisagua, image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


    A South African poster advertising Chilean Nitrates, courtesy of “Afiches Epoca del Salitre,” Mineria y Cultura, accessed January 30, 2019, http://www.mineriaycultura.iimch.cl/afiche_salitre.html.

    A poster advertising Chilean Nitrates to Britain and Ireland, courtesy of “Afiches Epoca del Salitre,” Mineria y Cultura, accessed January 30, 2019, http://www.mineriaycultura.iimch.cl/afiche_salitre.html.

    Despite the lack of ground moisture, Atacama mornings are often characterized by an impenetrable fog. Once that fog burns off though, there’s just barren land, blue sky, and fierce sun. We arrived wearing jackets and by noon were down to our shirt sleeves, and on our third application of sunscreen. The visitor experience at Humberstone is decidedly more self-directed than that at Sewell: rent a car, roll up, buy several large bottles of water, and hope your tetanus booster is up to date. Near the site’s entrance, there is a sign introducing the color-coding system by which buildings are marked as being in good, fair, and dangerous condition.


    It is not immediately clear how massive the site is (for the record, it’s 573.48 hectares, or 1417 acres).10 The row of medium-size houses for middle-managers and engineers that flanks the entrance initially blocks everything behind it: a fully-fledged company town complete with dozens of intact buildings, and the ruins of the industrial mining and processing plant. While I spent much of my time at Sewell people-watching, Humberstone is so extensive that it was hard to find any other people to watch, though quite a few other visitors arrived by bus and car over the course of the day. A five minute drive down the road from Humberstone, the smaller and less visited salitrera of Santa Laura offers a complementary heritage experience: here, the industrial portion of the plant has been well preserved, while the housing has been completely destroyed, leaving only foundations.

    A view overlooking the housing section and central plaza of Humberstone.

    The intact industrial core of Santa Laura, which retains enough structural integrity to demonstrate the process through which nitrate-bearing ore is refined and turned into consumer-grade saltpeter for export. Gravity was used extensively during this process, which is why many of the industrial structures are quite tall.

    Humberstone is notable not only for the sheer amount of worker housing preserved, but the massive plaza at its core, which, like Sewell, articulates a particular vision of worker life. There’s a theater, a hotel, a general store, a public fountain, and an outdoor bandshell. Nearby are a swimming pool and a school. Having seen some truly bleak and desperate worker environments during my fellowship explorations so far, I was not expecting to find a resplendent Pueblo Deco theater in the middle of the Atacama Desert.

    22-TheaterHumberstone’s theater; a uniquely Atacama Desert variation on the Pueblo Deco style popular in the North American Southwest.


    The Art Deco facade of the hotel, which also contained entertaining spaces for visitors and guests.

    The pulperia, or general store.

    A sculptural, Art Deco inspired public fountain at the center of a courtyard reminiscent of that of a hacienda.

    The back of the bandshell in the central plaza, looking out onto the stage.

    A swimming pool with bleachers directly adjacent to the central plaza.

    An Art Deco-inflected school with almost a dozen classrooms.

    The same railways that transported processed nitrate to nearby ports also were responsible for bringing in building materials in. Rather than turning to the construction strategies traditionally employed on the Pampa, which include both an adobe-like earth-block building method and a wattle-and-daub tradition using bamboo grown in oasis towns like Pica, the Anglo-American managers at Humberstone (and many other Atacama salitreras) opted to import methods they were familiar with—at the start, mostly timber framing. Humberstone, which was active from 1872 to approximately 1960, encompasses a range of styles and architectural approaches to the extreme aridity of the Pampa. In the middle of the Atacama, direct sunlight feels scorching, but full shade verges on chilly. As a result, creating shelter is largely a matter of moderating sunshine, as in the hotel’s ballroom and bar, where light filters gently through a ceiling made of bamboo draped over wooden crossbeams. Arcades and shaded porches are frequent features throughout the site. The architects of Humberstone drew from a pan-American and pan-historical vocabulary of forms, picking up a hacienda courtyard here, an Art Deco flourish there. Though the first sequence of buildings was made out of wood, frequently roofed with corrugated tin, later additions increasingly employed concrete, particularly in public buildings. Many of the most prominent public structures are products of the 1930s, during which time a program of reform sought to bring new services and amenities to the workers and families.

    Without the fear of rain, roofing only needs to provide protection from the sun, as in the hotel ballroom with its bamboo roof.

    Porches and shade structures are also common in Humberstone’s worker housing.

    The interior of a working housing block, showing the combination of wood framing and adobe fill held in by wire.

    The heart of Humberstone’s urban plan is not its church or its theater, but the pulperia, or general store. The infrastructure to provide for all of the alimentary and material needs of the town’s workers was extensive, including cold storage areas for meat and produce, and industrial-sized ovens for baking bread. With the sprawling intricacy of a Roman bath, the pulperia now functions as Humberstone’s engaging interpretive center. The interpretive signage here and across the site effectively points out the ways in which Humberstone, like Sewell, followed a rigidly hierarchical model, given architectural form in housing type and site arrangement. The director’s vaguely Arts & Crafts bungalow might have been that of an upper-middle class family in the American Midwest, but the bulk of workers, particularly those who were without families, shared rooms in what were little more than barracks. And at Humberstone, as at many salitreras, payment was often given in the form of tokens, which could only be spent at the general store. Contemporary observers of the nitrate trade speculated that mine owners might have sometimes made more from their general stores than they did from the nitrate industry, a suggestion that intimates a kind of economic slavery endemic in the whole salitrera system 11. That the general store was the sturdiest and most complex building on the site was surely no mistake; directly inside the pulperia’s main entrance sits Humberstone’s de facto bank counter, from which paychecks or tokens would be distributed.

    The dry goods counter at the pulperia, which has been restored to appear as it might have in the mid-twentieth century.

    The pulperia also sold other material goods that miner families would have needed in Humberstone, such as fabric for making clothes.

    Immediately within the entrance was the counter from which worker paychecks (either in tokens or cash) would have been distributed.


    Incomplete Remains

    Since it was built over a number of years, Humberstone’s plan doesn’t have the same legible, symmetric geometry of other utopian company towns. However, just a few hours south is Maria Elena, the last of the original salitreras still occupied, and a compelling example of utopian town planning. Focused on a square park, the central plaza is surrounded by most of the town’s main public buildings—the church, the theater, the general store (now a market), the bank, and a long civic building that was recently converted into a municipal museum. From the square central plaza, the town radiates out as a series of concentric octagons. The outer rings are mostly occupied by housing— long, one-story structures wrapped by shaded porches. Time and continuous occupation have transformed them from standardized worker housing into individualized dwellings, painted in diverse shades. Just east of town are the remains of the former nitrate processing plant. The town still relies on nitrate mining and processing, but this happens in a newer, modern facility a few miles from the town.

    Satellite image of Maria Elena and the historic nitrate processing plant, courtesy of GoogleEarth.

    The church at Maria Elena.

    The famous Art Deco theater of Maria Elena.

    Maria Elena’s new museum, the Museo del Salitre, is housed here.

    By this point in my fellowship year, I’ve visited many de-industrializing cities, bled dry of their economic lifeblood and without a younger generation to support the aging population that remains. That’s what I expected to find at Maria Elena, but with mining activity still providing jobs for the residents, there was none of that sense of desperation. If not excessively prosperous, there was a sense of activity and purpose. The market bustled, there was a line at the bank, and we were far from the only people eating lunch in the park. The town was in the full Christmas spirit, with decorations in the park and a nativity scene set up next to the bank. There was even a star hung from the old processing plant.



    We wandered over to the museum, only to learn (following the logic of so many small town museum hours) that it was closed, but would reopen at 4 pm. John trotted out his high school Spanish and haltingly explained our reason for being there, and the kind docent on duty relented and gave us a tour. I’ve now seen a lot of museums about Chilean mining, ranging from rather dated regional museums to the slick, modern Museum of the Atacama Desert. But the museum in Maria Elena was the first and only interpretation to really dig into the spatial dynamics and architecture of nitrate mining. A series of dioramas showed the development of salitrera layout in three stages—the preindustrial, the early industrial, and the present-day. It was the middle diorama that looked the most familiar—a planned company town directly adjacent to the nitrate fields and the processing plant. But it was also missing so many of the urban features I’d become familiar with. The diorama showed only the processing facility and a few bleak rows of barracks-style worker housing. Where was the school, the theater, the expansive pulperia? In each of the preserved mine town examples I’d seen so far, there had been an implicit or explicit dedication to labor condition reform and worker development, made clear by the inclusion of certain building typologies and their privileged placement within the town. Perhaps these museum-ified company towns were not the whole story of what early industrial mining life was really like in Chile.

    A diorama at the Museo del Salitre in Maria Elena showing the middle stage of salitrera development: rows of worker housing adjacent to the processing plant.

    At our final stop in Northern Chile, an ecolodge near the oasis town of Pica, I asked our host Marco, a Peruvian geologist, about what we’d seen, describing the disparity between the preserved and interpreted salitreras and the version we had seen in the diorama at the Maria Elena museum. Marco explained that Humberstone and Maria Elena are not the “real” salitreras of the early twentieth century—instead, these are relics from a later period in which the government partially took over the Chilean nitrate trade. In 1929, the nitrate market had collapsed after German chemists invented an artificial process for synthesizing the compound. At that point, most of the salitreras in Chile shut down and those that remained were put under partial government control. Humberstone, Maria Elena, and the few other salitreras that continued production into the 1930s and later were significantly altered, often with the intent of improving working conditions. Looking at both the style and typologies of the Humberstone structures dating to this post-1929 period, it is impossible to avoid being reminded of contemporaneous New Deal architecture in the United States. I even wonder whether the architects of the reformed vision for Humberstone were directly inspired by their Norteamericano counterparts in the PWA. Was the construction of that glorious Pueblo Deco theater perhaps also a public works project, a make-work construction job to help out the ailing nitrate industry?

    I told Marco about our escapade off Route 5—the ruins with the packed-earth worker housing. There, the industrial structures seemed to have vanished entirely, or were perhaps so distant that we never found them. There were no signs of the amenities preserved at Humberstone—the school, the theater, the hotel. The whole idea of public space, so critical to the other salitreras we’d visited, was missing. Before that period of reforms in the 1930s, Marco told us, nitrate mining had been an unequivocally “nasty business.” Surviving documentary evidence from that earlier era of mining backs him up on this. Worker accounts, such as that of Elías Lafertte, describe a peripatetic lifestyle on the Pampa, frequently searching for new opportunities, enduring toxic, dangerous work, and never quite able to get ahead due to the exploitative “token system” of payment. Lafertte also witnessed the 1907 Iquique Massacre in which the army killed some two thousand striking workers and family members. This event is a reminder that the Chilean government, which would later tout its worker reforms, long abetted the exploitation of those same workers in service of enriching the national coffers.12

    Because the built remains of this earlier period of mining have either been lost, lack interpretation, or are not easily accessible, how can these places be made real to the public? How do we avoid losing these stories or forgetting that exceptional examples like Humberstone and Maria Elena tell an incomplete story? In some sense, it’s the same challenge to that architectural historians face working with plantation houses in the United States. Those plantation houses that have survived, particularly those that have been preserved and opened to the public, are often exceptional in the quality of their architecture and/or in the kinds of historical narratives they tell. The extraordinary nature of the architecture can belie or obscure the fact that these “beautiful houses” were supported by the institution of slavery. Likewise, it’s easy to look at Sewell or Humberstone and think that being a miner in 1920s was probably not so bad, even if we know that isn’t the whole story. The spaces at both of these sites that intentionally remind us that this isn’t the whole story are also the most powerful: at Sewell, a room containing a mural showing an infamous 1945 mine disaster that killed 355 people, and at Humberstone, a memorial and museum dedicated to the 1907 Iquique Massacre. These homages to human events remind us that historical sites aren’t just snapshots of a synchronic moment, but rather diachronic spaces that inscribe a multitude of lived experiences. With that in mind, public historians can begin to peel back the utopian, reformist layers—Sewell was at its start a collection of simple covachas, or wooden shacks, and early Humberstone likely looked very much like the simple packed-earth salitrera we found off Route 5.

    The Sewell tour includes a stop at a mural responding to the deadliest mine disaster in Chilean history, a 1945 incident where many workers due to smoke inhalation.

    Humberstone houses a moving and effective memorial museum dedicated to the 1907 Iquique Massacre. The interpretation provides necessary context, describing the economic conditions that had prompted the strike, and the army’s fateful decision to respond with force.

    A worker memorial at Humberstone’s Iquique Massacre Museum.

    The day we visited Maria Elena, we also drove 20 km south to the salitrera of Pedro de Valdivia. Abandoned as recently as the 1990s, Pedro de Valdivia has been declared a national monument but lacks any official interpretation other than a plaque at its front gate. Throughout the town, families have marked their names in spray paint, commemorating who lived where and in what room. Someone—maybe former residents, maybe their children, living today in Maria Elena—still maintains the landscaping on the town’s main street, which is kept alive by a rudimentary drip irrigation system. A makeshift memorial at the town’s center pays homage to former residents, its spray-painted epitaph reading, “Para que nadie pierda la memoria porque soy parte de esta historia // y en medio de esta tierra mi voz geguira viviendo,” roughly: “So that nobody loses the memory, because I am part of this story // and in the middle of this earth my voice will live.”







    I thought back to the nameless salitrera, which had no names inscribed, no written record on site to memorialize who lived there and when. What will happen to places like Pedro de Valdivia, which are so remote from Chile’s tourism hotspots? The sad, pragmatic truth of industrial heritage is that not everything can be saved, nor is curation and interpretation financially feasible at every site. Mass-produced sites, designed with the premise that both architecture and worker’s lives were fundamentally disposable, lose out to the reformed counter-examples, the utopian one-offs. But that grates against a basic and instinctual human desire to not be forgotten, and to mark our landscapes so that we will be remembered. As one resident of Pedro de Valdivia wrote, “Yo no estoy muerto, lo estare cuando no me recuerde” — “I'm not dead, I'll be dead when you do not remember me.”

    1. “Sewell Mining Town,” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, accessed January 20, 2019, https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1214. ↩︎
    2. “The Sewell Concentrator and its Astonishing Longeivity,” Sewell interpretive sign, photographed November 17, 2018. ↩︎
    3. “Functional Architecture for an Unusual Mountain Location,” Sewell interpretive sign, photographed November 17, 2018. ↩︎
    4. “The Sewell Elite: The North Americans,” Sewell interpretive sign, photographed November 17, 2018. ↩︎
    5. “Functional Architecture for an Unusual Mountain Location,” Sewell interpretive sign, photographed November 17, 2018. ↩︎
    6. Nicolás Palacios, “Race, Nation, and the ‘Roto Chileno’”, translated by Enrique Gauguin, in The Chile Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015): 213-216. ↩︎
    7. Ibid., 199. ↩︎
    8. For an effective visual explanation of Chile’s copper economy see Jeff Desjardins, “How Copper Riches Helped Shape Chile’s Economic Story,” Visual Capitalist, June 21, 2017, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/copper-shape-chile-economic-story/. ↩︎
    9. Rebecca Boyle, “The Search for Alien Life Begins in the Earth’s Oldest Desert,” The Atlantic, November 28, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/11/searching-life-martian-landscape/576628/. ↩︎
    10. “Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works,” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, accessed January 30, 2019, https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1178. ↩︎
    11. Elías Lafertte, “Nitrate Workers and State Violence: The Massacre at Escuela Santa María de Iquique’”, translated by John White, in The Chile Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015): 240. ↩︎
    12. Ibid., 238-244. ↩︎
  • District, Route, Corridor: Port Architectures and Heritage Strategies in Chile

    by User Not Found | Jan 09, 2019
    SAH BLOG 5 Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    In the Yokohama Port Museum, there is a row of framed archival photographs from the United States occupation of the Yokohama port and harbor after World War II. These artful black and white images capture the bizarre urban condition of the occupation—leisurely lawn parties in the fenced American compound against the backdrop of bombed out buildings and everyday Japanese hardship. Those stark images stuck with me in part because of how different they were from the rest of the Port Museum, which is a well-orchestrated profusion of digital interactives and pleasingly haptic physical models. But I think the main reason I’m still pondering those photographs two months later is that at some basic level, they conveyed the cultural, economic, and political messiness not just of Yokohama’s port in the late 1940s, but of industrialized port cities in general. As someone who grew up landlocked in the desert of the American Southwest, it has taken me until this trip to appreciate the extent to which industrial and post-industrial port cities lie at the fragile nexus of local and global economic forces, constituting surprisingly vulnerable and yet adaptable urban entities.

    Across the globe, as historic ports have lost economic activity, changed function, or undergone retrofitting for containerization, redevelopment and spatial reconfiguration have become critical to the survival of ports and their surrounding urban areas. Today, Yokohama’s port has entered a new economic and architectural phase. While industrial shipping (particularly the export of Japanese cars) is still part of the equation, those functions have been consolidated into the southern part of the bay. In Yokohama, much of the harbor has been taken over by commercial and touristic programs.



    Adjacent to the Port Museum, a nondescript and somewhat hidden building, is the impressively preserved Nippon Maru, a 1930 vessel that was for many years used to train the Japanese navy. A Ferris wheel turns steadily over a small amusement park, next to several new retail complexes. A short walk away, at the Cup Noodles Museum, architectural minimalism meets consumerist maximalism in one of Yokohama’s most popular present-day attractions. The red brick warehouses (constructed 1911 and 1913, repaired after the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923) have been converted into claustrophobia-inducing boutique shopping malls. On the day I visited, the atmosphere was festive. The Christmas shopping season had started and the plaza between the two warehouses was filled with a street market and a bevy of food trucks.

    From the redeveloped commercial area, the present-day shipping port is shielded from view by the International Passenger Terminal, a sprawling edifice that juts 430 meters into the harbor. Designed by Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera-Polo of Foreign Office Architects in 1995 (and finally opened in 2002), the design still looks cutting-edge today, a prescient precursor to public projects like the New York High Line.1 On my pennultimate night in Japan, I sat out at the open air cafe on the terminal’s roof/walkway, witnessing a dizzying array of movement and activity in the redeveloped port. Behind me, to the south in the distant industrial port, the unloading and reloading of shipping containers progressed with mechanical grace. Nearby on the passenger terminal, a wedding ceremony reached its conclusion. With a cheer, the guests released an armada of pink and red balloons into the sunset sky above.



    Yokohama’s International Passenger Terminal, Foreign Office Architects, 1995-2002.

    The day I spent in Yokohama proved to be a fitting bridge to my next destination: Chile—a long, thin whisper of a country edged with 2,600 miles of coastline. Over the last six weeks of exploring Chile’s industrial heritage, I’ve spent much of my time in the country’s port cities. Life along Chile’s unending coast has formed a marked contrast to my inland adventures, which have taken me to remote pre-industrial German settlements, nitrate ghost towns, and copper mines; and the cosmopolitan, European-inflected metropolis of Santiago. This month, I will tackle the particular issues of Chilean port cities, investigating the heritage preservation and interpretive approaches being taken in three very different urban conditions—Valparaíso, Iquique, and the decentralized ports of the Chiloé archipelago. Next month, I’ll move inland to explore Chile’s historical and current mining landscape—company towns, worker housing, and the mines themselves.

    Despite the strong sense of national unity that exists in Chile, the built landscape of its ports is surprisingly diverse. Indeed, Chile’s port architectures tend to be hyper-local, responding to geography, locally available materials, stored cultural knowledge, and the variable and uneven application of industrial technologies and practices. As interfaces between Chile’s powerful export economy and the rest of the industrializing world, the country’s historical port cities were (and still are) also particularly vulnerable to both internal and external economic shifts—such as the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, or the collapse of the nitrate economy in 1929. And although many port cities across the globe have served as stages for workers’ actions, including strikes and protests, this function seems outsized in Chile, particularly in the north where the harsh desert climate rendered port cities the default hubs for collective action.

    The economic vulnerability of industrial ports in Chile and elsewhere in the world is registered in their architecture and urban planning. What I witnessed in South Africa and Japan was the almost universal redevelopment of port districts, a process that typically mingled adaptive reuse (see my second SAH Brooks blog post) and new construction. In Cape Town, that process included new luxury residential developments alongside trendy retail spaces, food halls, and landmark cultural attractions such as Zeitz MOCAA. In Japan, most of the port redevelopment seemed predominantly commercial, often incorporating elements of heritage tourism. And for most of the port cities I visited, the redevelopment process was already quite advanced, with some port cities now even needing to restore and refresh commercial architecture constructed in the 1980s.

    The redevelopment of Hakodate’s “red brick warehouse district” dates to the 1988 opening of the Seikan Tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido, which enabled Shinkansen (Bullet Train) travel to Hakodate. Capitalizing on this transit corridor, the historic warehouses were redeveloped as tourism-oriented commercial spaces.

    The earliest commercial architecture along Kobe’s port appears to date from the mid-1980s. These slightly faded structures are joined by new additions, such as “Mosaic,” an ostentatious Florentine-themed labyrinth of indoor/outdoor retail space.


    But while the cycle of redevelopment and re-redevelopment is already well underway in the postindustrial port cities of Japan, Chile’s entry into the cultural and heritage tourism game has been much more recent. While the end of the Pinochet dictatorship and Chile’s return to democracy in 1990 initiated an almost immediate upswing in nature and adventure tourism, the country is just starting to advertise its historical places, culinary offerings, and shopping opportunities. While few visitors come to Chile for the cultural element alone, heritage sites and experiences are becoming increasingly prominent supplements to adventure tourism standbys such as Patagonia or San Pedro de Atacama. As part of this new focus on heritage tourism, Chile is actively developing its historic port cities as cultural destinations, for both domestic and foreign tourists. Yet, owing the hyperlocality of their architectural traditions and their distinctive cultural and historical contexts, the heritage challenges faced in Valparaíso are unique from those in Arica, Antofagasta, or Lota—and the corresponding preservation and interpretation responses are equally as diverse.

    Understanding heritage tourism in any given nation also entails decoding the various legal and economic vehicles through which buildings and landscapes are protected, preserved, and interpreted. In South Africa, a shared language and some fortuitous on-the-ground networking gained me access to helpful archives and a more direct path to decoding the intricacies of that country’s heritage sector. But in Japan and Chile, I’ve been battling a language barrier (a rather severe one in Japan) and a lack of contacts. In Chile, I’ve been combing the Chilean national monuments page, with some help from Google Translate. Local guides and walking tours have served as useful historical primers. UNESCO nominations and the accompanying maps have been uniquely helpful. I’ve cut a diet of Isabel Allende fiction and memoirs with the illustrative primary documents and incisive commentary contained in The Chilean Reader.2 In concert with the act of just being on the ground and observing how daily life functions in these historic places, this research yielded a much clearer conception of the motivating concepts behind how heritage is being conserved and developed for tourism in my three case study port cities.

    Valparaíso: Patrimonial Zone and Piecemeal Preservation

    In the nineteenth century, Valparaíso’s port functioned as an important resupply station for ships making the arduous trip around South America to reach the other side of the North American continent. With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Valparaíso fell into decline and depression. The sluggish economy prevented much from getting built, but also stopped much from getting demolished either. Encompassing a mind-bending topography of steep hills and valleys, Valparaíso’s historic urban core has retained much of its architectural integrity since the turn of the twentieth century. In 2003, Valparaíso’s historic downtown was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a move which has encouraged the gradual development of heritage tourism.

    Valparaíso’s UNESCO-inscribed patrimonial zone and its buffer zone. Composite image created using satellite imagery from Google Earth and a map from the Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales de Chile (“Area Histórica de la Ciudad-Puerto de Valparaíso”).

    1. Muelle Prat
    2. Plaza Sotomayor
    3. Cerro Concepción
    4. Cerro Alegre
    5. Cerro Cordillera
    6. Cerro Santo Domingo


    On my second day in Valparaíso, still groggy from my Santiago-Tokyo flight and the 12 hour time difference, I ambled down the terrifyingly steep hill of Cerro Alegre to partake in a walking tour of the historic urban core. While our guide, American ex-pat Johnny, tracked down a few stragglers, we waited on the ground floor of the nineteenth-century house he and his Chilean wife are in the process of restoring. The amount of work and money that had gone into the venture were clear from the care in the details. I knew, from seeing the crumbling, unrestored versions of Johnny’s row house further down the street, what those walls might have looked like before their restoration. It wasn’t pretty.

    Valparaíso’s urban vernacular is typified by a unique fusion of local and industrial materials, and indigenous and European architecture, adapted to suit the demands of an intimidating topography. The most characteristic house type in historic Valparaíso arose in response to the city’s rapid growth at the end of the nineteenth century as an industrializing port. On a foundation of fired brick, a wooden frame, frequently in a half-timbered style, is filled packed earth adobe brick. Unlike the deep, load-bearing adobe of the Southwestern U.S. (or Northern Chile for that matter), this much thinner brick relies mostly on its wooden framing for support. The resulting structure is neither weatherproof nor rot-resistant, and so the exteriors are typically clad in corrugated tin, often brightly painted and featuring wooden trim in complementary colors.3

    Above, a typical Valparaíso house with corrugated siding, painted in monochrome. Flowering plants like this bougainvillea are frequently used in the city to add color contrast and visual interest. Below, an example of street art on a house in the historic district. This mural is by a street artist who typically depicts scenes and people from southern Chile, frequently celebrating indigenous Mapuche culture. Also along this side wall, it is possible to see what Valparaíso’s characteristic corrugated tin looks like in its unpainted state, and what the uncovered adobe looks like as well (left of mural).

    Once the walking tour was underway, John (husband) and I chatted with Johnny (tour guide) about his experience moving to Chile, and restoring this variety of historic house in a patrimonial district doubly protected by Chilean federal law and UNESCO status. The upshot? It’s a lot of paperwork. As Isabel Allende sardonically notes in My Invented Country, “The Chilean loves laws, the more complicated the better. Nothing fascinates us as much as red tape and multiple forms. When some minor negotiation seems simple, we immediately suspect that it’s illegal.”4 Indeed, the Kafkaesque complexity of the whole process runs counter to the city’s purported goals of stimulating investment in the historic district.

    As we zigzagged through the patrimonial zone, I came to appreciate the extreme diversity of structures, landscapes, urban types encompassed by the 23.2 hectare inscription and its 44.5 hectare buffer zone. The UNESCO area extends from the area closest to the port up into the hills above. Home to Chile’s legislature, the thin ribbon of flat land nearest the water links a number of traditional squares and blocks planned on a relatively even grid. Plaza Sotomayor at the center is a testament to the city’s architectural diversity and to the evolution of preservation approaches employed within its urban zone. The Plaza opens onto the water, where an active port still serves the surrounding area and the inland capital of Santiago. But move just a few blocks inland and the tidy structure of linear parks and historicizing civic buildings falls away as the city dissolves into its characteristic hills with their twisting streets and tin-clad adobe houses. Into the tight fabric of hillside houses are woven significant historic buildings and landscapes that diverge from the adobe and tin vernacular—the Arts & Crafts Palacio Baburizza, a host of neoclassical mausoleums, and several neo-gothic churches. In addition to the buildings, historic funiculars form a layer of transportation infrastructure that eased the daily journey of port workers up and down Valparaíso’s precipitous hills.


    The Consejo Nacional de La Cultura y Las Artes, a doctrinaire International Style municipal building, and a nineteenth-century neoclassical structure (after being put through the wringer of postmodern “preservation” tactics): just a sampling of the immense architectural diversity present in Plaza Sotomayor.

    The extraordinary topography of Valparaíso required innovative infrastructure at the height of the city’s industrialization. As the city expanded, the issue of urban circulation also became more pressing and complicated. The workers who commuted from hilltop residences down to the docks and back each day faced a steep descent and correspondingly vigorous climb. A traditional streetcar would simply not function in these conditions, and so instead, the city created a series of urban funiculars to ease transit up and down the hills. At their height, there were about 30 funiculars operating in Valparaíso.5

    Faced with the sheer diversity and complexity of the historic district’s architectural heritage, the city has pursued a preservation program that is decidedly piecemeal, pursuing isolated and intensive restoration projects, seemingly as catalysts to spur further private investment. On our walking tour, we climbed through the central public corridor of one of Valparaíso’s few fully restored hillside buildings. According to our guide, the government had spent millions (in USD) restoring this nineteenth-century complex, which is now being used as apartments. Just a hill away, though, were several adobes that were little more than crumbling ruins—structures that clearly needed to be razed for safety reasons. I suspect that the reason for focusing on construction rather than demolition has to do mostly with optics. On the ubiquitous infrastructure improvement signs throughout the country (“Todos para Chile!”), necessary removal is less glamorous than an entirely restored luxury apartment building.

    The view from one of Vaparaiso’s fully restored building complexes, revealing a landscape where most historic buildings are in varying states of preservation and disrepair.

    Similarly, rather than trying to resuscitate (or at least stabilize) all of the funiculars, the city has instead focused its efforts on a small handful. Out of the original 30, only 3 have been fully restored. The restored funiculars, which feature trendy kiosks with coffee and souvenirs, often attract queues of twenty minutes or more. Given that a ride costs only $100 CP (about 15 cents US), it’s hard to imagine that these extensive restorations are paying for themselves. Rather, the renovated funiculars and the isolated adaptive reuse projects seem targeted at changing the image of Valparaíso’s patrimonial zone—projects with substantial symbolic, if not economic, clout. But the city’s espoused desire for new investment has not been necessarily reflected in the experience of those looking to contribute, as with Johnny, who is fighting to save a historic building despite a lack of clear guidelines or municipal assistance.

    16-Restored Funicular 

    A journey on Ascensor Reina Victoria, one of Valparaíso’s restored funiculars. Renovated funiculars like this one now attract mostly visitors, catering to that audience with coffee shops and souvenir stores in the cable houses. Locals seem to prefer the slightly grungier unrestored versions, probably because they’re not clogged by long lines of tourists.

    The more successful restoration or reuse projects in the patrimonial zone are those that actively engage Valparaíso’s diverse community, rather than relying on optics or targeting wealthy residents and visitors to the exclusion of middle and working class citizens. One example is former Penitentiary Center of Valparaíso (used from 1843-1999; including to incarcerate political prisoners during the Pinochet regime) that through grassroots activism has been recycled into a community arts and education center. A thriving park adjacent to the arts building is one of the very few green spaces in urban Valparaíso, and creates a quadrangle with the brick ruins of a historic armory (1810) and another brand new museum and educational center. On the several occasions I visited the park, community members were out in force, walking dogs, picnicking, participating in a dance class, and selling art and baked goods from the shade of the community center.



    Valparaíso Ex-Carcel (former prison reused as educational community space), 2011, architects: HLPS. The architects not only managed the reuse of the prison building, but also designed the new building constructed adjacent to it on the pentagonal site, which houses a larger lecture hall/auditorium.


    As suggested by the prominence of the community art center, contemporary artistic practice is an integral part of the city’s identity. Indeed, Valparaíso’s unparalleled street art scene has become the predominant generator of tourism over the last ten years. With many street artists practicing in and around the historic district, the street art movement has at times butted heads with local preservation projects. In one instance, city planners were looking to restore a degraded public square to its turn-of-the-century state, a move that would have erased all of the street art within a certain radius. One mural in particular, a piece by an indigenous Mapuche artist from southern Chile, had grown to be a local favorite, for its political implications as well as its artistry. In the end, the stakeholders compromised, restoring some portions of the square while leaving the surrounding street art intact.6 Unlike the luxury apartment complex or the fully restored and heavily touristed funiculars, this dialogue between members of the community with different perspectives has resulted in a restored space that is both safer and more inclusive—bridging the gap between the historical meanings of the square and its current purpose. Paradoxically, it is the restoration projects in the patrimonial zone generated by and for the community that seem to be creating the most engagement and interest among foreign visitors. Remote foreign investment in boutique hotels might increase the overall level of amenities available in the area, but it seems that those who visit Valparaíso today are mostly attracted to the historic zone’s overall atmosphere—a robust synthesis of vernacular architecture, street art, natural topography, and the investment of committed locals like Johnny and his wife.



    Three examples of street art engaging the past and present of Valparaíso’s architecture and urban condition. Prominent street artists are increasingly receiving lucrative commissions to paint municipal buildings and private businesses, but many street artists paint wherever there is available wall space in the historic district.

    If local and touristic enthusiasm for Valparaíso’s street art could be more effectively harnessed in the historic district, there might be an opportunity for further mutually beneficial collaborations. Indeed, such a tactic holds promise for the sadly neglected industrial heritage that lies outside of the established patrimonial zone. Further north along the shore are scattered vestiges of Valparaíso’s early rail infrastructure, including a turntable with national monument status and several derelict but intact warehouses. Connected as they are to the current commuter rail, there seem to be opportunities here for creating more community-oriented educational spaces through adaptive reuse.

    23-TrainTurntableDespite its national monument status, this early twentieth-century train turntable in Valparaíso has been left as a virtual ruin next to the pristine new commuter rail that connects Valparaíso and neighboring urban areas to the north. How could such a ruin be changed through a combination of intelligent policy and grassroots activism to serve the larger community?


    Chiloé: Decentralized Port Cities and Heritage Route

    800 miles (1300 kilometers) south of Valparaíso lies the port city of Castro on the island of Chiloé. Castro is the political and symbolical capital of Chiloé, but is one of many small port towns across the main island and the archipelago of smaller isles off its east coast. Indeed, Chiloé’s economy seems largely decentralized—it would be fair to say that most of its cities function as ports to some extent. Like much of southern Chile, Chiloé remains relatively unindustrialized, due to geographic as well as historical and cultural reasons. When Charles Darwin visited in 1834, he discovered that even the native peoples, who had been living on the islands for many hundreds of years, could not penetrate the western reaches of the island, which covered in a dense arboreal ecosystem known as Tepaul.7 One of the last strongholds of the Mapuche people and a fierce holdout against Chilean independence, Chiloé has retained a distinctive cultural identity. During the late nineteenth century, Chiloé was Chile’s main producer of railroad ties, the demand for which was driven by the need to ship copper and nitrate industrially mined in other parts of the country. Castro, which had been founded in the late sixteenth century, was joined by a series of new towns born out of the railroad tie industry. A railroad connecting the major cities of Ancud and Castro was completed in 1912, which allowed access to the forests of the island’s interior.8

    Tourist map of Chiloé, indicating the locations of all 16 UNESCO churches. In addition to the Ruta de las Iglesias, Chiloé also attracts substantial ecotourism in the form of lodges and farmstays. The private park (Parque Tantauco) that blankets the bottom quarter of the island is owned by the current president of Chile, billionaire Sebastián Piñera.


    Despite its historical production of railroad ties, during my five days on Chiloé, I spotted very few signs of mass production or modern distribution systems. Yes, Coca-Cola has a distribution center there, and there is a large Lider grocery store (a chain owned by Wal-Mart) in Castro. But besides some of the shellfish farming that happens offshore in the waters of the inland sea, hardly any of the economic activity on Chiloé today (either production- or consumption-side) could be remotely classified as industrialized. Family fishing operations, small-scale animal husbandry, and potato farming seem to predominate. The persistence of traditional economic patterns is mirrored in the robust and multifarious wooden shingle architecture endemic to the island. While other parts of southern Chile also employ wooden shingle architecture, the shapes and colors on Chiloé are uniquely diverse.

    Land with potato patch and pasture on Isla Lemuy. Below, my Instagram post showing a small sampling of the wooden shingle siding throughout Chiloé.

    Instagram Caption: There are nearly as many shingle styles and colors on Chiloé as there are buildings. I have the feeling that shingle type has a deeper language to it than I could discern as an outsider. Is there some significance to the shapes, or is it purely personal preference? Maybe hyper-local tradition? Or just whatever the local carpenter had on hand? Regardless, they are a pretty spectacular vernacular ✨🏠✨ #sahbrooks #preindustrial #chiloe #carpentry #shinglehouse #vernaculararchitecture #chile

    With the atmosphere of a pre-industrial idyll, Chiloé has become a locus for heritage tourism development in Southern Chile. Logging did not deplete the natural environment of Chiloé in the same drastic way as mining has in other parts of the country. There is a general sense that Chiloé is a place where traditional lifeways have been, for the most part, maintained. This is reflected in the island’s status as a “Globally Important Agriculture Heritage System,” a designation given in recognition of Chiloé’s intense and diverse potato agriculture.9 Fittingly, farmstays and ecolodges are readily available in the island’s more rural areas (“rural,” of course, being a relative term on Chiloé). There has been a resurgence of traditional Chiloé cuisine as well, particularly curanto, a stew of potatoes and shellfish that historically was cooked in underground pits.

    While not cooked in the traditional pit, I can vouch that the curanto at Carlita’s lunch counter in Dalcahue is a very satisfying repast. In case one forgets where the bulk of the ingredients come from, the food hall takes the form of an inverted boat, using ship carpentry as structural inspiration in much the same way as Chiloé’s iconic UNESCO churches.


    But the main attraction of Chiloé centers around its 16 UNESCO churches, which are arrayed across the eastern portion of the archipelago. The initial churches were established in the seventeenth century as part of the Jesuit order’s “Circular Mission,” and combined indigenous building traditions, particularly pertaining to shipbuilding and wood carpentry, with the European ecclesiastic architectural traditions that the Jesuits brought with them. In the coming centuries, the Franciscan order continued this mission work, and added another level of architectural richness to the mestizo Chilota tradition. Critically, Chiloé’s churches are still maintained as devotional centers of their communities.10



    These three UNESCO churches, all located on the main island of Chiloé and within an hour’s drive of each other, testify to the breadth of architectural expression within the Chilota School. Above, the Church of Colo, dating from around 1890, represents one of the earlier Jesuit models, with a less elaborated, unpainted facade and a long, simple basilican plan. In the middle, the Church of Tenaún shows an example of a slightly larger church with a more complex plan, accentuated by corrugated cladding and painted decoration. And below, the Church of San Francisco (1910-1912) Castro is a highly developed Franciscan example of the Chilota School, featuring extensive buttressing on the exterior, multiple chapels on the interior, and groin vaulting in various native woods. In contrast to most of the other Chilota School churches, Castro’s is distinctly neo-Gothic in style. Almost all of the churches have been rebuilt multiple times over the years since the first arrival of the Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


    The main interpretive center for the churches is in Ancud, the northernmost major city on the island and the port of entry for most visitors. The interpretive center itself is in a wooden church of the Chilota School, which makes it a particularly effective venue for learning about the traditional carpentry techniques that go into these buildings. There are intricate scale models of all the churches, rendered in wood and painted to match their full-scale brethren. Images of the 16 church facades arrayed as a four by four grid are everywhere: on posters, calendars, and even carved into wood panels by local artisans as souvenirs. The implicit message of the interpretive center and these depictions is that the enterprising heritage visitor should try to see all 16 churches while on Chiloé.


    An interior shot of Centro de Visitantes Inmaculada Concepción in Ancud, the main interpretive center of the 16 UNESCO churches, and an impressive example of the Chilota School in its own right. Below, the ubiquitous 4x4 grid of church facades that shows the range of architectural expression across the UNESCO listing.


    Accordingly, the churches have been linked into a heritage route, for which there is ample signage. The roads are consistently well maintained and mostly paved. While a few of the churches are remote even by Chilote standards, most of them are accessible with a rental car and a willingness to undertake a bit of driving and a few short ferry rides. Over the course of three days, I managed to see 12 of the churches. But the act of driving to all of those distant churches, was, to be entirely trite, more about the journey than the destination. On the drive from Castro to the tip of Isla Lemuy, an island with two of the UNESCO churches, the overall architectural heritage and landscape are just as much of an attraction, though one not codified in the official Ruta de las Iglesias. In the charming town of Curaco de Veléz, Chilote shingle style reaches its apotheosis, as evidenced by the sheer number of shapes and shades on every street. The lime-green A-frame Chilota church (definitely not UNESCO) adds a mid-century flare to the main plaza, and the catacomb of a Chilean independence hero at the plaza’s center contributes just the right amount of morbid fascination. Along the town’s tidal zone is a brand new walkway, complete with plenty of ornithological interpretation (Chiloé is the southern terminus of many bird migration patterns). These are all architectural experiences that I would have missed without the impetus of the Ruta de las Iglesias.



    Architectural and natural attractions in Curaco de Veléz, a port town that while lacking a UNESCO church of its own, lies along the Ruta de las Iglesias.


    Even Castro itself, which has become a kind of launch point for many visitors’ explorations of Chile, has seen a corresponding surge in other preservation activities outside of those directly linked to the churches. Castro’s distinctive palafitos, the traditional wooden houses on stilts that line the city’s tidal waterfronts, have been given new life as restaurants and boutique hotels. Today, Castro’s palafito streets are becoming walking tour and cultural tourism hotspots. As with many places I’ve visited during my Brooks travels, I found that in Castro, heritage tourism begets more preservation activism and even more demand for well-preserved heritage places. In my view, the palafito craze can’t be separated from the success of the Ruta de las Iglesias

    A row of palafitos to the south of downtown Castro. The distinctive stilted houses have been largely converted into restaurants and boutique hotels, benefitting from and reinforcing the system of heritage tourism already in place through the Ruta de las Iglesias.


    Because the Chilote archipelago never fully industrialized, it has been saved the pain of de-industrialization and the corresponding population drain and economic decline. Tourism is not the sole lifeblood of this place—it is merely another sideline, running parallel to more traditional economic strategies. Against the background of gradually increasing heritage tourism, life on Chiloé goes on as it has for many years, now with the benefit of paved roads.

    Iquique: Cultural Corridor as Singular Heritage Focus

    In 1821, Europe became aware of a unique reserve of naturally-occurring nitrates were found in the Atacama Desert.11 Then part of Peru, this coveted economic resource sparked a war between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia (the War of the Pacific, also called the Saltpeter War, 1879-84). Ultimately, Chile prevailed, and in doing so, gained the nitrate-rich deserts to the east and north of Iquique. The Chilean nitrate industry not only enriched the national coffers and facilitated the country’s entry into an industrialized world order, it also transformed explosives manufacture and global agriculture in the early stages of industrialized farming. While nitrate mining (the architecture of which I’ll tackle in next month’s post) exacted extreme human and environmental costs on the Atacama Desert, the resulting fertilizer was presented to the rest of the world as “white gold,” a substance that could renew soil and nurture abundant crops.

    Along Chile’s northern coast, port cities and towns sprung up to funnel that “white gold” from the network of railway-connected nitrate mines, or salitreras. Mine owners, mostly North American and English, built mansions, restaurants, offices, and casinos in these towns, finding beachside living preferable to the extreme heat of the Pampa (or high desert). Lacking suitable local building materials for such structures, the administrators imported what they needed, often from great distances. The historic district of Iquique—one of the largest and longest-lived of the northern port communities—was constructed from Oregon pine. In addition to building materials, the mine owners brought techniques and styles well established in the United States and Europe. As a result, most of the wooden buildings in the oldest part of Iquique are balloon-framed, with facades in a Georgian, neoclassical, or Adams style. The other main uniting architectural feature is the provision of shade through the use of porches, verandas, and covered rooftop areas. 12

    Inspired by artist Ed Ruscha’s 1966 Every Building on the Sunset Strip, I undertook the (slightly less ambitious) process of photographing every building on either side of Baquedano Street. The above image is a small sample from the project illustrating the characteristic nineteenth-century architecture of this historic corridor.


    Although Iquique has a sizable historic district, the majority of redevelopment and preservation has been focused on Baquedano Street, the primary corridor where mine managers and owners built their mansions, running south from Arturo Prat Plaza down to the beach. Baquedano Street has been on Chile’s UNESCO tentative list since 1998, but progress on the nomination has stalled. While I can only speculate as to why this nomination hasn’t moved forward, I would guess that it has something to do with the fact that the city, without permission or approval from the National Monuments Council, has undertaken several major development projects on the Baquedano. Some of these projects, such as the construction of an underground parking garage under Arturo Plat Plaza could (justly) be seen to compromise the historical integrity of the urban fabric.13

    A diagrammatic map of Iquique based on a 1907 map from Iquique’s regional museum. Baquedano Street and Arturo Prat Plaza have been highlighted in red, while other historic places and infrastructure from this period are highlighted in green. While the buildings directly affronting Baquedano have been relatively well preserved, many of the buildings marked in green seem to receive less funding for preservation and upkeep, and have not been successfully integrated into the city’s heritage tourism.


    Although there is reason to be suspicious of the preservation tactics being deployed on Baquedano, the pedestrianized street slowly seems to be developing into an active cultural corridor, in which somewhere between a third and half of its buildings are currently occupied by tour companies, hostels, local museums, restaurants, schools, or mine company offices (old habits die hard). During my daily walks to Arturo Prat Plaza, I watched the incremental progress of a restoration project on Iquique’s 1889 Teatro Municipal. Over the course of my stay, the scaffolding slowly came down, revealing a freshly painted and restored neoclassical facade in white and pastel blue. Concerts and festivals on Baquedano are frequent, as are pop-ups for various causes, from electronics recycling to human rights awareness. A regular collection of street vendors hawks their wares on the northern end of the street, and a historic diesel-powered streetcar chugs along leisurely from one end of the street to the other, adding more historic charm than reliable transit. Well-trafficked enough to feel safe and kept meticulously clean, the street seems on the verge of becoming the tourism and community hub local planners intended.


    The newly restored Teatro Municipal (1889) and a temporary stage on Arturo Prat Plaza. Exploring the cultural corridor mid-morning reveals the extensive daily labor required to keep the street and plaza looking pristine.


    The strength of Iquique’s corridor approach is that it focuses limited resources and creates a contiguous architectural heritage experience. Despite the addition of the underground parking garage, the historic feeling of the street remains, accentuated by a few exemplary buildings, such as the 1904 Casino Espanol and Palacio Astoreca (now the city’s cultural center, built circa late nineteenth century). However, outside the Baquedano Street corridor, there are a number of significant buildings from the nitrate era that have gone largely neglected. Near the end of my visit I met Marco, a Peruvian geologist and longtime resident of northern Chile, who has observed the changes in Iquique and the surrounding landscape over the past several decades. Marco reported that when he first came to Iquique, the whole downtown historic district had the grandeur and historical integrity of Baquedano Street. Over the last decades, however, the historic integrity of downtown has been radically compromised, and many of the original wooden buildings have been lost, due to new development and natural disaster. Unlike Valparaíso’s patrimonial zone, the area surrounding Baquedano Street has witnessed the construction of several high rise apartment buildings, along with a new commercial area with several grocery and department stores. The other threat to the area seems to be natural disaster, and fire in particular. Located in a city with an average rainfall of 1 mm a year, all of that Oregon pine architecture is a virtual tinderbox. After more than a week of wondering whether any of the wood buildings near my (thankfully concrete, high rise) AirBnB were fireproof, one morning I watched, horrified, as several houses a few blocks away ignited and virtually burned to the ground in the minutes it took the fire department to arrive.


    The opulent Casino Espanol (1904), above, is still operated as a restaurant and meeting area by the Spanish Club of Iquique. Below, the late nineteenth-century Palacio Astoreca (now used as the city’s Cultural Center), is a prime example of wooden Georgian architecture on Baquedano street, with its airy wrap-around porches.

    A fire several blocks from my lodging in downtown Iquique, which burned several homes. First responders arrived quickly, but the structures were essentially incinerated within the intervening minutes.

    Additionally, there is little interpretation or mention of many of the important historic buildings that do remain off of Baquedano Street. Without some concerted digging on the Chilean National Monuments website, I would not have found any of them as the majority don’t appear on tourist maps of the area. No wonder—currently heritage tourism is not what draws most visitors to Iquique. Today, the city serves primarily as a launch point to venture out into the nearby Atacama Desert or to sandboard and paraglide down the city’s towering dunes. In town, there’s a small (though well-done and comprehensive) regional history museum, and a life-sized recreation of the Chilean warship Esmerelda available to tour with an advance reservation. But significant national monuments are hidden in plain sight, including those that have been reused to serve civic functions, such as the railway administration station, which now has become a municipal family services building.

    Wanting to experience the heritage tourism that is on offer, I ventured down to the Muelle Pasajero, the city’s 1901 passenger quay (and a National Monument). Here, a charmingly informal boat tour company runs a “heritage” tour. For about $6 US, the rider can participate in an hourlong tour that covers Iquique’s still very active port, a colony of sleepy sea lions, and a buoy marking the spot where a Chilean warship (the Esmerelda) sank during the War of the Pacific.


    Iquique’s railway station and railway administration building (both c. 1879) are both critical components of the city's industrial heritage, but their location several blocks from Baquedano means that few visitors are aware of their presence.

    Baquedano Street has the potential to help build engagement with these other important and significant architectural remnants of Iquique’s early years as a nitrate port. Rather than being the sole heritage attraction in Iquique, Baquedano Street could spur more preservation efforts throughout the city. Though Baquedano Street may have been the main corridor on which the wealth of nitrate mining was made manifest as architecture, the influx of that wealth was made possible by the railroad station, the old industrial port (still in use as a containerized port), and the passenger quay (1901). Further, the 1907 Iquique Massacre, an event in which the army systematically killed approximately 2,000 striking mine workers and their families, is not an event that is memorialized on Baquedano Street. This was perhaps the most significant historical event to occur in Iquique in the twentieth century, and while there is mention of the event in the regional history museum, the main memorial is in a municipal cemetery largely inaccessible to visitors. As I wrote about a few months back, interpreting industrial heritage as a landscape rather than as a sequence of isolated and unrelated sites would benefit cities like Iquique, uniting all of these distinct buildings into a coherent visitor experience.

    Surprisingly, the best interpretation and memorial space dedicated to the 1907 Iquique Massacre is located at the former nitrate mining town of Humberstone, a 45-minute drive east of Iquique. While Iquique’s regional museum devotes a series of interpretive panels to the event, the massacre is without a major memorial in downtown Iquique.


    Conclusion: A Question of Relevance

    The success of Chiloé’s heritage route approach seems to be as much about interpretation and marketing as it does about the architecture itself. I would wager that only a niche set of visitors are passionate about Jesuit-Mapuche wooden ecclesiastical architecture before going to Chiloé, but the topic is presented in an approachable and welcoming way at the main interpretive center, and mainstream tourism sites such as Lonely Planet have seized on the ready Instagramability of the 16 churches. The churches serve as an entry point into the expanded built landscape of Chiloé. Chiloé’s core strategy of using existing momentum and enthusiasm to create a positive feedback loop around heritage tourism seems promising in both Valparaíso and Iquique as well.

    Valparaíso’s current attraction for most tourists is the street art that fills its streets and adds vibrancy to its patrimonial zone. How could interpretation of contemporary street art more directly engage with the city’s industrial past? Numerous artists operating in the city engage with historical themes in their art—this might be leveraged to raise awareness of ongoing preservation struggles throughout the patrimonial zone. In Iquique, Baquedano Street should capitalize on its remaining architectural integrity to become the hub, rather than the exclusive focus, of architectural preservation and interpretation.

    On my last night in Iquique, I had dinner at El Wagon, a restaurant several blocks off Baquedano devoted to resurrecting and preserving the historical working class foodways of Chile’s Tarapaca Region. The walls were decorated with old photos of pampino workers from the salitreras, old kerosene lanterns, and posters advertising Chilean nitrate in a variety of languages. I tried the sopa de pan y cebolla (bread and onion soup), a dish that was historically prepared by pampina women during the mining strikes—this was food for lean times designed to stretch all available ingredients. The complete sensory experience of consuming this historic dish surrounded by the material culture of the nitrate era was far and away the most effective and meaningful heritage experience I had while in Iquique.

    This experience drove home to me that more than clever marketing is needed for these historic port architecture efforts to succeed. Part of the other reason that Chiloé’s Ruta de las Iglesias works so well is that it illuminates the relevance of history to the present. These churches are not just idiosyncratic architectural artifacts, but places where present-day community is formed and enacted through the living practice of the Catholic faith. That tangible connection between past and present, similar to what I experienced through food at El Wagon, is what makes this heritage route so poignant and effective as a visitor experience. At the end of the day, ports aren’t interesting solely because of what they were a century ago, but what they still are today—fragile ecosystems contingent on the whims of global capitalism. When Chile’s copper reserve runs out in a few decades or becomes economically inefficient to mine (as some experts predict), what will happen to its ports? What if a new globalized system of shipping eventually supplants today’s shipping containers? With these questions in mind, heritage interpretation becomes not just a way to mediate the past, but to meditate on the future.

    1. For more, see David Langdon, “AD Classics: Yokohama International Passenger Terminal / Foreign Office Architects (FOA) AD Classics: Yokohama International Passenger Terminal / Foreign Office Architects (FOA),” ArchDaily, October 17, 2018, https://www.archdaily.com/554132/ad-classics-yokohama-international-passenger-terminal-foreign-office-architects-foa. ↩︎
    2. Elizabeth Q. Hutchison, Thomas M. Klubock, Nara B. Milanich, and Peter Winn, The Chile Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015). ↩︎
    3. “Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso,” UNESCO/WHC, inscription 2003, accessed December 30, 2018, https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/959 ↩︎
    4. Isabel Allende, My Invented Country, Kindle Edition, 2004: 91. ↩︎
    5. These devices are also called “elevators,” though out of the thirty or so original funiculars, only one of them is a true vertical elevator. The rest transverse the hillsides at a steep incline. “Elevators of Valparaíso,” World Monuments Fund, accessed December 30, 2018, https://www.wmf.org/project/elevators-valpara%C3%ADso ↩︎
    6. Information from Valpo Street Art Tours, http://www.valpostreetart.com ↩︎
    7. See Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter 13: Chiloé and Chonos Islands, 290-302. Accessible at https://www.coolgalapagos.com/Darwin_voyage_beagle/darwin_beagle_chapter_13.php ↩︎
    8. Information panel at the Regional Museum of Ancud in Ancud, Chile. ↩︎
    9. “Chiloé Agriculture,” GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, accessed December 30, 2018, http://www.fao.org/giahs/giahsaroundtheworld/designated-sites/latin-america-and-the-caribbean/chiloe-agriculture/en/ ↩︎
    10. UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Churches of Chiloé,” https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/971; accessed December 26, 2018. ↩︎
    11. Roberto Hernandez, “El Salitre (Nitrate), Historical Resume since its Discovery and Exploitation,” excerpt from the 1930 book, accessed December 30, 2018, http://www.albumdesierto.cl/ingles/2histori.htm ↩︎
    12. Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales de Chile, “Calle Baquedano,” accessed December 30, 2018, http://www.monumentos.cl/patrimonio-mundial/lista-tentativa/calle-baquedano ↩︎
    13. Ibid. ↩︎
  • 2018 Edilia and François-Auguste de Montêquin Junior Scholar Fellowship Report

    by User Not Found | Jan 09, 2019

    Dates: July–September 2018
    Locations: Cuzco, Urubamba Valley, Ayacucho (all in Peru), Lake Titicaca Basin (Peru and Bolivia)

    Historical Background

    The trans-Atlantic encounter is often veiled in the popular narrative of a handful of men whose journeys trigger a ripple effect that forever changed both worlds on either side of the ocean. Whether the main characters are portrayed as daring adventurers or as religious fanatics, the Europeans remain the central agents in the process. When Francisco Pizzaro reached Tahuantinsuyu, the land of the four quarters bound together as the Inca called their empire, they found a land devastated by civil war and ready for the taking. European disease outpaced its human carriers and after the Inca ruler Huayna Capac fell to it, his sons, Huascar and Atahualpa, engaged in a war of succession that paved the way of Spanish invasion in the Andes. Although critical, this conflict is still severely understudied and poorly understood.

    Building was one of the most significant expressions of Inca power and a ruler’s success was measured by his construction prowess. In order to secure his legitimacy, Huascar initiated a number of building projects during the civil war, including two royal estates, Calca and Kañaraqay. These private complexes were an important tool for Inca rulers for inscribing their opinions on political and religious, as well as personal, matters onto the landscape. While Calca sits among the estates of Huascar’s predecessors in the Urubamba Valley, Kañaraqay (Figure 1) is located at the opposite end of the Inca heartland. Consummately losing the civil war to Atahualpa’s forces, who controlled the northern part of the empire, Huascar constructed Kañaraqay partially to fulfill his duty as a ruler and partially in order to enlist the southern part of the empire to his cause in the war. Sitting across lake Muina from Pikillacta (Figure 2), a major center of the Huari empire (600–1000 CE), and referring to Tiahuanaco (400–1000 CE) and Lake Titicaca Basin architecture, the estate acted to secure his political legitimacy both through the act of building and as well as this association with the old seats of power in the Andes.

    01 Kanaraqay
    Figure 1: Huascar’s royal estate Kañaraqay in the Lucre Basin, Peru. Photograph by author.

    02 Pikillacta
    Figure 2: One of the major Huari satellite cities, Pikillacta is the main Huari site in the Inca heartland. Photograph by author.

    With the support of the Edilia and François-Auguste de Montêquin Junior Scholar Fellowship, I travelled to the Urubamba Valley (Figure 3) in Peru in July 2018 in order to conduct a comparative study of the site of Kañaraqay in relation to the other Inca royal estates. I further travelled to the Lake Titicaca Basin (Figure 4) in Peru and Bolivia in August 2018 for a similar comparison between Huascar’s estate and the Inca installations on the lake in relation to Tiahuanaco architecture.

    03 Urubamba Valley
    Figure 3: The Inca rulers chose the Urubamba (or Vilcanota) Valley as the site for their spectacular royal estates. Photograph by author.

    04 Lake Titicaca
    Figure 4: The highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca is the cultural center of the southern quarter of the Inca empire and the Tiahuanaco heartland. Photograph by author.

    Inca Royal Estates

    Before the outbreak of the Inca civil war, three rulers had constructed royal estates—Pachacuti built at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu, Topa Inca settled at Chinchero, and Huayna Capaca constructed Quispiguanca. All of these retreats are located in the pleasant Urubamba Valley (now referred to as the Sacred Valley of the Inca) at a lower elevation than the Inca capital Cuzco. I started my journey at Pisac, where the valley widens and allows for agricultural production, and travelled for two weeks northwest to Ollantaytambo (Figure 5), where the hill close in on the river again. Tourists today rush through these sites in a day or two, but this time frame allowed me to visit the royal estates as they were meant to be experienced—on foot, tediously climbing, following the natural landscape, and constantly hiding or revealing breathtaking vistas and charged spaces.

    Pisac sits some 500 m (or 1600 ft) above the valley hugging the hills with its exquisite terracing (Figure 6), while its grand storehouses perch high above the valley (Figure 7). The two-hour strenuous hike repels most tourists, depriving them of the corporeal experience on which the meaning of the site is built. Similar to Machu Picchu (where the four-day trek is still popular), Pisac’s significance lies in its entanglement with the natural environment. Pachacuti’s estates were built at a time of initial expansion of the empire and are characterized by a preoccupation with professing the legitimacy of Inca dominion. Natural features and especially rock outcrops were seen as potent active agents through the live-giving essence called kamay. Pachacuti’s architectural language attempted to enter into a complementary relationship with this potent landscape through outcrop integration (Figure 8) naturalizing the legitimacy of Inca colonization.

    05 Ollantaytambo
    Figure 5: Pachacuti’s royal estate at Ollantaytambo, Peru. Photograph by author.

    06 Pisac Terraces
    Figure 6: Agricultural terraces at Pachacuti’s estate at Pisac. Photograph by author.

    07 Pisac Storehouses
    Figure 7: Adobe storehouses at Pachacuti’s estate at Pisac. Photograph by author.

    08 Machu Picchu Outcrop
    Figure 8: Rock outcrop integration at Pachacuti’s estate at Machu Picchu. Photograph by author.

    By the time Pachacuti’s son, Topa Inca, constructed his estate at Chinchero, the empire had grown immensely. Its focus was, thus, not on imperial legitimacy but on a private matter of imperial proportions. Located a day’s trip from the valley and at the birthplace of his son, Capac Huari, Chinchero expressed Topa Inca’s controversial choice of successor. The journey up the mountainside from the Urubamba culminated in a grand plaza (Figure 9) that professed the greatness of Topa Inca to everyone who might have felt any sense of accomplishment at the end of the steep staircase climb.

    Despite Topa Inca’s choice of Capac Huari, he was eventually replaced with Huayna Capac who throughout of his career had to face the fact he only ruled because of the power of his mother. This complex predisposed the radical change in his architectural language at Quispiguanca, which focused on the man-made and used adobe as main material. Adobe made the exaggerated four-story high palace with triple-jamb doorways (Figure 10) possible, exhibiting the shift in the built environment from complementarity with the landscape to self-reference.

    During the civil war, Huascar again faced concerns about his personal legitimacy. Perhaps due to the devastation of the war and the unavailability of some of the best Inca craftsmen and engineers, his adaptation was different from his father’s attempt at monumental grandeur. Instead, Kañaraqay deviated from the rural royal estate form and was constructed adjacent to the principal town of the Muina ethnic group in plain sight from Pikillacta. Although Huascar used form similar to that of his predecessors—for example, rock outcrop integration (Figure 11) and terracing (Figure 12)—his estate showcased its patron’s relationship with history.

    09 Chinchero
    Figure 9: The main plaza of Topa Inca’s estate at Chinchero. Photograph by author.

    10 Quispiguanca
    Figure 10: Triple-jamb doorway at the main palace of Huayna Capac’s estate at Quispiguanca. Photograph by author.

    11 Kanaraqay Outcrop
    Figure 11: Rock outcrop integration at Huascar’s estate at Kañaraqay. Photograph by author.

    12 Kanaraqay Terraces
    Figure 12: Terraces at Huascar’s estate at Kañaraqay. Photograph by author.

    Inca Architecture on Lake Titicaca and Huari and Tiahuanaco

    Huari and Tiahuanaco were the two large Andean empires on which Huascar attempted to construct his long-term claim. Other than Pikillacta, I also visited the Huari capital near Ayacucho in Peru, and I travelled along the Lake Titicaca coast for two weeks between Puno in Peru and the Islands of the Sun and Moon in Bolivia in the Tiahuanaco heartland. It is unclear whether Huascar understood that these were distinct past empires or whether he conflated them into a single entity, but he borrowed from both at his estates. Many Inca settlements follow a loosely defined grid plan, which is a function not of planning, but rather of the signature Inca enclosures, called kancha, that are rectangular in shape following the rectangular buildings. At flat terrain, kanchas naturally form right angles and straight streets between them, but this seemingly orthogonal plan breaks down to accommodate topography. The only places where the Inca seem to have purposefully kept the orthogonality of their site planning are located in the Lake Titicaca Basin. This is the case at Hatuncolla as well as at Chucuito, where the plan radiates slightly from a central plaza. At the same time, Tiahuanaco seems to have grown organically. The Huari case is similar, as none of the sites in the Huari heartland seem to be planned, but Pikillacta, as well as other satellite cities, are carefully laid down.

    Both of Huascar’s estates seem to be orthogonally planned. Not much is left of Calca today, but the village’s grid is certainly based on its original Inca plan (Figure 13). Kañaraqay, a stone’s throw from Pikillacta, had a much more obvious example to follow. Its carefully laid down three rows of identical buildings separated by two large avenues clearly reference the order of the past that Huascar looked to reinstitute.

    Much more work remains to be done on all of the participants of this story. The civil war and its effects, both in its built environment and in its social and political manifestations, are still poorly understood. The support of the Edilia and François-Auguste de Montêquin Junior Scholar Fellowship was instrumental for my research on Huascar’s royal estate at Kañaraqay, promising exciting new insights into the catastrophic war of succession, the enigmatic final Inca ruler, and the role of architecture in political legitimacy in the time of conflict.

    13 Calca
    Figure 13: Remains of Inca wall base from Huascar’s estate at Calca. Photograph by author.

  • The Unspeaking Factory; or How do Industrial Ruins Mean?

    by User Not Found | Dec 07, 2018
    Blog 4, FINAL DRAFT v2

    “Industrial ruins are marginal sites that are haunted by the neglected, the disposed, and of the repressed. Decaying buildings both reveal and snuff out successive histories as ruined factories bear remnants of different people, processes and products of yesteryear. Within industrial ruins memory is narrated through complex intersections of the past and the present and industrial heritage becomes a matrix of memory of how things were and how things have become.” 1

    The Mitsubishi Pattern Factory in Nagasaki is an imposing 1898 timber-framed brick building with a well-balanced, symmetrical facade. Built to store the wood patterns that were used for casting machine and naval parts, it is sited on land still owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, its fortress-like presence today dwarfed by the modern steel and glass administration buildings and immense cargo ships that surround it. Japanese naval engineer Toyokichi Horie designed the building, having joined Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha (the predecessor of modern Mitsubishi) in 1896 after a stint at two other notable early Japanese shipyards.2 In 1985, the pattern factory was converted into the Mitsubishi Historical Museum. In 2015, the Pattern Factory joined 22 other structures and places that were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” (here abbreviated as JMIR).

    The Mitsubishi Pattern Factory, 1898, Nagasaki, Japan, designed by naval engineer Toyokichi Horie.

    Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, as seen from across Nagasaki Harbor. While the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory is no longer visible from across Nagasaki Harbor, the Giant Cantilever Crane (1909) seen here (another of the UNESCO Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution) is still a prominent landmark along the shore. In addition to the pattern factory and the crane, this parcel of land also contains the Mitsubishi Senshokaku Guest House, a Western-style residence (1904) designed by Tatsuzo Stone, a student of Josiah Condor’s. None of these UNESCO sites are open to the public. The pattern factory is accessible through advanced booking, but the guest house is primarily used today as a venue for retirement parties for longtime Mitsubishi Heavy Industries employees. 

    Today, the museum is only open by appointment and getting an appointment, as I quickly discovered, is no small feat for a non-Japanese speaker. A Japanese-reading friend generously agreed to translate the Mitsubishi website, and then a very kind and patient hotel concierge in Nagasaki made a reservation for me via phone. At the arranged time on a rainy Saturday morning, a charter bus staffed by a cheerful docent picked up all three visitors (myself, my husband, and one Japanese visitor) at Nagasaki Station. The brief ride onto Mitsubishi property was filled with a short introductory video in Japanese and English describing the content and organization of the museum’s displays.

    Upon arrival, we three visitors were given precisely one hour to tour the exhibits before the bus would take us back to Nagasaki Station. The interior has been fully converted into a museum, packed with text panels, photographs, printed ephemera, and large machine parts that tell the story of Mitsubishi’s rise to global prominence in chronological order, emphasizing the Heavy Industry arm of the company, of which Nagasaki remains the global headquarters. Fortunately, the main narrative panels were presented in English. The hour-long visit was barely enough time to take in the English portions and engage with a smattering of the artifacts on display. Trying to read all or even a majority of the Japanese text would have been impossible. All too soon it was time for the requisite visitor photo shoot and then back onto the bus we went.

    The stock “tourist” photo of Mitsubishi Pattern Factory. The proprietary content and historical technologies on display mean there’s a strict no-photography policy for the museum’s interior (though the exterior was fair game and the small coterie of docents was eager to take photos of the visitors despite the rain). I have amassed a lot of photos like this taken by insistent docents at various industrial heritage sites in Japan.

    Across the harbor from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries sits the Glover House & Garden, yet another UNESCO JMIR site. This popular, scenic attraction features the primary residence of Thomas Glover (1838-1911), a British businessman and entrepreneur who was instrumental in establishing Nagasaki as Japan’s first center of industrialized shipbuilding.3 Glover’s house has been joined by several additional homes owned by other Western businessmen and engineers in Nagasaki (several recruited by Glover), relocated to form a kind of open-air museum of upper-class Western-style architecture. The house, which dates to 1863, is purportedly the “oldest surviving wooden Western-style house in Japan.”4 Part of the “foreign settlement” in Nagasaki, Glover’s house, like those in the surrounding “Dutch Slope” neighborhood blend European decorative traditions and floor plans with Japanese craftsmanship. The veranda extravaganza of the Glover Gardens, elegantly arrayed on a precipitous hillside in Nagasaki, compounds the “otherness” of Western architecture by showing not just one example of British colonial architecture, but many. Frontal symmetry, porticos, wraparound porches, classical columns, and sequences of formal entertaining spaces are features that are all instantly legible as “Western.” The interpretation of these structures further solidifies their otherness. Music meant to evoke nineteenth-century Britain blares in the background (much of it featuring bagpipes). In Glover’s own abode, the dining room table is laid with a lavish Western feast rendered in plastic. Statues of the foreign experts adorn the garden, clad in Western suits.

    Typical residential architecture of the Dutch Slope. Merchant Niels Lundberg cleared this hillside for residential development after the start of the Meiji Restoration (1868), when foreigners were allowed, for the first time, to live elsewhere than the island of Dejima.5

    Exterior of the Glover House.

    Dining Room Interior of the Glover House, set with a typical “Western” feast.

    The wraparound porch at the Glover House. Temperatures in Nagasaki can border on tropical, and this veranda for shade and ventilation recalls the climate adaptions of contemporary British colonial architecture in India and other warm climes.

    The Tuscan porch of the former Alt House. William J. Alt (1840-1905), a British merchant, constructed this house in Nagasaki for his family in 1865. Like Thomas Glover’s house, Alt’s House is also the work of a Japanese master carpenter (here, Koyama Hidenoshin) and incorporates explicitly historicizing Western stylistic features. Compared to the sprawling and somewhat eclectic Glover house, Alt’s house has a more restrained symmetrical facade and floor plan.

    A bedroom/drawing room at the Alt House. As at the Glover House, the Alt House has been restored to include period-appropriate furniture and decoration. The effect is very different from some of the “western” houses at the other Japanese museums, including the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architecture Museum, which have been left entirely devoid of furnishings.


    At the Glover Garden, as at many of the Japanese industrial sites I visited, the “foreign expert” as a type is celebrated for his technical prowess while, simultaneously, his otherness is reified through interpretive focus placed on his food, his dress, his comportment, and perhaps most importantly—his architecture. Indeed, I was rather taken aback by the strong “romantic” cultural connotations attached to conventional Western architecture throughout Japan. Photo opportunities to don Victorian garb and stand in front of brightly-hued Victorian buildings were not infrequent (as in Hakodate’s Historic Quarter and the Glover Garden). Taking selfies in front of the ivy-covered red brick warehouses that populate many of Japan’s historic port cities is a common practice. Kobe’s historic Kitano neighborhood, previously the residence of many European and American merchants, is today overrun with bridal shops and wedding venues. And when I visited Mojiko “Retrotown” just north of Kitakyushu, a wedding photographer was taking advantage of the magic hour glow across the brick and wood of Western-style port buildings. If Westerners (and western modernists in particular) have romanticized Japan by focusing on its tea gardens and its rustic sukiya style, Japan has developed a reciprocal (though not equivalent) relationship with the architecture of the West.

    The Old Public Ward of Hakodate, constructed in 1910 to replace the previous iteration that burned in a major fire in 1907. Onsite signage describes this as “typical western style architecture of the Meiji era.”

    For a mere 1,000 Japanese Yen (about $9), visitors can don nineteenth-century western dresses and pose for photos.

    Dusk in Hakodate’s touristified Red Brick Warehouse District tends to bring out hordes of avid selfie-takers.

    The Italian Kobe Kitano House in Kobe’s historic Kitano district. Many of the former merchants’ houses have transformed into cafés, eclectic museums, or bridal salons that serve the area’s booming wedding industry.

    Twilight at the Dalian Friendship Memorial in Mojiko Retrotown. Though this building looks historic, it was actually constructed in 1984 as a tribute to the close historic connection between Dalian, China and Kyushu. It is a replica of a structure in Dalian that was constructed in 1907 as the office for the Toshin Railway and Shipping Co. The replica building blends seamlessly with Mojiko’s impressive collection of early western-style Meiji buildings, constructed during the port’s early twentieth-century boom. Today, Mojiko has strong romantic connotations, a fact clear the night I visited from the number of couples strolling and taking pictures with the town’s distinctive architecture.


    The architecture of the Pattern Factory is deeply indebted to the influence of foreign experts like Glover, who facilitated Japan’s industrial development (and got rich doing so). The official UNESCO nomination package even describes the brickwork at the Pattern Factory as “British,” despite the execution of the overall design by a Japanese naval engineer. At the same time, Glover’s house, with its overtly British features, was executed by Japanese master carpenter Hiide Yoyama and features typically Japanese roof tiles and carpentry, visible in the structural timber bracing on the interior.6 These examples of architectural hybridity and cultural interchange are not hard to detect at Japan’s industrial heritage sites. However, I was surprised at how little and/or unevenly this nuance and cross-pollination was acknowledged across many of the sites I visited in Japan. Particularly, the public history treatment of factory spaces such as Mitsubishi Pattern Factory was frequently quite disparate from those like Glover Garden, sites which are full of clear stylistic signifiers.

    The brick at the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory is laid in a traditional British pattern alternating layers of long and short sides.

    16GloverHouse RoofTiles
    Detail highlighting the traditional Japanese roof tiles used at the Glover House.


    Japan is a nation still coming to grips with the ways in which industrialization is inextricable from imperialism and the rise of the modern Japanese nation-state. The country’s uniquely top-down industrialization was deeply entangled in the concurrent process of claiming a new, national identity that is at once distinct from but heavily contingent on western understandings of economic development and nationhood. Indeed, much of the interpretation currently available at Japanese industrial heritage sites attempts to make sense of the country’s technological progress in terms of periodization linked to the role and influence of foreign experts. The official narrative, perpetuated in the UNESCO nomination package, by the JMIR website, and through materials distributed at individual sites agree that that Japanese industrialization is characterized by three epochs:

    1. Trial and Error Experimentation (i.e. the Bakamatsu Period), c. 1850s–1868.
    2. Direct Importation of Western Technology, 1868–c. 1900.
    3. Full-Blown Industrialization, c. 1900–c. 1920.

    This final period represented in the UNESCO listing marks Japan’s emergence as an industrialized nation, no longer dependent on Western outsiders. The interpretation of the sites belonging to this third epoch tend to present this period as the true realization of the modern nation-state of Japan. If technological development can be said to follow an evolutionary model (which is, of course, in itself problematic), this is the moment at which Japan “breaks free” from the supporting trunk of Western influence and begins to grow its own evolutionary branches. The interpretation at sites belonging to this period frequently claimed to have pioneered the first “wholly Japanese X” (where X is a shipyard, steel foundry, textile mill, etc.).7

    As an architectural historian traveling in Japan, I was particularly interested in the ways that historic industrial architecture was being interpreted to support this typically Hegelian construction of technological and cultural progress, and in some cases to smooth over or obfuscate the internal contradictions present within this set of teleological assumptions. I discovered that spaces like the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory were frequently co-opted to reconcile a particular kind of double-consciousness around the origins and meanings of the country’s Meiji-era industrialization, particularly pertaining to the issues of the cultural and technological content of the process of industrialization itself.

    Let’s return for a moment to the Glover House & Garden and the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory. The Glover complex claims to function as a near-exact recreation of the Westerners’ houses as they were lived in and experienced by the foreign experts and their families in the late nineteenth century. The furnishings and material objects come from the period and we as visitors understand that they can tell us about the lifeways of the former residents. There’s a clear interpretive agenda here; we can question the exact material accuracy, but in this case a house is playing a house. At the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory, a former industrial manufacturing space still stores industrial parts, but it has been fundamentally transformed into a factory playing a museum. Even though the UNESCO nomination document acknowledges the “British” influence of the brickwork, the structure as a whole has been co-opted to tell a different kind of story, one about the emergence of a modern Japanese state no longer reliant on foreign engineers and architects. Through the insertion of the museological apparatus, the meaning of the building is narrowly circumscribed by the textual additions and the nature of the objects presented. The building is claimed as part of Japanese cultural industrial heritage while at the same time being used a “blank space” that can be easily transformed to support a much more ambitious and temporally capacious narrative about Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the advent of modern Japan.

    The epigraph of this blog post, drawn from a recent essay in Current Issues in Dark Tourism Research suggests that “industrial ruins” have a poignant communicative capacity, creating a unique interface of present and past, or as author Philip R. Stone writes, a “matrix of memory.” The capacity to function as a “matrix of memory” in the way that Stone describes, is not a feature equally present at all industrial heritage sites and is, I would argue, related directly to the architectural content of the site itself.

    In the world of public history, not only in Japan, but across the globe, I’ve noticed a difference in the way we treat buildings that comprise the “industrial landscape.” I want to focus on a typology into which the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory falls; a building type I’m referring to here as the unspeaking, or mute factory. Functionally, these were sites of mass production or sites where raw material was extracted and/or processed. These processes might have historically taken place indoors or outdoors, but the flow of people, goods, and processes was fundamentally an architectural one, structured and ordered by the industrial built environment. By virtue of this function, these buildings and/or complexes tend to be large, designed to accommodate assembly lines (the Fordist factory, e.g.) or the storage of large quantities of raw materials (concrete grain elevators, e.g.). As a corollary, their interior spaces tend to be vast and flexible, frequently incorporating large horizontal spans. While these structures might not be wholly devoid of ornament or conventional stylistic features, these are minimal enough that they do not, by virtue of their presence, restrict the building’s interpretation (as at say, the Glover House). And finally, whether mechanical and/or architectural, the structure or complex includes features that require technical knowledge in order to be legible. While the idea of a basic single-family dwelling might be deeply embedded in nearly every culture, glass factories, reverberatory furnaces, and slip docks do not enjoy the same near-universal cultural recognition, and thus require additional knowledge to decode.

    In other words, the lack of familiar historical-cultural signifiers in the mute factory distinguishes it from other buildings within an industrial heritage complex, such as administration buildings or managers’ houses. This raises a number of questions pertaining to the interpretation and preservation strategies of such structures. How does the unspeaking factory mean in comparison to other types of industrial and industrial-related buildings? What kind of story is the mute factory particularly adept at telling? How can public history interpretation work with built remnants of the mute factory to reveal new insights about the past; to, as Stone writes, “become a matrix of memory” that permits ambiguity and overlapping/conflicting readings of the industrial past?

    Earlier this week, I revisited William Whyte’s 2006 essay “How Buildings Mean” (from which the title of this post has been borrowed) in hope of answering this first question. After months of visiting mines, factories, reverberatory furnaces, shipyards, and more, I’ve come to recognize that the familiar modes that architectural historians use in “reading” or, as Whyte would prefer “translating,” the meanings of historic architecture are not being applied in current public interpretations in the same way as we apply them to other types of buildings.8 This may seem self-evident. But the mute factory has become, I think, a cypher for our own agendas and narratives related to industrialization, a blank screen onto which we somehow feel uniquely emancipated to project our own beliefs or preconceptions. It is particularly susceptible to mediation through public history storytelling, or even architectural remediation as these spaces are adaptively reused to fulfill new programs. For better or worse, the multifarious meanings and concurrent interpretations that fill these spaces are often swapped for an easy master narrative, or converted to serve the whims of post-industrial real estate development.

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “Concert Hall Project (Interior perspective),” 1942, Museum of Modern Art, sourced from https://www.moma.org/collection/works/702. To cite an example that has been analyzed much more elegantly elsewhere, I would offer Mies van der Rohe’s iconic collage showing the conversion of Albert Kahn’s Willow Run into a concert hall. Whether in the ruinous imaginary of dark tourism or the slippage of modernity into modernism invented within the floating planes of Mies’s performance hall, the mute factory has been frequently treated a neutral receptacle of narrative, doomed by its own flexibility and “functionalism” to symbolical silence.


    This desire to intensively interpret and “museum-ify” ambiguous mute factory spaces is a phonenomenon I encountered many times over throughout two months I spent exploring Japanese industrial heritage. For example, I also observed this public history tactic at the 1872 Tomioka Silk Mill, the only Japanese industrial UNESCO site outside the JMIR designation. At Tomioka, the Japanese government contracted with French silk expert Paul Brunat to design and operate a model silk mill in central Honshu. The mute factory portions of the complex—the cocoon houses and the silk reeling plant—have been treated in rather different ways. The ground floor of the East Cocoon House has been given the full museum treatment—videos, text panels, interactive displays. Unable to read the Japanese, I wandered through looking at the pictures and getting up close to the architecture. This area of the cocoon house was originally used as office space, a function registered by the tally of figures I found scrawled on several of the piers. In a room full of engaging interpretive installations, it would be easy to miss such a raw and (relatively) unmediated encounter with the past use of this structure. The silk reeling plant is presented as a specimen of efficient mass production, a daylight factory where machine and building become virtually one and the same. The protective plastic wrap (a necessary precaution, but distracting nonetheless) over the reeling machines gave the impression of being hermetically sealed—a space not so much haunted but taxidermied. More evocative and engaging was the upper floor of the East Cocoon Building, which has been left empty, just as this space would have been during the part of the year right before the annual silk worm harvest. The specter of absence and dim lighting in this space opened cognitive and emotive possibilities for visitor reaction and interpretation. Meanwhile, recalling the contrast of the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory and the Glover Garden, the buildings at Tomioka constructed for the French administrators and factory workers are explicitly construed as “Western” due to overt features like porches and breezeways.

    Museum area in the East Cocoon House of the Tomioka Silk Mill.

    A palimpsest of account figures inscribed on the pier. An intriguing detail that’s easy to miss for visitors busy reading the comprehensive narrative signage or watching the introductory video.

    The silk reeling plant. The reeling machines (not original, part of a later upgrade) are today covered in protective plastic.

    Upper floor of the East Cocoon House. Eerie silence dominates the experience. When Tomioka Silk Mill was started, Japan was still using preindustrial techniques for growing and harvesting silkworms, which meant that harvesting could only happen once per year. The silk worms thus had to be stored in the dark, cool cocoon house until they could be processed into silk at the silk reeling plant. This hybridized pre-industrial and industrial production technique is most palpable in the contrast between the empty brick and timber cocoon house and the iron and glass silk reeling plant.

    Director Paul Brunat’s house (early 1870s), distinguished again by a combination of typically European features and Japanese construction and roofing techniques. This house is only open as part of special tours and limited times during the year.


    This distinction is not a unique one to be made at a historic industrial site, nor am I trying to paint Japan’s interpretive efforts as sites like the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory and the Tomioka Silk Mill as any more duplicitous or contradictory than those I’ve seen elsewhere. But there does seem to be a particularly thorny issue at stake for Japan, where the rise and success of the Japanese nation-state so heavily depended on the country’s rapid industrialization, a process which was undeniably kick-started through the efforts of foreign experts. I argue that the conceit of the “factory as museum” has become a convenient mechanism in public history storytelling that industrial heritage places across the globe have relied on too heavily. It’s tempting to use the “empty” spaces to perpetuate a particular historical narrative, to fill these spaces with our own narrow curatorial agendas. But, as Philip R. Stone argues, such efforts ultimately are doomed to fail:

    “With modern attempts to cleanse our past, to banish ambiguity, and to regulate the memory of space, industrial ruins are perpetual places of change which are always disturbed by disorder and inexplicable things. Time cannot simply be mapped onto industrial ruins, nor are they over-narrated heritage and ceremonial spaces. Instead, industrial ruins are empty meeting grounds that can haunt the contemporary visitor as we are forced to confront previous industrial dominion and hegemony.”9

    If we accept Stone’s proposition that industrial ruins resist master narratives and easy chronologies, what then remains, in terms of interpretive strategies that might be brought to bear upon such sites? I’m certainly not arguing that industrial remnants shouldn’t be converted into full-scale museums, but merely that there are other types of treatment equally deserving of consideration, and that these might actually serve their stakeholders better in the long run, in addition to providing a less prescriptive and more flexible visitor experience. In my second SAH blog post, I looked at the possibilities of commercial adaptive reuse. As I discovered in South Africa, it’s easy for trendy adaptive reuse to end up furthering the gentrification of redeveloped industrial areas. I’ve encountered another solution in the last few months, however—one I hadn’t previously given serious consideration to before this travel year. This approach to industrial heritage preservation combines partial restoration, some interpretation, and frequently additional new built elements. It is a blend in some ways of adaptive reuse and full conversion to a museum. For lack of a better term, I’ve been thinking of this strategy as “parkification,” an approach in which the former industrial site becomes part of the urban environment, and in which historical memory is preserved but current use changes.

    I found one of the most successful instances of this approach in the area called Yahata outside of Kitakyushu.10 Against the startling blue sky of northern Kyushu, the white towers of the Higashida Blast Furnace emerge as if from a Charles Sheeler painting. The four identical stacks converge towards the sky, rivaling in height the other major landmark of Yahata, Japan: a full-size recreation of an American space shuttle on the launch pad in a defunct theme park called Space World.

    Higashida Blast Furnace, Yahata, Kitakyushu, Japan, originally constructed 1901 as part of the Imperial Steel Works.

    Signage for the UNESCO Imperial Steel Works viewing platform and the iconic space shuttle of the now shuttered theme park Space World.


    In earlier days, Yahata was an independent municipality. As with many other Japanese towns and cities in the late twentieth century, it has been absorbed into a more populous urban center that rapidly spread and expanded (in this case, Kitakyushu). As recently as the 1960s, Yahata was infamous for its pollution; the exhaust that issued from its smokestacks came in “all colors of the rainbow.”11 The industrialization of this area originated in the late nineteenth century, when Yahata became the defacto headquarters of Japan’s early steel industry. Indeed, my visit to Yahata in October was inspired by the presence of the three original buildings part of the Imperial Steel Works, one of the UNESCO JMIR sites and the first integrated iron and steel works in the country. These structures are located still on land held by the private steel corporation Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, and are regrettably not open to the public. Wishing I had brought my telephoto zoom lens that day, I was able to glimpse the distant form of the First Head Office (1899), heavily scaffolded for preservation, from a viewing platform recently constructed to serve other industrial heritage gawkers like me.

    The 1899 First Head Office of the Imperial Steel Works in Kitakyushu, one of the UNESCO JMIR sites. Not exactly a close encounter with industrial heritage, as the building is currently heavily scaffolded and the viewing platform is a few hundred meters away.

    Historic image showing the development of the Imperial Steel Works, under construction in 1899. While the First Head Office remains on company property, Blast Furnace No. 1 (also known as Higashida Blast Furnace) has been converted into a historical park). Historic image sourced from interpretive signage at the Imperial Steel Works viewing platform.


    Today, Yahata has been entirely transformed and stands as an example of successful redevelopment. No perceptible sign of the former smog remains, despite the fact the area is still partially industrial (i.e. Nippon Steel). Much of the remaining post-industrial area has been re-zoned for cultural attractions. Though Space World shut down earlier this year, the area is still home to numerous museums and educational institutions, including the Kitakyushu Museum of Natural & Human History, the Kitakyushu Environment Museum, and the Kitakyushu Innovation Gallery & Studio. A sprawling parking lot accommodates the myriad school buses that descend regularly on this part of town. Yahata has become field trip central.

    Having left the Imperial Steel Works, I made my way across the street to the Higashida Blast Furnace. My arrival was heralded by a chorus of “Hellos”; a frequent (and delightful) feature of my travels in Japan was the collective greetings of school children under instructions to practice their English on any foreigner. First operational in 1901 as part the steelworks, the blast furnace remained in operation until 1972. If I had anticipated a solemn industrial ruin, what I found instead was a vibrant playground. Related to the Imperial Steel Works but not technically part of the UNESCO listing, the partially restored furnace complex has been converted into something between a park and free outdoor museum. Everything actively dangerous had been cleared away or fenced off, and the remainder was being vigorously employed as a jungle gym on the day I visited. On the ground level, picnic tables capitalized on the shade cast by the blast furnace’s immense mass. Given good weather, this has clearly become an ideal place to let field-trippers have lunch and blow off some steam (industrial pun intended) between museums.

    The shaded underbelly of the Higashida Blast Furnace creates a surprising venue for a school picnic.

    A group of students really getting into industrial heritage (literally) with some serious haptic engagement.


    Upstairs, an array of weather-proofed interpretive panels (all in Japanese) described the history and function of the blast furnace. And in one of the eeriest but most effective pieces of industrial interpretation I’ve seen to date, mannequins clad in full protective gear were posed as if going through the processes of steel making. This was one of the very few examples I’ve seen of industrial labor interpreted as a human process, a recognition that even though mechanization often meant the end to a reliance on skilled labor, it did not mean the elimination of human labor full stop. The full protective gear vividly brought to life the harsh working conditions of the blast furnace —the temperature extremes and unnatural postures required for this kind of work.

    The upper viewing platform at the blast furnace takes visitors up close to the monumental machinery. Part of the joy of this presentation is the opportunity to move through the space in an unscripted way; the delight is in the exploration.

    Photo-heavy interpretive panels on the upper level give a glimpse into the blast furnace’s past life.

    The steelmaking process revivified through this interpretive installation. Under the cover of the shed above, this outdoor installation can be open year round.


    The contrast between the posed mannequins and the rambunctious kids playing hide-and-seek transformed this into the most embodied industrial site I’ve visited, simultaneously populated by the ghosts of past labor and animated by the engagement of present audiences. It provided a uniquely haptic and bodily encounter between present and past. And further, it capitalizes on the unique ability of the unspeaking factory to store and transmit multiple, simultaneous readings, all while adding a new function relevant to current stakeholders. In the case of Yahata, the Higashida Blast Furnace operates as a potent symbol of the community’s transition to a largely post-industrial economy, bridging the steelmaking past and the contemporary cultural capital of the area’s other new museums.

    The Blast Furnace wasn’t just an isolated phenomenon. I witnessed the deployment of “parkification” again after arriving in Chile early November, this time at the Muelle Vergara in Viña Del Mar, a historic quay constructed starting in 1892 and later rebuilt and reinforced in response to the growing demands of the sugar shipping industry, from roughly 1912-1941. Viña Del Mar, now a bourgeois resort town just north of Valparaiso, is no longer legible as a former industrial community. With its impressive crane and immense concrete footings, Muelle Vergara is one of the few built remnants of that history. It was recently converted into a recreation pier for strolling and fishing, though the original crane has been preserved as a monument. The interpretation at the site, though a little faded from sun and salty sea air, nevertheless provides a comprehensive history of the urban and architectural development related to Muelle Vergara. The summation panel acknowledges the site as a place where present (tourism) and past (industry) intersect:

    Vergara Quay reflects urban, architectural, and historical values, but its significance is its strongest value nowadays. Its architecture has become an icon of tourism: a testimony of the city’s industrial history, its urban development, and its part played in greater Valparaiso’s port activity.12

    When I visited, Chilean beach-goers were braving the frigid Pacific waters. On the quay, a series of new platforms designated as only for pescadores (fishermen) were in high demand. Other visitors strolled the quay, many stopping to take selfies with the crane. As a site of memory and a current space of leisure, the Muelle Vergara clearly has a role to play in the new life of Viña Del Mar.

    The preserved industrial quay provides a monumental landmark on the beaches of Viña Del Mar, an intriguing architectural contrast against rows of International Style condos and postmodern mansard-roofed luxury apartments.

    Pedestrian life on the renovated Muelle Vergara.

    The iconic crane of Muelle Vergara, atop a concrete foundation completed in 1941. As I stopped here to take this photograph, several groups of visitors stopped to read the historic plaque and take a photograph with this piece of tangible industrial heritage.


    And there’s no reason that this idea of industry as park (the machine in the garden, we might say) can’t inspire contemporary industrial architecture as well. In Hiroshima, the Naka Incineration Plant (2004) in the southern part of the city aspires to do exactly that. This facility, which disposes of the city’s garbage cleanly and efficiently, is the design of architect Yoshio Taniguchi (better known for his work on the new MoMA addition). The poetry of ash turned into energy and waste into life in Hiroshima was not lost on the architect and planners—this is one of many urban interventions happening in the city as part of an initiative called Hiroshima 2045: City of Peace and Creativity. Urbanistically, the Naka Incineration Plant concludes an urban axis that runs all the way from Kenzo Tange’s iconic 1955 Peace Park and Memorial to the end of Yoshijima-dori Street. Beyond its metaphoric connotations, this is also a joyful and educational space to inhabit. A tunnel called the “Ecorium” provides a panoramic view into the heart of the interior workings. Models and digital interactive displays explain the function of each of the component machines and processes. Given the gleaming precision with which the whole edifice is orchestrated (no wonder, given its estimated $400 million budget), it’s hard not to buy into its technological utopian vision—waste management elevated to the level of art.

    The gleaming central interpretive space, dubbed the Ecorium, at Yoshio Taniguchi’s Naka Incineration Plant.

    Waste management truly designed for voyeurism.

    Interactive displays elevate the Ecorium from pure spectacle to educational space.


    But even more interesting and effective, I think, is the park space created intentionally at the rear of the building. Shielded from the rest of the industrial action and noise of this part of Hiroshima, Naka’s park is a semi-private urban respite. Walkways and grassy slopes are scattered with informal places for reclining, meeting, and picnicking. Given the relative remoteness of the Incineration Plant, it would be easy to see the good intention of this space going unused and unappreciated. But, on the sunny October day I took the bus down from central Hiroshima, a lively gathering of parents and children was playing out under the shade of the Ecorium’s cantilever. Built more than one hundred years after the Higashida Blast Furnace, the Naka Incineration Plant appeared to be bringing a similar degree of delight to the community enjoying it not for its industrial function, but for its compelling alternative vision of public life coexisting with industry.

    The Ecorium conducts the visitor through the heart of the incineration plant through to an exterior public space. Compression here leads to...

    Release in the form a cantilevered balcony overlooking Hiroshima’s industrial port.

    A picnic for parents and kids takes place under the shaded refuge of the cantilevered viewing platform.

    Moments for quiet contemplation or a group meeting exist throughout the Naka Incineration Plant park space at the rear of the building.


    1. Philip R. Stone, “‘Manufacturing Ghosts’: Visiting the Ruins of Our Industrial Past,” Current Issues in Dark Tourism Research (July 2017): 2. ↩︎
    2. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Kyushu-Yamaguchi and Related Areas, World Heritage Nomination, (Japan, 2014): 127. The Mitsubishi Shipyard was electrified in 1897. ↩︎
    3. Ibid, 131. In my previous post, I discussed Glover’s second house on the coal-mining island of Takashima, and Glover’s role in developing undersea coal-mining there. ↩︎
    4. Ibid, 121. I have quoted this directly purely because there are many other buildings that make similar types of claims. After visiting the Glover Garden, for instance, I had lunch at a historic restaurant in Nagasaki advertising the “oldest Western-style room” in Japan. ↩︎
    5. “Hollander Slope,” interpretive signage, Nagasaki, Japan. Photographed September 28, 2018. ↩︎
    6. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution, 131. ↩︎
    7. I’ve borrowed some of the language here from an introductory post to the UNESCO JMIR sites I wrote on my personal blog, The Rovang Eye. ↩︎
    8. William Whyte, “How do Buildings Mean? Some Issues of Interpretation in the History of Architecture,” History And Theory 45, no. 2 (May 2006): 153-177. ↩︎
    9. Stone, 3. ↩︎
    10. Yahata is also anglicized as “Yawata.” I’ve chosen to use the version that appears on GoogleMaps to make it easier to search for the area. ↩︎
    11. Information from the “Radiorama” at the Kitakyushu Ecological Museum, located across the street from the Blast Furnace. ↩︎
    12. Interpretive panel at Muelle Vergara, Viña Del Mar, Chile. Photographed November 13, 2018. ↩︎
  • Conserving Charnley-Persky House

    by User Not Found | Dec 04, 2018

    Charnley-Persky House at twilight, November 2018.

    In 2017, when SAH received the completed Conservation Management Plan for Charnley-Persky House, we decided to tackle some of the highest-priority items on the list of potential repairs and restorations. We’re pleased to announce that one of them has been completed. In November 2018, masonry specialists from Central Building & Preservation in Chicago, tuckpointed the four chimneys on the roof of Charnley-Persky House. Although the rest of the house had been tuckpointed in 2003, to the best of our knowledge the chimneys at the roof level had not been tuckpointed since the 1980s. As a result, water was infiltrating through the mortar and causing damage to interior plaster walls on the third floor of the house. The work was specified and supervised by Harboe Architects who also authored the Conservation Management Plan. The project was funded by a grant from the Landmarks Illinois Heritage Preservation Fund and proceeds from annual SAH Galas from 2010 to the present.

    Newly repointed chimney at Charnley-Persky House, 2018. (Gunny Harboe)

    Future bricks and mortar projects include repairing a low spot in the roof where rainwater pools and seeps into the house under the flashing around the atrium skylight, and replacing the antiquated HVAC system in the house. For Giving Tuesday on November 27th, 41 generous donors contributed $7,370 to help us purchase and install a pair of energy-efficient boilers that would replace the 1970s-era boiler that is unreliable in Chicago winters. Every donation was matched 1:1 by two challenge grants from Charnley-Persky House Board members Cynthia (and Ben) Weese and Laurie (and Mike) Petersen so the grand total raised to replace the boiler is $14,740. We extend our sincere thanks the Weeses and Petersens for issuing the challenge and to all who contributed to the Giving Tuesday campaign.

    Finally, also in November 2018 SAH completed a beautification project to light Charnley-Persky House at night. Funded by a generous grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, the improvements focused on installing a new LED lighting system that would be controlled through a central wireless hub that would allow SAH staff to control the lights remotely through a smart phone application. By installing new interior light fixtures in the main rooms of the house and exterior fixtures on and underneath the balcony, Charnley-Persky House now has a lighted façade at night and lighted rooms that create a warm lantern effect. The dual goal was to enhance the features of the house as only night-time lighting could and to contribute to the beauty of the nighttime streetscape in this historic Gold Coast neighborhood. 

    Parkway garden in front of Charnley-Persky House, June 2017.

    In a parallel effort, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Trust also funded landscaping of the two parkway areas in front of Charnley-Persky House. Since summer 2016 the small parkway gardens have featured shade-friendly plants and flowers that, like the lighting, enhance both the appearance of the house and contribute to the beauty of the streetscape. We are extremely grateful to neighbor Richard H. Driehaus who recognized that Charnley-Persky House could and should enhance its historic surroundings.

  • Finding the Landscape in Japan’s Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution

    by User Not Found | Nov 06, 2018
    Rovang Blog Post 3

    Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    A Trip to Nagasaki’s Coal Mine Islands

    Occasionally, in South Africa, when a well-meaning AirBnB host would ask where I was headed, and I’d tell them that I was going to look at this mine or that old forestry town, I’d be met with the full force of South African bluntness, “Why would you want to go there?” Reactions to my insistence on touring Japan’s industrial heritage sites have been a bit more subdued. There’s the language barrier, of course, but then there’s also the unflagging politeness of Japanese verbal expression that prevents people from questioning your sanity when you insist that yes, you do want to take that hour-long bus ride to see that particular pile of cut stones in the middle of a rice paddy. So when the attendant at the Nagasaki port terminal raised her eyebrows and deliberately articulated, “Takashima?” with more than a hint of incredulity, I knew this was going to be an adventure.

    Takashima is an island near Nagasaki, and is home the remains of a 1869 coal mine called Hokkei Pit, one of twenty-three new sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015 as part of an expansive group nomination entitled “Japan’s Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution” (I’ve taken to abbreviating it as JMIR). Over the course of about three weeks in September and October I’ve had the opportunity to visit 17 out of 25 sites and sub-sites that are currently open to the public. (For more background information, I’ve written a short intro to the sites on my personal blog that provides basic data about the nomination and the organization of the sites themselves.).

    JMIR UNESCO sites I visited are marked in blue, those I did not visit are marked in grey, and other sites I visited with some relation to Japanese industrial heritage are marked in maroon.

    As an architectural historian, I have pretty well formed ideas about what constitutes industrial architecture, born out of a dissertation about rural electrification and two years of teaching in southeast Michigan, where the legacy of the auto industry still exerts a powerful influence on the urban landscape. Would these architectural preconceptions hold true in Japan, where industrialization took a very different course? To what extent is industrial architecture universal and rational versus local, contingent, and idiosyncratic? And as a public historian, I was curious to discover what kinds of stories are being told about these places. The UNESCO inscription that ties all 23 sites together proposes at least a somewhat contiguous narrative around shipbuilding, steel, and coal, but the sites themselves are geographically dispersed and range from ruinous foundations to well-preserved structures. How would the site by site interpretation address this disparity? This inscription is based upon the notion that when taken together, the whole of these 23 historic places is greater than the sum of its individual parts—would this hold true for the public history presented at the sites?



    Photographs and footage from the ferry ride to Takashima. Nagasaki is the headquarters of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., which is evident from the number of corporate docks throughout Nagasaki Harbor. In addition to Takashima, all of the Nagasaki JMIR sites are also connected to Mitsubishi at one level or another.

    Today, Takashima is accessible from Nagasaki harbor via a short ferry ride. On the sunny Thursday afternoon when I made the trek, there were about a dozen other passengers on a boat that could comfortably seat several hundred. The island’s tourism website promised a gleaming white crescent of sand and crystal blue waters—a family-friendly swimming beach teeming with happy day trippers. “I am sure,” I reassured my spousal traveling companion, “That an island with a beach that good is going to have some decent lunch options.” When we arrived, there was nary a swimmer in sight. The beachfront shops were shuttered and the sand had collected a raft of plastic detritus. Lunch evidently wasn’t happening so we marched past the beach and onwards towards the coal mine.



    Following the perimeter road on Takashima, the only evidence of economic activity was a hot-house tomato farm; a lone tractor tilled the soil in preparation for the next round of crops. Behind the hot-houses’ skeletal ribs loomed the concrete tenements that at some point in the past housed coal mine workers. Today they appear almost entirely deserted.



    There was, perhaps surprisingly, signage urging us on down the road. The triangular, gradient-laden JMIR logo has become a most welcome and reassuring sight to me, whether I’m on a bus through the hinterlands around Kagoshima or stepping off a train in the ailing coal town of Omuta. The houses that lined the main road seemed kept up but also strangely vacant. Where were the people who live on this island? Finally, we arrived at the UNESCO site. There was the official JMIR plaque, a familiar presence from other sites I’ve visited—one of the very few standardized interpretive elements. And there was the coal mine—little more than a stack of bricks with a grate over it. The one other major notable feature at the site was the remnant of the recently excavated boiler house. The archaeological site has been covered over by a weather-proofed platform with a full-scale photograph of the boiler house foundations created during the excavation process. That’s all the remains of a whole sequence of support buildings that existed at the end of the nineteenth century.





    There are a few plaques (added in 2015) with historical information in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese, and a small selection of historic photographs. There’s even a 1/100 scale model showing the support buildings around the mine, though it’s hard to imagine this sequence of wooden buildings occupying what today seems like little more than a flat, grassy depression. Most of the JMIR sites I’ve encountered, even the remote and relatively obscure ones, have had a docent, a human presence I have come to appreciate despite any language barrier. The lack of any other human presence here feels particularly palpable.



    There’s a related historic site up the road—perched on a scenic outcropping looking back towards Nagasaki are the remains of a house once owned by Scottish mine manager Thomas Glover. Like the coal mine, however, this site proved to be more archaeologically fascinating than anything else. An interpretive sign pointed to the location of the toilet, which indeed, was the most evident built remnant. Glover’s primary residence and its gardens constitute yet another JMIR site, immaculately preserved in Nagasaki proper. Overrun with school groups and set against the sonic background of piped-in bagpipe music, Glover House and Gardens is a fully-developed open air architectural museum. (I’ll return to the colonial extravaganza of the Glover complex and how the JMIR sites engage Western architectural influence more generally in my next post.)



    Poking around for the lichen-encrusted remains of the original foundations, I had flashbacks to learning about the excavations of early Virginian post-hole houses as an undergraduate. There is also a bust of Thomas Glover, just in case there was any doubt that you’d come to the right place.

    Moving on, we rounded the tip of the island and continued on the winding perimeter road past more ramshackle concrete buildings. In the distance, the unmistakable shape of Hashima Island appeared, silhouetted on the sea in the mid-afternoon haze. Hashima, better known as “Gunkanjima” (or Battleship Island), is also a UNESCO JMIR site, and like Takashima, an island created largely of reclaimed land to support a lucrative coal-mining economy. However, unlike Takashima, Hashima has developed an iconic status and has evolved into a sought-after tourist attraction. During the remainder of my afternoon on Takashima, Hashima proved to be a constant and inescapable presence—there’s an elaborate scale model of the Battleship Island near the ferry station, and a special Hashima viewing area further on down the road. For all of its coal-mining credentials, Takashima has become little more than a glorified viewing platform for its purportedly more fascinating neighbor.




    The following Monday, I had booked the full Hashima experience: a boat ride out to the island, tickets to the Gunkanjima Digital Museum, and something called the “Hololens Experience.” The Digital Museum is not far from Glover Gardens and the Dutch Slope, a part of Nagasaki known for its historic Western architecture. Once we checked in, we had about an hour to explore the museum before the ferry departed. On the second and third floors are about a dozen digital exhibits—screens (large and small, flat and wraparound), VR headsets, and models with overhead projections abound. Gunkanjima, though it has been officially open to visitors since 2009, doesn’t actually allow tourists a lot of free rein around the island. Due to weather, only about 50% of tourism boats are able to make the landing. Once on the island, there are exactly three viewing points, strung together by a walkway on the southern part of the island. To compensate, and provide a fuller, more nuanced picture of the site, the Digital Museum evokes both the lived experience of the island during the twentieth century (up until Hashima coal mine was closed in 1974 and the island abandoned), and its current status as a fantastical concrete ruin.


    At the Digital Museum, I bounced between a number of the VR displays and immersive digital installations. There were a few compelling analog displays to supplement the digital festivities, including a recreation of a living room from one of the tenements where Hashima’s families lived, and a model of Building #30, Japan’s first reinforced concrete structure (1916).




    Soon, it was time to board the (completely packed) boat that would take us out to Hashima. On our way, Takashima was briefly visible off the starboard bow. We didn’t stop however, and the island received only a fleeting mention in the English audio guide. During our approach to Hashima, the boat circled the island, venturing into an expanse of choppy water, allowing passengers to get that iconic shot of the “battleship” in all its glory. Once we docked, a tour guide led the group, narrating in Japanese while several assisants showed printed, laminated pictures of historical Hashima. The non-Japanese speakers huddled to one side, listening intently to our intermittently functioning radio audio guides.






    The strange capper to the day was back at the Digital Museum, where John and I participated in the “HoloLens” experience. To describe the full extent and goals of this surreal augmented reality game would be like trying to narrate a fever dream, but in short, players are tasked with “mining” the walls and exhibitions of the museum. As play progresses and players succeed in locating and “mining” these objects, their virtual mining implement is automatically upgraded, becoming more powerful and more efficient. In addition to coal, “mined objects” that come flying out of the walls include consumer appliances and animals. Whether this was intentional commentary on the relationship between Hashima’s coal mining, Japan’s postwar economic prosperity, and the environment, or just a bizarre palimpsest of cultural detritus was entirely unclear.

    Brochure for the HoloLens Experience at the Gunkanjima Digital Museum.

    The Takashima/Hashima Paradox

    The public history experiences of Takashima and Hashima both had redeeming elements, but at the end of the day, left me discomfited and more than a little unsatisfied. In large part, this sense of dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that historically, the architectural remains on Takashima and Hashima are outcomes of the same larger story of Japan’s industrial modernization. To my mind, the relationship and contrast between these two sites creates a more relevant and useful public history narrative than either site taken individually. What might be learned by putting these two sites into dialogue with one another, and examining both their historical parallels as well as their contemporary divergences? Further, how might these sites be more effectively interpreted as part of even more encompassing architectural and technological trends across Japan during its period of intensive modernization, or even within the emerging world capitalist order more broadly?

    Geologically, culturally, and architecturally, the stories of Takashima and Hashima are very much intertwined. Both islands can be read as artifacts in themselves of Japan’s Industrial Age, formed largely out of reclaimed land from the coal slag dredged up from their mines.1 In terms of mining technologies, Takashima set a precedent for the logistically more complicated undersea mining that would later take place at Hashima—Hokkei Pit, after all, was the first coal mine in Japan to employ Western, industrial technology in the mining process.2 Indeed, the development of Hokkei Pit began as a collaboration between the local Saga Clan and Thomas Glover, the aforementioned Scotsman who had relocated to Nagasaki following the Meiji Restoration (1868). Glover and his collaborators used modern technologies developed in Europe, such as a steam drain pump and steam-powered winch. At its peak in the 1880s, the 43 meter-deep shaft was producing 300 tons of coal each day and was the most productive coal mine in Japan.3

    Eventually, however, as Takashima’s reserves dwindled, attention turned to the underseas coal deposits accessible from the nearby island of Hashima. Hashima’s coal mine was opened the same year as Takashima (1869), and by 1897, Hashima had outstripped the coal production of its neighbor as its mine was extended further down into the sea bed.4 By 1959, Hashima was home to over 5,000 residents, and had become one of the most densely populated places on earth. In the early twentieth century, a whole host of support structures sprung up, many using new construction technologies such as reinforced concrete to help the “Battleship Island” withstand fierce typhoons.5 More than a place of work, Hashima quickly grew into a true community, including schools, public baths, and rooftop gardens. All of those facilities were abandoned in 1974, almost overnight, after the mines were closed in response to both Hashima’s lagging coal supply and a new federal energy policy that favored oil over coal.

    Today, Hashima is an uninhabited ruin, whose fascination and attraction has been fueled by pop culture representations, including the inclusion of external shots of the island in the 2012 James Bond flick Skyfall. As bewitched by its modernist credentials as the odd Brooks Fellow might be, it thrives mainly on the current vogue for ruin porn and the schadenfreude of dark tourism (more on that next month). Takashima, by contrast, has thus far resisted the full out abandonment seen at Hashima. Its remaining population could materially benefit from a more developed tourist economy, to supplement that brought in by the beachfront in summer.

    Sites like Takashima are hard to engage, even for an architectural historian. Without substantive built remnants or sufficient interpretation to help the visitor envision what the site was like in the past, it is still challenging to really feel connected to the site. Interpretation that explicitly connected Takashima to Hashima, casting the former as a crucial technological/architectural precedent to the concrete menagerie of Gunkanjima, could do a lot to build interest in Hokkei Pit and the island’s other historic sites. Takashima, in other words, could be so much more than just a viewing platform for its more “glamorous” neighbor.

    Additionally, Takashima might follow the lead of Hashima’s storytelling apparatus in at least one regard—by providing interpretation that connects the site to broader national (or even global) themes with significant public interest. One of the most interesting and effective sections of the Gunkanjima Digital Museum was paradoxically also one of the least digital: the display about how Building 30, the first reinforced concrete structure in Japan, fits into the global development of architectural modernism. On one wall there is a detailed timeline that shows how Building 30 and the primary construction period of Gunkanjima aligns with other major events in the histories of architecture and building technology (Gottfried Semper, Auguste Perret, etc.). This was one of the very few attempts I’ve seen at the JMIR sites to situate the architecture of Japan’s industrial heritage within worldwide architectural trends. Judging by the number of local and international visitors clustered in this area of the museum on the day I visited, other architecture fans also found this argument to be unique and compelling.


    Above, a photo from the operational Hokkei Pit (circa late nineteenth century, photo from the Nixon University College of Art). Also visible is the short rail path adjacent to the shaft that was used to transport coal via handcarts down to Haedomari Coal Shipping Port on the north end of the island, where it was then shipped back to fuel the heavy industries growing up in Nagasaki harbor.

    Below, the pit as it stood in 1974 (photo from the historic plaque at the site).

    Even though the support buildings for Hokkei Pit on Takashima have not been preserved, they too participated in the development of industrial architecture. Takashima’s array of mostly wooden and stone support buildings from the 1860s through 1880s date to a period in Japanese industrial history when traditional Japanese craftsmanship was fused with functional Western materials and techniques, resulting in a hybrid industrial architecture distinct from that found in Europe or the United States. Well-preserved examples of this phenomenon can be seen throughout the JMIR sites (such as at Shuseikan in Kagoshima and the Imperial Steel Works in Kitakyushu), as well as at many non-JMIR industrial sites, including the Tomioka Silk Mill, the Sapporo Beer Factory, and Hakodate’s warehouse district. These stone, wood, and brick buildings from between roughly 1860 and 1910 are just as much a part of Japan’s industrial architectural history as the standardized, concrete high rises of Gunkanjima. Thinking back to that architectural timeline at the Digital Museum, I wonder now how it might be possible to incorporate Takashima into that evolutionary narrative, as an earlier but integral component of the larger architectural story surrounding Hashima.



    Different examples of architectural hybridity in early industrial Japan: Sapporo Beer Factory (1890), Hakodate Warehouses (1887-1909), and the Foreign Engineers’ House in Shuseikan (1867).

    Yet I want to resist the idea that a tighter interpretive relationship between these two coal islands would benefit Takashima exclusively. There’s also an extent to which incorporating Takashima might complicate the utopian narrative of Hashima currently perpetuated at the Digital Museum. Abandoned Hashima in some ways is less powerful as a symbol of de-industrializing Japan. For all of its picturesque concrete ruination, the total touristification of Hashima makes it surprisingly easy to forget what happened to all of the people who lost jobs when Japan’s energy policy pivoted from coal to oil. The Digital Museum does little to address the legacy of de-industrialization, wrapping the history of the island’s productive years in a surprisingly idealistic mythos. Even where organized labor struggles, health issues, chronic overcrowding, forced wartime labor, and natural disasters are acknowledged, they are packaged in the feel-good rhetoric of “but the islanders overcame these challenges with community spirit.”

    Based on what I’ve seen in my industrial heritage tour of Japan, the experience of Takashima is by far the more common one—post-industrial cities and towns struggling to find new avenues of economic development; cheaply built post-war architecture now in a state of disrepair. This is a side of Japan that you don’t see in Lonely Planet or on japan-guide.com. Most tourists who confine themselves to the Tokyo-Kyoto corridor can avoid this kind of architectural landscape. The one reliable source for industrial decrepitude, population decline, and urban decay I’ve come across is a site a historian friend recommended called Spike Japan. This blog, which explores Japan’s de-industrializing built environment through the lens of economics has become my cynical, snarky decoder ring for the baffling, sometimes disconcerting landscapes I’ve encountered here. Underneath Japan’s outward projection of technological prowess and economic prosperity there’s another story to be told. And outside of bustling Tokyo neighborhoods and tranquil Kyoto shrines there are plenty of communities akin to Takashima—places that one can potentially gloss over. Hashima allows twentieth-century energy technologies and architecture to live quarantined in the past. Takashima forces its visitors to reckon with the very real aftermath of Japan’s rapid industrialization.

    Interpreting Japan’s Industrial Sites as Landscape

    For me, the current disconnect between the visitor experience of Takashima and Hashima is indicative of a larger challenge presented by this still very new and unprecedented UNESCO inscription. Although in terms of their protected status, these sites are technically equals, the lived experience for an industrial heritage tourist could not be more different. Certainly not every JMIR site is created equal; some have legitimately more interesting and better preserved built remains, and some are based out of existing visitor attractions with well-developed visitor infrastructure. But navigating this collection of sites, even as a postdoctoral architectural historian, often proved flummoxing. With a little bit of distance, and having visited a good cross-section of other sites at this point in my travel year, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of this has to do with the way that the JMIR sites are presented and interpreted in relationship to one another (or not, as the case may be).

    On the way to Japan, I spent a three day “relaxing” layover in Singapore. I hadn’t planned on doing a lot of architectural history sight-seeing during my time there, but history found me anyway. Singapore is chock-full of heritage trails, ranging from neighborhood walking routes to city-wide paths requiring public transportation.6 While many buildings had plaques explaining their unique characteristics, there seemed to be a push in most of the signage I encountered to understand each structure in relationship to other buildings and to the broader urban landscape. For example, Singapore’s popular hawker centers are surprisingly well-interpreted, particularly for an architectural typology that emerged largely out of civic zoning regulations, and to which no famous architect names are attached. As I ate my way through Singapore, I kept stumbling upon signage that allowed me to build up a coherent but complex historical narrative about the emergence of the hawker center as an architectural type. By the time I departed, I had pieced together an understanding of the ways in which the physical structure of the hawker centers materialized many deeper historical narratives, such as the British colonial regime’s desire to rationalize Singapore’s streetscape, and food safety regulations that were driven both by concern for public health and xenophobic anxieties about immigrant street vendors.


    Above, a sign at a historic bridge site for one of Singapore’s many heritage trails. Below, one of the hawker centers in Singapore’s downtown business district.

    Japan, from what I’ve seen, prefers lists of independent and ostensibly equal sites to trails, routes, or landscapes when it comes to heritage interpretation. This is a country, after all, that maintains a list of its most scenic waterfalls and most picturesque streets. Here, visiting heritage sites has felt more like collecting stamps, a feeling which is magnified by the JMIR smartphone app. This GPS-connected app turns industrial heritage into a game, in which everything from watching a video or reading an article wins the user a certain number of “points” (interacting with media off-site scores about 500 points, e.g.). Visiting a site, however, is where the big points are at. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the thrill of pride I felt on receiving the 30,000 points at Takashima that elevated me to this month’s reigning champion on the app’s live ranking of “players.” On site, the app makes use of augmented reality, tapping into the smartphone’s camera to show the site tagged with clickable banners and exclusive on-site material. It’s been a diverting, if not vital aspect of my public history experience. At Shuseikan, where I used the app extensively, John seemed concerned that I was going to trip and fall while walking with my phone in front of my face. (Although at that site, the app did save me from missing another built component that was not part of the main complex). When I visited Gunkanjima, time on the island was so limited that I forgot to use the app altogether. And there were some sites that had their own augmented or virtual reality features, separate from the main JMIR app.



    The digital experience of the smartphone app was echoed in what I witnessed as a visitor on the ground as well. At the vast majority of sites, there was no information about how to access other related sites (if related sites were mentioned at all). The entire basis of this UNESCO nomination, which highlights sites of “shipbuilding, coal, and steel,” rests on the integral relationships between these sites (i.e. without steel and coal there were no ships), many of which would not pass muster as individual UNESCO sites and only have historical integrity or meaning when understood within the context of all the other inscribed sites. The close connection between Takashima and Hashima was just one of many compelling relationships between other JMIR sites, which together constitute complex networks of technical expertise, natural resources, and architectural knowledge.

    In teaching and writing about architecture, I’ve grown accustomed and even reliant on the concept of “landscape,” a term that has become increasingly ubiquitous across scholarship in architectural history and adjacent disciplines, particularly concerning industrialization and urbanization. Landscape as a concept plugs into so many other current ways of understanding how planet earth has been shaped and altered by human intervention. Network theory, the Anthropocene, world systems analysis, etc. all can work within the same paradigm of underlying relational assumptions contained within the term “landscape.”

    In elucidating the unique relationship between industrialization and landscape, I always come back to Lewis Mumford’s remarkably prescient writing in Technics and Civilization (1934) on the Paleotechnic Era. Mumford perceived that some of the hallmark technological “advances” of the early nineteenth century in Western Europe, the United States, and then elsewhere in the world (an “elsewhere” that I’ve been immersed in for the past three months), fundamentally reordered the way that humanity harnessed energy and then expended that energy. Rather than relying on the geographically-contingent “eotechnics” of sunlight, wind, and water, Paleotechnic humanity could mine coal, transport it, and use its energy at a remote location. Industrialization, to my mind, is all about relational networks between sites, whether those networks are formed by the transfer of tangible products (raw materials or finished goods), the travel of human laborers, the conveyance of energy through railways bearing coal or wires carrying electricity, or the movement of abstracted capital investment. This is palpably true at so many of the clusters of JMIR sites. Near modern day Kagoshima, charcoal fired at the Terayama Charcoal Kiln and water channeled from the Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate of Yoshino Leat provided the heat and power to forge cannons and warship plating at the Shuseikan site. The coal mined at the Miike pits was transported to the Misumi West Port, and later to Miike Port, where it was then shipped to other Japanese industrial sites.


    Whether or not the word “landscape” was used specifically, the Singaporean approach to public architectural history engaged this methodological lens effectively and consistently. Perhaps it was going immediately from Singapore to Japan that, for me, rendered the lack of any equivalent acknowledgement at the JMIR sites of the “industrial landscape” even more glaring. Expanding and explaining the relationships between the sites through public history storytelling would give crucial context that could help give meaning and purpose to (and perhaps generate more tourism for) the sites like Takashima with less obvious touristic appeal.

    The Potential of Japan’s Industrial Heritage as Landscape

    But what would the implementation of a public history narrative rooted in the idea of landscape look like at the JMIR sites, practically speaking?

    • More interpretation of the architecture/material remnants of the sites. Maybe it’s disciplinary bias, but I was honestly surprised that more of the JMIR site interpretation didn’t explicitly address the built components from an architectural perspective. There were certainly some striking counter-examples, but the lack of architectural interpretation overall was thrown into sharp relief when I visited the Tomioka Silk Mill (another Japanese, industrial UNESCO site, inscribed 2014, that isn’t part of the JMIR complex). Here, the audio guide explicitly started with the built framework of the site and helped the visitor interpret the architectural components in terms of what they meant for late nineteenth-century sericulture. The guide addressed, for instance, the organization of the site to provide maximum ventilation for the two cocoon houses (first image below), and the introduction of a truss roof construction in the silk-reeling plant to provide for a greater horizontal span (second image below). Addressing the practical architectural elements and the functional relationships between the diverse buildings on the site also gave the visitor significant insight into the kinds of technological challenges and cultural assumptions that the Japanese-French collaborators who designed this modern factory were confronting.

    Images from Tomioka Silk Mill (established 1872). Above, Tomioka East Cocoon House; below the Silk Reeling Plant.

    • Tighter interpretive networks between the JMIR Sites. The JMIR UNESCO nomination categorizes the sites according to geographic area and time period, but there’s surprisingly little interpretation about how the sites would have interacted from a functional, industrial standpoint. Where, for example, was the coal mined at Takashima and Hashima shipped? Did the destination and purpose of the exported coal change over time? Or, consider the three different reverberatory furnaces included in the JMIR sites—what was the architectural progression of their design? Was there any interaction between the designers and engineers who developed these furnaces? The new municipal museum at Hagi (home to one of the three furnaces) at least references the furnace at Shuseikan in Kagoshima, but this relationship could be unpacked and explored further.

    Hagi Reverberatory Furnace (1856)

    • Better connections between JMIR sites and existing/developed historical sites and museum institutions. The principal map document for the JMIR sites does include related historical institutions and heritage sites, but it would be helpful to expand this and give visitors a fuller sense of how these other experiences might relate to or enhance the JMIR experience. Additionally, acknowledging sites and experiences that address a longer historic arc (i.e. outside the fifty years of Japan’s most intensive modernization) would help give context to the JMIR sites. The need to for more capacious historical context was something I was reminded of at the Kitakyushu Eco Museum’s Radiorama (that’s audio + diorama, seen in the first image below), which recounts the environmental history of the town of Yamata, with particular emphasis on the 1960s and ‘70s. The Radiorama told the story of grassroots activism in a town known for having industrial exhaust in “all colors of the rainbow” (and later for the ensuing respiratory illness). Thanks to the research and advocacy of a coalition of local women work, the surrounding area of Yamata has been rehabilitated and today is home to a number of excellent museums, that coexist with the cleaned-up industry still present in the area. When I saw this display, I just had walked from the JMIR site of the Imperial Steelworks (1902, second image below). To me, the early development of steel foundries in Yamata cannot be untangled from the environmental outcomes of the 1960s. The JMIR sites have the potential to engage with a range of current issues, including those around climate change, pollution, and public health—it’s just a matter of setting up an interpretive infrastructure that allows for those broader stories to come through. This would involve a great deal of coordination at the municipal, prefectural, and national level. Some municipalities on the JMIR trail, especially smaller ones such as Hagi and Omuta, have started to engage this mode by promoting their JMIR sites at local history museums.

    • Inclusion of Japan’s less developed or distant industrial heritage sites. With the understanding of Japan’s modernization as something that contributed to the country’s new formulation as a modern nation state, it also seems critical to recognize how the JMIR sites participated in a story that extended geographically beyond the cluster of sites in Kyushu and southern Honshu. When I visited Hokkaido, for instance, modernization and the industrialization of agriculture, were frequent topics addressed at sites including the Sapporo Beer Factory, Hokkaido Historic Village (see the barn built from an American pattern in the first image below), and the Shimizusawa Power Plant (second image below). These sites, while lacking a UNESCO inscription, are still essential to the story of Japan’s emergence as a modern, imperial power.

    • Addressing the tensions between local identity and national identity. A number of the cities proximate to JMIR sites have adopted and promoted these new UNESCO properties with a fierce civic pride. Each city is eager to lay claim to a unique part of the story or an outstanding contribution: Hagi as the intellectual cradle of modernization (see Shokasonjuku Academy in Hagi, 1857, below), Nagasaki as the birthplace of modern shipbuilding, and Kitakyushu as the home of the modern steel industry. This is often tied back to whatever clan led the initial modernization charge in that city—it’s hard to avoid mention of the Satsuma Clan in Kagoshima, or the Hagi Clan in Hagi. At the same time though, in narratives at the individual sites and through the various media (pamphlets, apps, websites) meant to tie the sites together, the focus has largely been on what these individual sites contributed to Japan’s national industrialization and modernization more broadly. The conception of Japan as a modern nation state came out of the modernizing reforms of the Meiji Restoration, a political transformation that effectively ended the clan system of shogunate Japan. Through the lens of landscape, the tension between local and national identities might be put into a productive dialogue, acknowledging that these conceptions of modern self-hood did not always coexist easily.
    • Moving from “Great Man” history to a more inclusive narrative of modernization. Adding interpretation addressing the flow of resources, architectural/engineering technologies, and labor, to complement that which already exists would add nuance and enable alternative readings of the sites. Many of the JMIR sites’ existing interpretation emphasizes the role of elite actors—principally the leaders of clans, Meiji government officials, and Western engineers (below, in an epic JMIR crossover on a sign in Hagi, Kagoshima’s local hero, Saigo Takamori, meets Hagi’s own Yoshida Shoin). By focusing on the experiences of predominantly wealthy male actors, a whole range of other experiences are currently being neglected.
    • The development of thematic itineraries for visitors. Currently, many of the JMIR sites are quite difficult to access, and it’s unclear based on the publications available why visitors would want to.7 The central JMIR site and map presents separate driving and public transportation directions. What is lacking is some kind of integral itinerary that links together related sites. The only place where I saw any attempt to help visitors see sites in sequence was in the town of Omuta, where the municipal tourism center hands out a map with biking directions between its three JMIR sites (see below). There’s been really no effort to provide a hierarchy or suggestions for how to prioritize sites on a limited visit. For instance, in Kagoshima, the factory complex at Shuseikan is undoubtedly the hub of JMIR activity, and the charcoal kiln and sluice gate a few miles away are “satellites”. In Nagasaki, the Glover Garden and the Gunkanjima Digital Museum are the most visitor-friendly sites, but a visit to the Mitsubishi Pattern Factory (which currently requires a phone call in Japanese), would provide an interesting link between the two. More transparency with this information would go a long way to making these sites more accessible, particularly to international visitors and those who don’t read Japanese.


    In this post, I’ve touched briefly on some of the “darker” aspects of industrial tourism, i.e. the complicity of early industrial sites in pollution and climate change. In the next post, I’ll address the connection between industrial tourism and “dark” tourism at greater length, turning the focus specifically to the often problematic ways in which the JMIR sites’ interpretation confront Japanese imperial expansion, Westerners’ contributions, and forced labor.

    1. Originally three separate islands, the Takashima of today was formed by coal-slack land reclamation, which was completed by 1935. UNESCO Doc 129 ↩︎
    2. When the pit first began producing coal in 1869, it represented a transitional moment in Japan, both technologically and politically. Much of Japan’s early industrialization (1850s-1860s) was fueled by the demand for warships, spurred largely by the landing of Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet of smoke-spewing steamships in 1853 and again in 1854. In these early years, the development of warships was spearheaded by several of the powerful clans of Kyushu and southern Honshu, including Saga, Hagi, and Satsuma (who ruled the area around what is today Kagoshima). In order to forge the necessary iron to build a modern, Western-style warship, the clans required (among other resources) vast amounts of coal. The clans engineered whole infrastructural networks to serve the ship-building enterprise, forming a constellation of interlinked protoindustrial sites across Kyushu and southern Honshu. More about the technological/political development of Japan’s industry can be found at http://www.japansmeijiindustrialrevolution.com/en/ ↩︎
    3. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Kyushu-Yamaguchi and Related Areas, World Heritage Nomination, (Japan, 2014): 121. The Meiji Restoration that unified Japan under imperial rule also led to the abolishment of the domain system in 1871 and the effective disbandment of the clans. Clan control gave way to centralized government control, and then in many cases, to corporate ownership. Even though Hokkei Pit was exhausted by 1876, mining on Takashima continued to be profitable. Mitsubishi took over the Takashima mines in 1881 and hired Glover as a manager. The story of all of the Nagasaki JMIR sites, Takashima and Hashima included, is the story also of Mitsubishi’s rise as a heavy industries leader in Japan. ↩︎
    4. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution, 130. ↩︎
    5. See former Brooks Fellow Danielle S. Willken’s excellent 2017 report Reclaimed: Sites of Conflict, Industry and Population Change in Japan concerning Hashima for more about the history and development of the island. ↩︎
    6. Read more about my public history experience in Singapore on my personal blog. ↩︎
    7. For a more detailed account of what it’s like to travel to one of the more obscure JMIR sites, see my personal blog entry “In the Land of the Forest Docents.” ↩︎
  • ”Seed Crystal” or Cathedral in the Square? Urban Industrial Adaptive Reuse in Contemporary South Africa

    by User Not Found | Oct 04, 2018
    Rovang Blog 2 Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    When my husband and I disembarked the double-decker city sight-seeing bus at the Newtown stop in downtown Johannesburg, we were the only bus riders to do so. While most other stops we visited on the unmistakable red bus had focused on a single building or experience (Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum, the tallest building in Africa), Newtown is a whole “Cultural Precinct” unto itself. On Google Maps, Newtown looks like just museums, theaters, and one or two office buildings. Perhaps implicitly, I was anticipating something like the National Mall—cultural institutions and open space and not much else. But as soon as I stepped onto the pavement and the bus roared off to yet another attraction, I found myself suddenly in the thick of things. Whatever I had been expecting, it wasn’t this. It was an unseasonably warm Saturday in July, and business was booming on the sidewalks of Newtown, a vibrant economy of street vendors hawking their wares to an audience of locals. A few sellers had racks from which to hang purses and bags, but most just spread blankets on the sidewalk. This informal market is a spillover of a larger, and more established clothing retail center further up Diagonal Street, where Helmut Jahn’s monolithic and reflective “Diamond Building” looms large overhead.

    Helmut Jahn’s 1984 “Diamond Building” (11 Diagonal Street) quite literally reflects the urban diversity of Johannesburg’s historic core. One of the first major examples of corporate reinvestment in the city center, the building is an unmistakable backdrop to the one and two-story retail structures, such as A. Moosa Blankets seen here, which primarily serve the local population.

    As I ventured further, heading down to Mary Fitzgerald Square, I found myself in a very small minority of people who were in Newtown to see the Cultural Precinct. Minus a group of good-natured teenagers who were stress-testing the interactives in the photography exhibit, the Museum Africa was virtually empty. The Worker’s Museum was likewise deserted. There were a few cars in the SciBono Center lot, but thinking that museum had no industrial heritage connection, I opted to skip it. Water bottle running perilously low, I wandered somewhat aimlessly into the SAB (South African Breweries) World of Beer with the thought that I could solve the thirst problem and see some public history simultaneously. The entrance fee dissuaded me, but apparently not a slew of other visitors who emerged from the exhibit hall to collect their complimentary brews on the way out. Ah, this was where the tourists were. With a prominent mention in the New York Times recently updated 36 Hours in Johannesburg, the World of Beer has become the star attraction of the Newtown area, at least for most tourists willing to venture beyond Johannesburg’s more conventional tourism loop.


    A quiet day at Museum Africa. The redevelopment of the 1913 Market Hall into Museum Africa (a project conceptualized in 1974 and finally realized in 1994) was one of the first major reuse projects in Newtown.

    This whole constellation of museums and theaters represents a decades-long plan to redevelop Newtown following a period of obsolescence and urban decay. Like so many other neighborhoods of Johannesburg, the economic landscape of Newtown was irreparably changed by the institution of apartheid. Formerly a locus of municipal electricity generation, the decline and abandonment of the buildings in Newtown left a major rift in the city’s fabric. Nearby were other struggling areas such as Brickfields (an early “location” for non-whites living in Jo’burg) and Hillbrow (a “gray” area during apartheid that sheltered many mixed race families and was later cut off from municipal services). Newtown, with its existing open spaces and well-preserved industrial building stock, seemed ripe for transformation and renewal that could then spread to surrounding neighborhoods and districts. From the World of Beer lobby, I looked out over the massive project that was meant to be the lynchpin in the new urban plan for Newtown: the former Jeppe Street Power Station. Renovated in 2003 following the design of Guy Steenekamp and Barry van Wyk at TPSP Architects, this award-winning mix of new and old today houses event space, office space, and the AngloGold Ashanti headquarters, and was intended to be a critical and trendsetting piece in Newtown’s renovation.1

    A quick snap of the renovated boiler house from across the street. I had been warned to avoid walking around with my DSLR prominently displayed in downtown Jo’burg, and so I ended up with relatively few photographs of my afternoon in Newtown.

    Looking back on my time in South Africa, and considering the ways in which deindustrializing, post-apartheid cities are adapting and planning for the future, I have been reflecting on the outsized role that reinvented industrial structures play, both in terms of community function and as signifiers of larger urban renewal. The idea that a single, major industrial adaptive reuse project can meaningfully spark significant commercial and cultural regeneration underpins two major twenty-first century projects in urban South Africa—here, at the former Jeppe Street Power Station in Johannesburg, and more recently, at Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA) in Cape Town. Despite hopes that the installation of the AngloGold Ashanti headquarters in the former power station complex might induce a larger commercial reinvestment in Newtown, today it performs a largely symbolic role in its surroundings, exerting a kind of stabilizing influence. Zeitz MOCAA, which opened in September 2017, claims a larger role as a cultural institution in the Waterfront area of Cape Town, aspiring to become the “cathedral in the square” for the newly coined “Silo District” it anchors. While it remains to see how Zeitz MOCAA’s role will evolve in the community, given the project’s siting, as well as its program and current function, there are some conceivable doubts about how it might act as an “urban cathedral.”

    For Johannesburg, like many cities, the period of its most intensive industrialization was also one of centralization, solving the economic and logistic problems of creating infrastructure to serve a growing population by clustering related services and utilities into dense districts at the urban core. Here, the organization of municipal systems and the labor required to build and maintain them was based heavily on existing systems developed in the mining industry for managing labor. In the early days, Johannesburg’s many mines largely generated their own power—power enough to carry out private mining operations but not enough to supply a growing municipality. The city constructed a series of power stations in Newtown beginning in 1892, designing the buildings and their equipment in consultation with British experts. All of this city infrastructure was heavily centralized—Newtown was where the equipment for power generation was located, where the machinery needed to repair existing equipment could be found, and where the skilled and unskilled labor for the power industry were housed (the compound that is now the Worker’s Museum). The electric hub of the city was conveniently adjacent to its main market as well. The sprawling 1913 market hall (now the Museum Africa) and the square in front of it (formerly Market Square, now Mary Fitzgerald Square after the famed woman union activist) were key economic hubs for the city, facilitating efficient trade. Both areas were served by the railroad, which brought in goods and coal to fire the power plants.2



    The first power station was primarily intended to supply electricity to the city’s street lamps, but was quickly replaced with a new station (which has been partially reused in the SciBono Center) to serve the demands of the new electric tram system (the tram yard was located in the World of Beer’s present site).3 As demand continued to outstrip supply and the city government of Johannesburg resisted buying power from expensive private companies that supplied power to the mines, it became clear that a third, much larger plant would be necessary to keep the city running. As a result, the city contracted to buy land across the street from the Sanitary & Cleansing Department. This purchase also included a worker compound, that had been constructed to house black sanitation workers in 1913 (what is today the Worker’s Museum). This compound, like the power stations that surrounded it, showed Johannesburg’s continuing reliance on structural and economic models pioneered in South Africa’s mines, that were then adapted to meet urbanistic demands. In this sense, Johannesburg might be considered a city that is uniquely industrial, in a unique and idiosyncratic way. Image sources: (top) Aerial photographs collection at the Architectural Archives, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; (middle and bottom) scans from Lael Bethlehem, Sue Krige, and Sarah Beswick, Turbine Square: A Heritage of Power (AngloGold and Tiber Group, Johannesburg: 2005).

    The first portion of Jeppe Street Power Station came online in 1927, and further additions were made in 1934 and 1939 to meet the city’s ever-increasing demands.4 Its construction came on the threshold of an important change in Johannesburg’s approach to urban planning. As the city expanded, and as South Africa as a whole started to pursue more rigid segregationist policies (ones that would directly set the stage for apartheid), it began to reverse the policies that had previously brought core services (and the people who worked in and maintained those utilities) into the center of the city. Starting in the late 1930s and increasingly following the election of the National Party in 1948, city planners started to encourage decentralization, for instance, building the famous Orlando Power Plant outside of Johannesburg in Soweto (the Southwestern Townships). Townships, as I discussed in my previous post, were the housing areas created to provide a separate, ex-urban living space for black workers. Urban living became the province of the rarefied white elite. (As a side note, planners in Cape Town, and likely other South African cities as well, were influenced in much of their segregationist planning by the writings of Le Corbusier and CIAM during the 1930s and on. The modernist doctrine of separating urban functions, to apartheid’s architects, seemed to dovetail nicely with an ideology that advocated the separation of people according to artificial categories of racial identity.5)

    The Orlando station cooling towers, as seen from the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto. Known best in recent years for the artwork decorating their exteriors, the towers are now unfortunately covered in advertising.

    Jeppe Street Power Station, like its predecessors in the Newtown Precinct, had been erected expeditiously and by the 1950s it began to show its wear. In 1958, the original wooden cooling tours were demolished and in 1961 the plant was decommissioned. The rest of the complex was given a reprieve and a second life when in 1966 and 1967, Rolls Royce jet engines were installed to create a backup energy supply for the city. But by the late 1980s, the plant was officially offline once again. In 1985, despite outcry from preservationists and heritage advocates, the cooling towers were demolished. By 2000, it was estimated that there were 300 squatters living in the building. 6

    Part of the new architectural fabric of the AngloGold Ashanti building, which replaced the North Boiler House. The sculpture of miners in the second picture is sequestered behind a fence on the company’s private property.

    In terms of scale and mass, the power station complex dwarfs the buildings around it—it is the clear visual anchor for the district. On the Saturday I visited Newtown, the buildings were quiet, entirely closed off. I wandered around the perimeter of the building, hoping to get a glimpse inside. In the process of circumnavigating the structures, John and I clearly crossed the line into an urban zone that was not meant for tourists. Unlike the clothing hawkers on Miriam Makeba Street, who were content to ignore me, the gaze on rounding the building was one of the very few places in Johannesburg where I sensed any overt hostility. After a man aggressively begging for money followed us for half a block, we retreated to the patio of the World of Beer on the north side of the complex. From this vantage point, the relationship between the new construction and old industrial structures becomes clearer. On one side is the South Boiler House, which was saved and converted into office space. At the center of the complex is the old Turbine Building, which is currently a venue for hire owned by the Forum Company. To the northern side of the site is a completely new structure built on the site of the former North Boiler House, which contains the AngloGold Ashanti headquarters.7 Tracing the money trail of who owns what real estate within the complex today is an exercise in late capitalism frustration. The industrial heritage of the site has been largely commodified, transformed into a spectacle of “space to empower, grow and enlighten your brand.”8

    A collage of the transformed event space of the Turbine Building I compiled from a Google Image search, layered over a historic image of the building from its early days. It seems that the Turbine Building has become a popular place to get married in Johannesburg. Historic image sourced from Lael Bethlehem, Sue Krige, and Sarah Beswick, Turbine Square: A Heritage of Power.

    With a little more forethought, I probably could have contacted an AngloGold Ashanti or Forum Company PR person for a weekday tour. But in some ways, my unscripted encounter with the building on a Saturday was even more informative. I was experiencing the building like anyone else out on the street, and to me, the converted power station felt distinctly unwelcoming and fundamentally disconnected from the rest of the urban activity, whether local or touristic, taking place nearby. At the same time, the building complex seems to exert a kind of equilibrating influence on the street condition. Far from the archival images of the building from twenty years ago, which show obvious material degradation and broken windows, the South Boiler House and Turbine Building are today in immaculate condition, the end result of a significant public/private investment. I’d argue that the stable presence of the power station even provides a certain kind of reassurance to perspective tourists considering a stop at the World of Beer or the SciBono Center or even the Worker’s Museum.

    Even in the 1980s, as apartheid was in its death throes and much of South Africa was in a “state of emergency,” Johannesburg’s city planners and developers were beginning to think about how to revitalize areas like Newtown. With the construction of the “Diamond Building” in 1984, and the subsequent tenancy of AngloAmerican, there seemed to be hope for corporate reinvestment in the city center. However, even after the transition to South Africa’s first democratically-elected government in 1994, squabbles over ownership of the building and funding issues prevented any substantive work from moving forward. By 2003 there had been 30 different schemes for the Turbine building and surrounding area.9

    When, finally, plans to move forward with the AngloGold Ashanti project were complete, there seems to have been some conflicting ideas of what the new corporate headquarters would mean for the Newtown precinct. At some points in the planning, it seemed that the developers hoped that the construction of the new building and renovation of the two remaining original structures would spur enough economic activity to drive other corporate investment in Newtown. Other goals seemed less grandiose, aiming, for instance, just to make the white collar employees of AngloGold Ashanti feel “safe” in this formerly troubled urban zone.10


    The above collage shows the Turbine Building, which has been converted into event space. Below, the renovated South Boiler House (back, left) and the newly constructed AngloGold Ashanti Headquarters comprise the office space in the complex. Scanned image sourced from Lael Bethlehem, Sue Krige, and Sarah Beswick, Turbine Square: A Heritage of Power.

    Even standing across the street at the Worker’s Museum, one can partially grasp how much capital the developers poured into this complex. In this sense, it lives up to one of the original wishes of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), which was established coinciding roughly with the start of with South Africa’s democratic era. The JDA was tasked with revitalizing downtown Johannesburg to make it more attractive to new development. This included providing public funding for current and future cultural institutions, and upgrading overall infrastructure. The agency remarked in 2000 that the power station’s “development will be an important symbol of the progressive realization of the Newtown vision.” 11

    But to expect one sequence of conjoined buildings, however large and lavishly refurbished, to functionally reverse the direction of a whole urban precinct, seems a little far fetched, a fact which project architect Guy Steenekamp freely admits, stating that “one site cannot be responsible for all aspects of urban renewal—that it could be a ‘seed crystal’ was something of an idealistic overstatement.”12 Sue Krige of the University of Witwatersrand, who has researched the power station extensively and taught on-site in the Newtown precinct, notes that the relationship between individual structures and the district as whole is often complicated and fraught:

    The integration of heritage places and spaces with urban renewal is an uneven process. There is much debate about how an area in which heritage significance resides in the whole (the precinct) as well as the parts (the buildings), may be conserved and re-used sensitively by a set of separate developers.13

    And though the power station didn’t spark a wave of commercial activity in Newtown, there’s no guarantee that that more investment would necessarily serve the best interests of the local community. A few miles away in the district of Braamfontein, the popular, vibey Neighborgoods Market caters to a class of trendy millennials and foreign visitors. Another instance of adaptive reuse, in this case a former office building, Neighborgoods has become a kind of magnet for the hipster elite. Change is happening in Braamfontein, which has attracted more retail and restaurants in recent years, but much of this seems more connected to the influence of Wits University and the demands of an active academic community. Neighborgoods seems to be the one stop in Braamfontein for many out-of-town visitors—Uber in, Instagram, Uber out. Into Newtown’s commercial void, by contrast, the sidewalk clothing trade has evolved to serve the people who actually live near the precinct. Like the nearby Fashion District, where a population of Ethiopian immigrants has repopulated and transformed a white collar office district into a bustling maze of multi-story malls and cafés, the Newtown economy doesn’t cater to riders of the red bus or other tourist interlopers. From all that I could see on a Saturday, it felt like there exists a kind of urban détente between the folks who use the street, and the corporate megalith of the former Jeppe Street Power Station. Paradoxically, though the adaptive reuse of the building complex did not become a “seed crystal,” it also avoided the trap of trying to do too much. Whatever (admittedly warranted) criticism might be lobbed at this corporate fortress and pricey event space for perpetuating racial and socioeconomic divisions, this is not a building with a Messiah complex. That fence that keeps the folks on the street out also keeps the gentrification in, creating space for this lively street economy to exist unimpeded by an onslaught of coffee shops and boutiques.

    A trendy crowd enjoys live music on the rooftop terrace of Neighborgoods Market in Braamfontein. Only a block or two away, the streets are quiet.


    Exploring the Fashion District with Professor Hannah Le Roux, who teaches studio architecture courses at Wits University that engage this part of Johannesburg. Former office buildings and medical complexes have been innovatively reconfigured to meet the demands of Jo’burg’s large population of immigrants from Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.14

    At least in the realm of press releases and self-promotion, Zeitz MOCAA, South Africa’s most recent and celebrated example of industrial adaptive reuse, claims to play a more active role in transforming its surrounding urban area. I visited Zeitz MOCAA on a Thursday afternoon, having walked from downtown Cape Town to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. Quite suddenly, upon crossing the pedestrian bridge over Nelson Mandela Boulevard, the Victorian, art deco, and brutalist building stock of downtown gave way to a wash of new construction. Corporate headquarters and luxury condominums sprouted along decadently landscaped canals in which floated touristy gondolas (and in the nearby harbor, a whole flotilla of private yachts). I strolled past a gleaming office building belonging to British American Tobacco and a Porsche dealership. On the opposite bank of the canal, construction workers were busy with what looked like yet another new, mixed use development. Among all this new construction, however, were scattered built remnants of Cape Town’s old port. The vast majority of this land is owned by a conglomerate called the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, which was “established in 1988 as a private company by Growthpoint Properties and the Government Employees Pension Fund to manage and operate over 100 hectares of prime waterfront land.”15 It is this corporation that also provided the funding for the construction of Zeitz MOCAA.



    Real estate development and rapid gentrification in action on Cape Town’s Waterfront.

    With the advent of containerization in the 1970s, Cape Town’s port, like many ports worldwide, found itself unable to adapt to the infrastructural demands of larger shipping barges and the adoption of shipping containers.16 No longer able to serve its previous role, Cape Town’s waterfront has been forced to reinvent itself. The former brick power station, built in the early 1880s to house Cape Town’s first dynamos, has been reinvisioned as the “V&A Food Hall,” a phantasmagoria of smoothie bowls and kombucha. Nearby, a warehouse branded as the “Water Shed” has been converted into boutique shop space for local artisans and day-lit co-working spaces. The original crane has been preserved as a visually impressive reminder of the building’s industrial past. The so-called “Jubilee Exhibition Hall” fits nicely with the V&A Waterfront’s larger theme of what might be described as “consumer-centric neo-colonialism lite” (all of the cultural appropriation, none of the calories). The latest and most prominent addition to the retinue of reused industrial spaces in this high-investment waterfront district is Zeitz MOCAA.



    The former brick power station that supplied energy to Cape Town’s nineteenth century street lights has been converted into a trendy food hall; an ironically self-aware hipster hotspot.



    The Water Shed, a former dockside warehouse, now offers boutique shopping, event space, and co-working opportunities for Cape Town’s entrepreneurs.

    Like the Turbine Building looming over Newtown, a fenced and lonely citadel, Zeitz MOCAA stands out in the waterfront district of Cape Town by virtue of its sheer monumental physicality. Visible from almost anywhere along the docks, the museum’s faceted pillow windows sparkle during the day—a lighthouse with many glistening beacons. The glittering windows create a striking contrast to the original concrete of the silos from which they protrude. To paraphrase the project architect, Thomas Heatherwick, “When something is infrastructure, people just don’t look.”17 There is indeed a certain invisibility to infrastructure in the built environment. We become acclimated to it and eventually tune it out as a kind of visual noise. I didn’t start seeing all of the power lines in my quaint Providence neighborhood in grad school until I started writing my dissertation on rural electrification. Heatherwick’s design intends to elevate the original silo, to transform the mundane into something extraordinary. The effect upon approaching the museum is nearly ecclesiastical—the tubular silos have the thrust and verticality of a Gothic cathedral. That initial impression was, I later learned on the building’s audio tour, fully intentional. The master plan for the “Silo District,” the portion of the waterfront closest to the museum, intentionally casts Zeitz MOCAA as the “cathedral in the square.”18 As I walked the building’s entire perimeter, I was impressed at how much breathing room the building has been given—its mass and monumentality could be fully grasped in its urban surroundings.



    Zeitz MOCAA stands as a discrete object in the new Silo District of the Waterfront. In the bottom image, note the loading area, which is contiguous with the rest of the building.

    As historian David Worth has documented in his thesis on the building, the silo was originally constructed in the 1920s as a way to provide employment for poor whites, part of an economic development scheme to industrialize South Africa’s agricultural production.19 Like so many development programs in twentieth-century South Africa, the construction of the silo building is shaded by racially-tinged policy planning. In this way, the new use of the building also becomes a kind of restorative justice—by providing a venue for the works of contemporary African artists (many of them black), the building’s original, racially-exclusionary purpose is undermined and provides some modicum of restitution, even if mostly symbolic. Or at least that’s the hope—the museum is named, after all, for the German collector whose long term loan forms the basis of the permanent collection on display.20

    A historic aerial photograph of Cape Town, likely dating to the 1950s or 1960s (the grain elevator and silo circled in red). Image source: Aerial photographs collection of the Architectural Archives at Wits University, Johannesburg.

    Despite its ample plaza, the silo building is imposing and monolithic nonetheless and a great deal has been done design-wise to make the entrance more human scale and approachable. A shaded patio extends from the elevator building, using an industrial vernacular that seems at home with the rest of the structure. The steel lattice hovers over the remains of recovered industrial machinery. Chairs with conical bases create a kind of silly, haptic play space, contributing along with the patio structure to an effective public, interstitial space between the urban space of the silo district and the interior condition of the museum. On the day I visited, museum visitors and passers-by lolled and rolled on the chairs.


    The industrial-inspired patio of Zeitz MOCAA, which creates an interstitial condition and softens the entrance to the building. On the lefthand side (facing the building) is also the lobby of the luxury hotel that hides stealthily in the upper part of the grain elevator building.

    I entered and dropped my bag off in a locker room where the original elevator shafts hung from the ceiling. Like the foyer and entry sequence of a cathedral, the building reveals slowly and sequentially the extent and dramatic magnitude of the structure’s inner height. Past the gift shop and locker rooms, the full expanse of the building’s core is finally revealed. The sacred feeling of the core space was further elevated by an operatic sound installation that took full advantage of the silo tubes’ ringing acoustics. I wandered over to the visitor center and picked up an audio tour device. This is the first art museum I can recall visiting whose main audio tour is devoted to the architecture rather than the art.


    Entering near the gift shop, the cathedral-like heights of the interior are revealed gradually as the visitor processes into the lobby.

    Elevators of Zeitz MOCAA from Sarah Rovang on Vimeo.

    From the audio tour, I learned that the museum incorporates three original historic structures—the grain elevator, the silo building, and the dust house. In order to make this space usable as an art museum and structurally sound, the architects needed to replace much of the older, heavy concrete with newer, lighter aggregates. Much of the construction process was in fact one of “excavation,” carving out as much as 80% of the original concrete. The heart of the building itself is an area where the architects extracted a cavity in the shape of a corn kernel enlarged to macroscopic scale. The original concrete is distinguished throughout the building by its lighter hue—the contrast between the new insertions and the remaining material is a sort of visual register of the construction process itself.



    Concrete, in all of its finishes and manifestations, is the real star of the museum. The finely polished bottom of the atrium contrasts with the original, rough concrete left in place in the tunnels nearby. The contrast between the new (darker) concrete and older (lighter) concrete creates visual drama and recalls the construction/excavation process.

    As I followed the audio tour’s directions, I was led in and out of various galleries, up and down the corkscrew staircase and the tubular, science-fiction-y elevator. One of the largest challenges the architects faced was creating a space where the architecture would not upstage the art. After all, this institution is also the first museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary African art. The solution the architects chose was to create two “separate architectural worlds”—the architectural heart of the building and the art galleries.21 There are a few instances, such as the dust house, where the original industrial, reinforced-concrete interiors of the space have been preserved for site-specific installations. But, for the most part, the galleries follow a standard white cube model. The presence of capital-A Architecture suddenly and intentionally recedes to the background. After the audio tour concluded, I explored the space on my own and found in addition to the obvious visual and spatial differences between “Art world” and “Architecture world,” there were also less perceptible differences that registered in air quality and acoustics. I created the experimental sound piece linked below as a kind of subjective register of that experience. In it, I try to capture the feeling of exploring the galleries, and the refrain of returning to the main cathedral-like core. I also highlight my own complicity in and contribution to the soundscape of this environment, emphasizing camera clicks and footsteps. The source of the sounds is intentionally vague—some come from other video or sound installations, some are HVAC noise, and some are other visitors and docents.





    A variety of the interior spaces whose auditory memories are included in the sound piece linked below.

    Since Zeitz MOCAA has been open for less than two years, it’s still early to evaluate how the building functions as an urbanistic gesture—how the “cathedral in the square” interfaces in practice with the rest of Cape Town. After I finished my own exploration of the building, I attended a lecture (“Women Making Cities, Cities Making Women”) in the function space on the ground floor. The assistant curator who introduced the program expressed gratification that events like this lecture were bringing in members of the Cape Town community to talk about something other than the architectural space of Zeitz MOCAA. Based on the content of the press hype around this museum, and the architectural audio tour, and this isolated comment, I do get the sense that the architecture has thus far rather overshadowed the curatorial program of the museum. As with the coverage of Turbine Square in Newtown, the majority of commentary about Zeitz MOCAA has focused on the ingenuity of the lead project architects and the boldness of the developers in undertaking such a capital-intensive and financially risky project. A quick browse through the big architectural magazines online reveals lots of interviews with British architect Thomas Heatherwick, but very little mention of the substantial contribution and input from the African architecture firms, engineers, and contractors who were tasked with translating Heatherwick’s cathedral dream into concrete reality. While a sizable plaque in the museum’s core near the lobby lists the names of all of the workers who contributed to the building’s construction, references to the actual human power and skill of the workers who physically built Zeitz MOCAA are notably absent from most mainstream press coverage. As Tomà Berlanda notes in Architectural Review:

    At the peak of construction, which lasted 36 months, and 5.3 million man-hours, almost 1,200 workers operated on site. Whereas the official overall budget of 500 million Rands has been quoted as not being much to operate with in other parts of the world for a building and programme of this magnitude, it was ‘a lot of money in the context of Africa’. Credits for the South African local architects and site managers, not to mention the hourly rates to which the budget divided by man-hour equates to, are not easy to find in the official press release, raising the issue of what needs to be done to recognise the African, read black, labour, that allowed the museum to exist. 22

    And then there’s the broader question of who the museum serves and how. Throughout my time in South Africa, I was heartened to see community museums and individual entrepreneurs pioneering their own grassroots approaches to public history. Institutions like the South End Museum in Port Elizabeth and the District 6 Museum in Cape Town are actively engaging their communities through art and oral history projects to recover and preserve individuals’ experiences of apartheid and discrimination, and in doing so, are helping to stitch neighborhoods back together across the historic and artificial dividing lines of race. Businesses such as Msanzi Restaurant in Langa, one of Cape Town’s oldest townships, are breaking down the stigma around township living, in the case of Msanzi, by attracting international visitors with the promise of home-cooked African food.

    Overlooking the harbor of Port Elizabeth from the South End Museum. The large tree in the foreground is one of the only remnants of a vibrant, multiracial community that was razed under apartheid. The South End Museum now serves as a vehicle of restorative justice and memory within the community.


    The District 6 Museum in Cape Town is also an active community organization serves the needs of families displaced during apartheid. Community artists, activists, and historians are engaged in sharing and preserving these memories.

    Mzansi Restaurant’s chef and owner Nomonde Siyaka shares her story after a delicious dinner of Xhosa food. Located in the township of Langa outside Cape Town, Mzansi has grown from a single-story, three-room home into a two-story house and restaurant that can accommodate dozens of guests and a live band. Siyaka’s storytelling is part of the experience, bringing visitors into this space and helping to break down the stigma that still exists around South African townships.

    As exciting as it is to see a historic industrial building given new life as a cultural institution, Zeitz MOCAA does serve to further the aggregation of wealth and power in the already prosperous and gentrified Waterfront area. Geographically and culturally, the Waterfront is about as far as you can get in Cape Town from the townships, which are sequestered outside of visitors’ views on the other side of Table Mountain. The Waterfront, ultimately, does not need a “Bilbao effect.” This part of Cape Town is doing just fine. In some ways, Newtown and the area around the power station seemed more diverse and inclusive than the “Silo District” around Zeitz MOCAA. While in Newtown, the additional commercial investment that developers hoped would follow on the heels of AngloGold Ashanti never materialized, local people have claimed the streets as their own, and forged an informal retail economy outside the purview of large-scale real estate development. The urban space of Newtown felt lively, occupied by people across the socioeconomic spectrum. Even if Turbine Square hasn’t proven to be a “seed crystal,” it has become a kind of solid anchor for the neighborhood—if Newtown is not regenerating in the way that developers and urban planners had hoped, it’s certainly not regressing either. For the most part, the Newtown cultural precinct seems safe and stable, which is certainly not something that could have been said in the 1980s or early 1990s. In order to have a substantive effect on the wider community and urban condition of Cape Town, Zeitz MOCAA needs to channel its notoriety and expand beyond the concrete hull of its flagship building—it needs to be an institution of outreach and connection.

    1. Lael Bethlehem, Sue Krige, and Sarah Beswick, Turbine Square: A Heritage of Power (AngloGold and Tiber Group, Johannesburg: 2005). This book is one of the preeminent resources on the redesign and redevelopment of the Jeppe Street Power Station, though due to its writing date it does not contain the latest information on ownership and usage of the building. ↩︎
    2. Ibid. Also, see my SAH blog post from the previous month for more about the Worker’s Museum and the public history function that it serves. ↩︎
    3. Ibid. ↩︎
    4. Ibid. ↩︎
    5. Information from the District 6 Museum in Cape Town. ↩︎
    6. Bethlehem, Krige, and Beswick, Turbine Square. ↩︎
    7. Ibid. The demolition of the North Boiler House was not without controversy and sparked significant pushback from the preservation community. ↩︎
    8. Jade MacCallum, “Turbine Hall Johannesburg, An iconic heritage building for clients who want to create an innovative event experience,” The Forum Company, 20 September 2017, http://blog.theforum.co.za/celebrating-our-heritage-with-turbine-hall, accessed 30 September 2018. ↩︎
    9. Bethlehem, Krige, and Beswick, Turbine Square. ↩︎
    10. Ibid. ↩︎
    11. Ibid, 47. ↩︎
    12. Ibid, 135. ↩︎
    13. Sue Krige, “‘The power of power’: power stations as industrial heritage and their place in history and heritage education,” Yesterday and Today no. 5, January 2010, online version accessed June 2018. ↩︎
    14. It was Professor Le Roux who very kindly got me access to the archives at Wits University, where I sourced much of the background research for this post. Many thanks! ↩︎
    15. Tomà Berlanda, “Zeitz geist: Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa by Heatherwick Studio,” The Architectural Review, 8 January 2018, https://www.architectural-review.com/buildings/zeitz-geist-zeitz-mocaa-cape-town-south-africa-by-heatherwick-studio/10026761.article. Online version accessed 26 September 2018. ↩︎
    16. From the Zeitz MOCAA architectural audio tour, September 2018. ↩︎
    17. Zeitz MOCAA architecture audio tour. ↩︎
    18. Ibid. ↩︎
    19. Ibid. ↩︎
    20. Berlanda, “Zeitz Geist.” ↩︎
    21. Zeitz MOCAA architectural audio tour. ↩︎
    22. Berlanda, “Zeitz Geitz.” ↩︎
  • Missing Decades, Hidden Labor: Reconstructing and Interpreting Industrial Heritage in South Africa

    by User Not Found | Sep 06, 2018

    There is nothing magical about a gold mine. Barren and pockmarked, all dirt and no trees, fenced in all sides, a gold mine resembles a war-torn battlefield. The noise was harsh and ubiquitous: the rasp of shaft-lifts, the jangling power drills, the distant rumble of dynamite, the barked orders. Everywhere I looked I saw black men in dusty overalls looking tired and bent. They lived on the grounds in bleak, single-sex barracks that contained hundreds of concrete bunks separated from each other by only a few inches. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Chapter 9)

    Standing in Pretoria’s Church Square a few weeks back, the sounds and sights of urban construction were omnipresent. Dozens of workers hefted shovels and axes under the midday sun as part of a new public work, stripping the existing surface of the square in preparation for a larger renovation. As I paused to snap a few photos of the statue of Dutch Boer president Paul Kruger at the square’s center, I heard laughter as a voice from behind me called out “You should take our picture — we are the real heroes!” A construction worker and his crew reclined nearby, having sought out the scant shade available to enjoy lunch and a much-deserved break. He said I wouldn’t be able to pronounce his Zulu name, but in English his name means “Praise God.” We talked politics (he’s a big Trevor Noah fan) and swapped stories about the places we grew up. He spoke incisively of the rampant corruption and unemployment in South Africa, which by current calculations hovers around 25%.1 Though he dreams of better pay and more fulfilling employment, in this economic climate, construction work is at the very least a job. As we parted ways, my husband asked how the future looked for him. Praise God shrugged and said, “It’s survival, my man. We just try to survive.”


    Praise God (front center) with his colleagues. This photo by my husband, John Golden.

    Standing there in the literal and proverbial shadow of Kruger, amidst the rubble and noise of new construction, I thought about how the historical spaces and places of South Africa continue to reverberate in the country’s tumultuous present. Especially here, in this place where the built environment was being actively remade, the rapid reinvention of South Africa over the last 150 years felt palpably present. This is after all, a young country, forged from the systematic and industrialized extraction of gold and diamonds, rising now from the rubble of one of the greatest human rights violations in recent history.2 In my capacity as the 2017 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow, I’ll be spending the next year exploring the life and afterlife of industrial heritage sites across the globe—how they are being interpreted for public audiences, adaptively reused, left to decay in place, or razed and forcibly forgotten.

    A rare public recognition of the economic role of mining labor during the Industrial Age. Sculpture by Andile Msongelwa, May 7, 2013. The inscription on the back reads: “During the 2007 wage negotiations, the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), UASA - The Union and solidarity agreed to recognize the role played by mineworkers in developing the economy of South Africa. This monument represents the symbolic and historical role played by mineworkers in shaping the economies of the mining towns and labour sending areas in particular and that of South Africa in general. We salute these economic heroes who risked their lives to make Johannesburg one of the most economically vibrant cities on the continent. We value their contribution to the economy and will strive for quality education for our children and the development of skills of mine workers to enable them to play their rightful role in the continued economic development of mining communities, labour sending areas and of the country as a whole.”

    As heritage sites, industrial places from the nineteenth century onward occupy a strange and tenuous place within current practices of global public history. Early spaces of industrialization are key to understanding the concept of the “Anthropocene,” the now ubiquitous trans-disciplinary term for the geological age in which humans have dramatically and irreversibly altered the structure and climate of our planet. These sites, which in addition to rarely conforming to standard conceptions of aesthetic appeal, are frequently characterized by historical practices of labor exploitation and environmental pollution. Often existing at massive scale, they can be difficult to adaptively reuse. Many have left their sites and surroundings damaged, both environmentally and socially.3

    The first stop on my itinerary is South Africa, where I’ve spent the past six weeks exploring the urban center of Johannesburg, before roadtripping from the mountainous Highveld region of Mpumalanga in the northeast, across the rugged central plateau, down the lush corridor of the Garden Route, and finally to Cape Town. During that time, I visited many sites of industrial production (mines, factories, ports, wineries), and the buildings constructed on the wealth generated and accumulated from those sites (company towns, museums, manor houses, hospitals, clubs, etc.).

    Across all of these different sites, rural or urban, hundreds of meters below ground or at the top the tallest building in Africa, I have been struck by the extent to which the architectural histories of industrialization and apartheid are inexorably linked. However, how (and even if) current public interpretation acknowledges that connection has varied significantly across the sites on my itinerary. As I’ve witnessed in South Africa, public history-making reveals a great deal about how a country conceptualizes of itself—its aspirations and self-perception are deeply embedded in how the past is being presented to public audiences, local and tourist alike.

    In selecting sites for my fellowship travels, I relied heavily on the UNESCO World Heritage list, as well as the list of tentative sites maintained by UNESCO that are intended for current or future nominations. South Africa currently includes no industrial sites on its tentative list, which struck me as strange, since the mining industry has had an outsized impact on the economic development, urban planning, and built environment of the country over the last century and a half. However, the absence of industrial sites on the list is, in fact, a relatively recent development. In 2015, South Africa dramatically reconfigured the cultural sites included on its tentative list, removing several significant and endangered industrial heritage sites, including the mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest, the open mine at Kimberley and its associated historic structures, and the Namaqualand Copper Mining landscape.4 The justification for the change is not entirely clear, though those in the heritage business here have speculated a number of different reasons, including the desire to conserve resources and target sites with the most chance of achieving World Heritage status.5

    The mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest is one of the sites de-listed from UNESCO tentative list. Today, the dwindling tourist economy seems to be barely supporting the town.

    Only two modern cultural heritage sites survived the 2015 cuts: the Early Farmsteads of the Cape Winelands and the Liberation Heritage Route. A third was also added during the reorganization, which partially overlaps with the latter listing: Human Rights Liberation Struggle and Reconciliation: Nelson Mandela Legacy Sites.6 Based on my observations over the last month, this current list reflects South Africa’s preservation priorities, each of which connect to certain kinds of buildings and historical sites. The first of these paradigms is anchored firmly in the colonial pre-industrial past, and is still largely dominated by the stories and places of white colonists and settlers, mainly of Dutch Boer or British descent. The second centers on the young democracy’s ongoing attempt to grapple with the recent, and still very raw, memory of apartheid. Sites that fall into one of these two categories are virtually inescapable in the touristic landscape of South Africa.

    Like an archaeologist peeling back stratigraphic layers of European architectural influence, my road trip across South Africa has taken me progressively deeper into the built remains of the past. The International Style office buildings in downtown Jo’burg and apartheid-era township housing of Soweto gave way to the late Victorian corrugated tin of mining towns in the Mpumalanga Province, then to rusticated brownstones in the Northern Cape, and eventually to the white-washed gables of Cape Dutch manor houses in the agricultural lands of the Western Cape.

    Driving west from Wilderness to Franschhoek a few weeks back, my husband and I stopped for an afternoon break in Swellendam. By this point in our drive, much of the historic building stock was firmly late seventeenth- or eighteenth-century, dating to the late days of the Dutch East India Company. This is the architectural heritage that has been carefully preserved at Swellendam’s Old Drostdy Museum, an impressive complex of historic and new buildings meant to evoke life in the late 1700s under Dutch colonial rule. Here, the second oldest jail in South Africa opens out onto a courtyard (or Ambagswerf in Afrikaans) of recently constructed thatched buildings, each housing the trappings of a different trade, such as tanning, milling, cobbling, and barrel making. Across the street, the Drostdy (or magistrate’s house) stands as an exemplar of early Cape Dutch architecture. In addition to reconstructed period rooms, one hallway charts the development of the Cape Dutch vernacular through the various expansions and changes made to the manor over time. Mayville, another, smaller house from the mid-nineteenth century illustrates the changing lifestyle of Swellendam’s middle class.7



    Cape Dutch heritage at the Old Drostdy Museum in Swellendam, South Africa. While the prison and the Drostdy (or magistrate’s house) both date to approximately 1750, the mill is a modern recreation that is part of the Ambagswerf, or trade yard, meant to demonstrate a variety of pre-industrial occupations.

    Old Drostdy is typical in many ways of the architectural heritage that has survived through apartheid and continues to flourish under South Africa’s democratic government. When apartheid ended in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected leader, the new government took stock of what had constituted heritage under the previous regime. What they found was a strong bias towards sites that emphasized the role of white, colonial actors.8 In particular, many national monuments declared under the National Party’s apartheid government were colonial sites located in the Western Cape, the province that includes Cape Town. By prioritizing early Dutch manor houses on historic farms and vineyards above other kinds of buildings, the National Party sought to legitimize its claim to power through association with this particular architectural tradition. So while heritage conservation in South Africa has broadened to include more diverse buildings and landscapes since 1994, it is undeniable that many of the sites valued by the apartheid regime have been well cared-for and remain in excellent condition today. The public history challenge for these sites has been to reframe the stories and meanings of these places in light of post-apartheid attempts to decolonize history, giving voice to non-white actors and telling a more inclusive range of stories. Places like the great Dutch colonial farms must confront the ways in which, as landscapes of power, they perpetuated the systematic disenfranchisement of non-white people, either overtly through the institution of slavery, or through more insidious means, such as the establishment of pass laws or other legislation meant to restrict freedom of movement.

    Many of the historic Cape Dutch sites such as Old Drostdy use the methods and strategies of vernacular architecture in a public history setting. Diachronic explorations of changing floor plans such as this are common in Cape Dutch manor houses. Equivalent analysis is rarely found at industrial sites.

    At many of the colonial sites on my South African itinerary, the move towards restorative justice through public storytelling seems to be happening slowly and incrementally. In the former stables of the magistrate’s house at Old Drostdy, a small installation about slavery sits next to the historical carriage and saddles. And in the main house, one of the rooms has been set aside for a short exhibition about the life of Nelson Mandela. Indeed, the inclusion of what might be termed a “Mandela room” has been undoubtedly the most frequent intervention towards telling the story of apartheid and the freedom struggle. This is true of almost all historic sites I’ve visited, including those with little to no historical connection to Mandela.


    At the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, one of the featured exhibitions highlights Mandela’s connections to the Northern Cape Province. Designed by D.W. Greatbatch, and completed in 1897, the McGregor Museum began its life as the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes, infamous British colonialist, diamond magnate, and instigator of the Anglo-Boer War. Having made his fortune in the diamond mines of Kimberley, Rhodes funneled much of his wealth into the architectural betterment of the city, including this building, which he imagined as a sanitarium. The “sanitarium” quickly became a hotel, and later served as Rhodes’s hideout through the Siege of Kimberley during the Anglo-Boer War. The ballroom, the best-lit and most prominent exhibition space in the museum, is now occupied by the Mandela material.

    Mandela, as a figure who is universally revered in South Africa, in public history settings has become a less controversial or objectionable way of acknowledging the apartheid past. If my experiences at Robben Island (where Mandela was held for 18 years during his prison sentence) or at his home in the township of Soweto are any indication, Mandela tourism is a big draw for both international and domestic audiences. The Mandela sites seem to be so attractive and effective in part because they give a face to the apartheid story. If we consider the spaces of apartheid as those meant to dehumanize through containment, surveillance, incarceration, and de-personalization, Mandela provides an entry point into that larger landscape. Consider Soweto (short for Southwestern Townships), a sprawling conurbation that today houses some 1.2 million people and during the 1970s and 1980s was a hotbed of resistance to apartheid. The environment of Soweto is one of seemingly endless houses constructed in succeeding waves as black Africans were displaced and relocated from their homes in and around Johannesburg. The scope of Soweto is staggering, but many visitors seem to find the connection to Mandela’s story a way of grasping Soweto. Sadly, the areas directly adjacent to the Mandela house (a block that also includes Desmond Tutu’s home) have been architecturally and economically transformed to suit the demands of tourism. As my husband put it, this area felt like “Disneyland Soweto,” sanitized for mass tourist consumption. Fortunately the same cannot be said for Robben Island. This inscribed UNESCO site has retained the full force of its austerity since its conversion from prison to historical site. The only material difference between Mandela’s cell in B-Block and the rest of the cells on the long corridor is the addition of a standard-issue red bucket, of the kind prisoners would have used as toilets.



    The photo of the roadside stand, taken by John Golden, is from an area of Soweto that was a men’s hostel (basically a fenced compound for workers) during apartheid. Note that you can buy a fat cake (fried dough) for 1 Rand, or about 7 cents US. The video, also by John Golden, shows a more developed portion of Soweto, comprised of houses built in the 1970s. Both are extremely different urban conditions from the area shown in the third photo, which depicts the streets around the Mandela and Desmond Tutu houses. Here, many of the houses have been upgraded over time, the roads are well-maintained, and space has been made for tour bus parking.

    If Mandela/Freedom Struggle sites and Cape Dutch architecture are the two major cornerstones of preservation right now—representing a pre-industrial colonial vision of the country, and the troubled time during and after apartheid—this still presents a narrow and incomplete reckoning of South Africa’s architectural heritage.9 What has been left out is the period between the beginning of mining consolidation and the official start of apartheid, between roughly 1890 and 1948. Critical for understanding what would come afterwards, it was during this period that much of the groundwork of apartheid was laid. Apartheid, as a spatial strategy of separation, was in large part made possible by the existing reconfiguration of the economic and built landscape of South Africa that accompanied industrialization. Many of these tactics had been first pioneered under slavery, but were radically accelerated and expanded during the early twentieth century, creating mass-produced spaces of racial segregation that mirrored the logic of industrial resource extraction and the manufacture of consumer goods.

    This critical epoch in South Africa’s history is notably absent even at actual industrial heritage sites with intact buildings and material culture dating from this period (including those removed from the UNESCO tentative list in 2015). The Kimberley Mine Museum and historic village, a DeBeers-funded spectacular complete with tiny, intricate dioramas of the historic mine and a flashy, outrageous “diamond room,”10 seems to pointedly sidestep the period after the mine’s consolidation. Compared to many similar historical sites in South Africa, which are sadly understaffed and underfunded, the Kimberley complex is a festival of high-production-value multi-media installations. But underneath all of that flash, the museum ultimately emphasizes a relatively narrow story—one that ends precisely before the initiation of industrialized mining.

    In many ways, Kimberley was the site that triggered the “Mineral Revolution” of South Africa. After the discovery of diamonds in 1866 sparked the first major diamond rush in the region, Kimberley generated much of the wealth and capital that then fed future mining exploits in and around Johannesburg and further east towards Cullinan, Pilgrim’s Rest, and Barberton. The diamond and gold mining boom fundamentally altered the political and economic landscape of the region, triggering the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a few, and the aggregation of people and culture in new urban metropolises such as Pretoria and Johannesburg.



    Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting, some of which has been preserved as part of the historical complex near the Big Hole. It also featured an early electric streetcar system, which for 10 Rand (about 75 cents), visitors can still ride. The most exhilarating part of the trip was when the streetcar unexpectedly departed the historical village and continued out onto modern roadways outside the complex. Given that the streetcar only runs when there are enough passengers to fill it, its appearance on the streets of Kimberley must not be terribly frequent, which would explain the surprise and confusion of pedestrians and drivers we encountered.

    At Kimberley, the initial mining process was one of individual claim owners mining small tracts of land, often no more than 4 x 4 meters. Miners dug these claims with hand tools and the assistance of inexpensively hired indigenous workers. However, once the holes became too deep to be profitably mined by hand, and makeshift scaffolding began to cause insurmountable safety problems, more machinery and organized labor were required to construct underground tunnels. The requirement of more industrialized means of extraction necessitated the consolidation of the mining industry. At Kimberley, the DeBeers company eventually amassed a monopoly and took complete control of the mine. In Johannesburg, where early surface-level mining quickly gave way to heavily engineered deep mining, the diamond magnates of Kimberley bankrolled the digging of gold mines, and further enriched themselves in the process.



    Some of the more subtle and effective interpretive devices at Kimberley were the painted “claims” that covered the floor of the main exhibition hall. It was helpful to actually experience these claims at scale, which, given the size of the Big Hole, gave some sense of just how many miners might have been working in the early days of the mine. The subsequent dioramas show the contrast between the early decades of opencast mining, where miners maintained individual claims and constructed scaffolding as the mine went deeper, versus the capital- and machinery-intensive underground mining process of the consolidated DeBeers company.

    The interpretive apparatus of the Kimberley Mine Museum places an overwhelming emphasis on the period before the consolidation of DeBeers. The twenty-minute movie that is at the heart of the visitor experience tells the story of a British journalist and a native African laborer who separately travel to Kimberley to seek their fortunes. With its raucous saloons, diamond markets, and brothels, the cinematic portrayal of early Kimberley recalls popular conceptions of the American Old West. The film concludes with the two protagonists disenchanted and abandoning the mine in the late 1880s. This tendency to romanticize the rough-and-tumble scrabble for gold in the mine’s early years is carried on throughout the museum, where the exhibits play up the “heroic” actions of early diamond magnates, the geological processes through which diamonds are created, global myths and traditions about diamonds, and the present-day manufacturing of diamond jewelry. The life and experiences of workers in the mines during the period from roughly 1890 to the mine’s shutdown in 1914 are peripheral at best. Any discussion of the function and operation of the modern DeBeers corporation is markedly absent.


    Consolidated mining companies such as DeBeers frequently owned company towns and exerted extreme control over the built environment of their workers. Under the justification of “preventing diamond theft,” black African workers were increasingly restricted to tightly controlled compounds characterized by overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient food. Workers were subjected to invasive strip searches each day when moving between mine and compound. During the early twentieth century, the compound system rapidly spread to other industries, becoming in many ways the precursor of the townships and hostels that predominated during apartheid. Compounds were planned on strict geometries, which enabled maximum surveillance and control. Different tribal groups were not allowed any contact, a move that mine owners typically justified as “preventing ethnic strife,” but which, in actuality, helped prevent the organization of labor across tribal lines.11


    Although most major industrial sites in South Africa had associated worker compounds at some point in history, few of these sites have survived, and even fewer are accessible to the public. One exception is the fantastic Worker’s Museum in Johannesburg. This museum, which unfortunately did not allow photographs, very convincingly argues that the struggle of apartheid was largely synonymous with the struggle for organized labor. Housed in a 1913 compound that was home to the workers at Johannesburg’s electric utilities company, the museum’s main “artifact” is the historic built environment itself, which is effectively cast as a microcosm of the larger demographic and cultural shifts that accompanied urbanization and industrialization in South Africa.

    Situated in the heart of Newtown in Johannesburg, the Workers Museum is further distinguished by its location near the original worksite of the laborers—the electric utilities building across the street. The former turbine building is one of South Africa’s outstanding examples of industrial architecture adaptively reused, and a topic for a future blog post.

    The workers who lived in compounds like this one came not only from the local area, but migrated from other parts of South Africa in search of better work and opportunities. Many of the rural hardships experienced in the late 1800s and early 1900s were strategically manufactured to “encourage” (read: coerce) rural men to leave their families and seek work in urban areas. Artificially high “hut taxes” and other forms of exploitation made village living so difficult that many men had no choice but to try their chances in a job where they would be forced to live in a compound for nine months out of the year. Reproductions of letters of complaint written by compound residents testify to the harsh conditions of daily life, as do the buildings themselves. The main exhibition space at the museum is one of the dormitories where black workers lived in crowded, filthy conditions—a stark constrast to the separate houses where their white counterparts resided in the very same compound. Recreational spaces for the black workers were incidental rather than part of the design (the yard could also be used for chatting, games, or the “gumboot” dancing developed by miners as a pastime). By contrast, disciplinary spaces occupied an outsize position in the complex, with corporal punishment carried out in the central courtyard as a warning to other workers. However, as much as compounds confined and restricted movement, they were also sites of resistance and frequently fertile ground for organized labor movements. The Worker’s Museum charts the development of union action through the twentieth century, crediting organized labor with some of the most effective actions taken against the National Party’s apartheid regime.12 Given the role of organized labor in the freedom movement, it is not surprising that South Africa’s constitution now guarantees the right of workers to unionize.



    The week after my visit to the Workers Museum, I spent several hours 763 meters underground in the Premier Diamond Mine, an operational mine located in Cullinan, about an hour northeast of Johannesburg. After resurfacing, I attempted to track down the mine’s historical worker compound. Before the mine tour, I’d spent the morning wandering around Cullinan’s Main Street, which is comprised of quaint, stone houses converted into shops and cafés (previously occupied by white miners and managers). It’s very easy to buy a diamond in Cullinan, or to see a recreation of the Cullinan Diamond, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels. And a visitor can view virtually any piece of historical mining equipment, thanks to the free open-air museum and children’s play area (“You climb on the machinery at your own risk!”). However, as far as I could discern, visiting the worker’s compound is currently impossible for a tourist. A panel about the worker’s compound in the small mining museum played up the “upgrades” made to the compound over time, which provided the workers with more recreational options over the years. The museum did not, however, include any indication of where the compound was located on the site or whether it was open to the public. Using what little information I could find online to locate the old worker’s compound, we drove out on a dirt road until we were eventually confronted with a concrete barricade and a barbed wire fence. A report on the Heritage Portal concerning South Africa’s most endangered heritage sites noted that the Cullinan compound is currently in danger of subsiding into the open mine pit, irreparably damaging this complex, and with it, severing the architectural connection to the stories of thousands of workers over the course of the twentieth century.13 Although apartheid officially ended in 1994, its aftereffects certainly echo in places such as Cullinan, revealing the disparities in whose history is being preserved and made accessible to public audiences, and whose history is hidden behind a barricade and left to the forces of time and gravity.



    Part of the challenge I’ve faced in this first six weeks of travel has been to develop a working method for decoding richly-layered and complicated public history experiences like those at Cullinan, Kimberley, and the Worker’s Museum. The public storytelling component of my project has added a “meta” layer to what I’m looking at in any given site; not only am I investigating the historical architecture itself, but also analyzing all of the other narrative devices and aspects of that architectural experience. As part of my documentation process, for instance, I’ve been creating audio recordings of the various places I’ve visited. This process has heightened my awareness of how auditory cues are deployed to evoke certain experiences, and the ways in which that sensory input alters the visual and bodily experience of moving through a historical space. Particularly interesting have been the instances (such as the one heard in the sound clip below) where certain media or devices are telling one story, while another story is being told by the lived experience of the site. This will be a topic to which I will be undoubtedly returning in future blogs.

    In contrast to the vision of pre-industrial Kimberley given by the main exhibition hall, movie, and open-air historical village, the audio installation included in a small mock-up of the underground mine tells a different story. In this sound installation, which includes a dramatic simulated dynamite explosion near the beginning, the industrial process of underground mining (of the type that happened from the late 1880s through 1914) is vividly brought to life. The intensity and volume of the sound gave some slight indication of the poor working conditions faced by underground miners, foreshadowing Mandela’s description in the epigraph of this post of a cacophonous 1940s gold mine in Johannesburg.

    On my second day in Kimberley, having toured the Mine Museum and seen the famous Big Hole, I arrived at the Africana Library, which advertises one of the best collections of historical photographs and records in the Northern Cape. This beautifully-preserved 1887 building originally functioned as Kimberley’s first public library, its collection assembled largely out of donated books brought to Kimberley by those who had come to seek their fortunes in the mine. Our tour guide, Michael, also serves as an assistant librarian and archivist. A longtime resident of Kimberley, all of his training has been in-house, conducted on an as-needed basis. Faced with a harsh, arid climate and limited resources, the library has been forced to triage the preservation of its collection, digitizing the oldest and most fragile works before they disintegrate. Michael glowed with pride as he described the recent purchases made possible by a grant from the National Lottery: a new book scanner and a climate control system for one of the rooms in the stacks. Despite his white-collar job, Michael wore the ubiquitous blue jumpsuit with green neon reflective stripes donned by so many workers in South Africa. His garb brought me back to my conversation with Praise God, whose crew wore the same attire. Beyond providing a decent living, heritage work was clearly providing Michael with a means of engaging with the past and future. Further, jobs like Michael’s promote greater inclusion in the production of public history, expanding who has a true stake in the creation and performance of heritage. In South Africa, it’s not nearly enough to increase public access to historic properties, or to simply include more and varied sites on the UNESCO tentative list (though these things are certainly important as well). More people need to feel like stakeholders in heritage; included in the ongoing and still troubled process of reconciliation. Facing a lack of funding and pernicious government corruption, it’s unclear how the country will execute such a feat.



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    1. Trading Economics, “South Africa Unemployment Rate.” Last updated July 31, 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018. https://tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/unemployment-rate ↩︎
    2. Johannesburg, which is now one of the leading urban, economic powerhouses of Africa, is less than 150 years old. It has the distinction of being a city whose history coincides with the age of photography, and has been extensively documented in the photographic medium. For more on the early architectural history of Johannesburg, see Gerhard-Mark van der Waal, From Mining Camp to Metropolis: The Buildings of Johannesburg, 1886-1940, Pretoria: C. van Rensburg Publications for the Human Sciences Research Council, 1987. ↩︎
    3. For more on the motivations and goals of my Brooks Fellowship project, you can listen to the pilot podcast of Sundowners (https://anchor.fm/sarah-rovang/episodes/Sundowners-Episode-1-e1s5rq), or read the transcript at https://rovangeye.com/2018/07/28/sundowners-ep-1-conversation-at-a-party/. ↩︎
    4. For more about the 2015 UNESCO de-listing, and its possible consequences on the ground for these endangered industrial sites, visit my two-part blog on Pilgrim’s Rest. https://rovangeye.com/2018/08/14/there-is-no-law-here-the-pilgrims-rest-mystery-part-1/ and https://rovangeye.com/2018/08/17/pilgrims-rest-part-2/ ↩︎
    5. Jacques Stoltz, “SA removes sites from the UNESCO world heritage tentative list,” The Heritage Portal, October 25, 2015; originally published July 24, 2015. Accessed August 19, 2018. http://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/sa-removes-sites-unesco-world-heritage-tentative-list ↩︎
    6. UNESCO World Heritage Listing of inscribed and tentative sites in South Africa. Accessed August 29, 2018. https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/za ↩︎
    7. The Old Drostdy Museum in Swellendam. Accessed August 29, 2018. http://www.drostdy.com ↩︎
    8. According to a “Report on Future Direction for Heritage Conservation in South Africa.” South African government document, October 1994. Architectural archives at the University of Witswatersrand. ↩︎
    9. Preservation activists are actively addressing the ways in which heritage in South Africa neglects or ignores certain kinds of narratives and agents. As the summary of a 2006 conference on the state of the country’s heritage preservation noted, “State-led commemorations of nationalist achievements and struggle histories have been highly selective, liable to elevate ruling party histories and heroes over others, often ignoring unions, youth or women, and dealing with violence selectively or not at all.“ In other words, even though heritage sites related to the Freedom Struggle and apartheid expand public understanding beyond the kinds of colonial, Eurocentric sites privileged in earlier eras, they too come packaged with their own set of biases and assumptions. JoAnn McGregor and Lyn Schumacher, “Heritage in Southern Africa: Imagining and Marketing Public Culture and History,” Journal of Southern African Studies 32, no. 4 (December 2006): 655. ↩︎
    10. https://www.debeersgroup.com/southafrica/en/who-we-are/de-beers-in-south-africa/kimberley.html ↩︎
    11. Nelson Mandela explains the organization of the compounds by tribes this way: “The mining companies preferred such segregation because it prevented different ethnic groups from uniting around a common grievance and reinforced the power of the chiefs” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Chapter 9). By contrast, signage at Kimberley gives an explanation of the compound system that does not explicitly mention race: “Throughout the 1870s, theft and illicit diamond buying (IDB) was a major concern among claim-holders. Stricter controls and searching systems were introduced, which paved the way for the closed compound system in 1885.” At Cullinan, the given explanation reads: “Due to internal fighting between the different ethnic groups the mine split the shifts along ethnic groups and accommodated them in compounds according to ethnic groups.” ↩︎
    12. http://www.newtown.co.za/heritage/view/index/workers_museum ↩︎
    13. Heritage Monitoring Project. “Our vanishing heritage – South Africa’s top ten endangered sites 2016.” The Heritage Portal, September 22, 2016. Accessed August 19, 2018. http://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/our-vanishing-heritage-south-africas-top-ten-endangered-sites-2016 ↩︎
  • What Has Architectural History Done About Recent Immigration Policies?

    by User Not Found | Jul 27, 2018

    Shortly after coming to power, United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27, 2017, that banned the entry of citizens from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Professional organizations for architectural historians, including the College Art Association (CAA) and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) immediately released statements criticizing the ban, and many universities did the same declaring their commitment to the protection of immigrant and international students on their campuses. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a slightly revised version of the ban on June 26, 2018, despite massive protest, and additional anti-immigration policies during the time in between, as well as the continuing decline of civil liberties around the world have strengthened the realization that fundamentals such as human rights, academic freedom, and nondiscrimination cannot be taken for granted.

    I would like to express my serious concern about the recent immigration policies, such as those known as the “Muslim ban” and “family separation” that restrict the entry and impair the livelihood of individuals from certain countries to and in the United States. As an academic worker of a university in the United States with a large number of international students and scholars, I am deeply disappointed because such decisions send a message to the world that this country is not a hospitable place for academic pursuits. A good percentage of my students and co-members of professional organizations come from countries outside of the United States and make invaluable contributions to the writing and teaching of architectural history.

    You may ask, with a sense of cynicism, what good is declaring the obvious, signing one more petition, or posting one more time on social media. Yet, this is precisely the mood that helps the status quo. If observing the fast decline of civil liberties and the governing system change in Turkey, my country of birth, is of any guidance here, I can say that one should not be too assured about the strength of former civil rights gains, or assume that long-standing institutions will always be able to protect basic democratic values. Moreover, I have come to realize that sometimes the obvious is not actually as prevalent as we think even in our own immediate surroundings, and that words are emptied out. This would be true for the assumed recognition of some of the previous critical work for civil right movements or architectural scholarship. For instance, if I had to write a vow for architectural historians as a symbolic gesture against the recent immigration policies, it would have read something like this: “We declare that we will be committed to the study of a connected world, global understanding of architecture, open exchange of ideas, religious and cultural difference, inclusive scholarly pursuits and open access to knowledge. As architectural historians, we will continue to conduct research on the work of and for immigrants, exiles, refugees, and foreign nationals. We are committed to advancing scholarship on architects from all countries who have contributed to the world of architecture. We will continue to critically expose architects’ involvement in past atrocities such as Japanese internment camps, German concentration camps, or slave markets. We call on all architects to refuse to be complacent with such practices today.” However, as I was imagining this vow would be quite commonsensical, memories rushed to my mind of the moments over the course of my becoming and working as an architectural historian when I was exposed to the trivialization and repudiation of scholars (including myself) who try to move in this direction by contributing to postcolonial theories, alternative modernities or intertwined histories.

    If silence and the dying out of critical speech are conditions that enable autocrats, atomization is another. There must be many more architects, historians and intellectuals out there than the ones I already know, who are working on architecture’s role and critical potential in anti-immigration and national superiority sentiments, but their lack of visibility is predicated on and perpetuates the very problem at hand. It is for this reason that in this post I do want to mention a few points about how my work tried to produce analytical lenses and vocabulary to contest discriminatory policies, but beyond that, I also would like to invite all readers to post their own work, sources of inspiration or frustrations. Atomization disables solidarity. Please do write so that we are not hidden from sight.

    Let me start, then. One premise behind sanctions such as the Muslim ban that categorize a vast number of individuals as potential threats based on their national citizenship is the assumption that their countries of origin are inherently different from and essentially in conflict with the United States. This premise is nothing but a continuation of the “clash of civilizations” theory, which was first coined by the Orientalist author Bernard Lewis, and popularized by Samuel Huntington and the conservative media. So much ink has been spilled to argue that the planet is divided into some isolated and self-contained civilizations. However, upon looking closely, architectural historians have found enough evidence to contest this claim. We can therefore contribute by developing the vocabulary and unearthing the examples of intertwined histories, so that we have the words and evidences to challenge the premises that make the Muslim ban popular. An additional irony of this ban is that most of these “other” countries have been recognized as “cradles of civilization” where architectural wonders of the world heritage once stood, such as the cities of Isfahan, Samarra or Shibam. By writing the architecturally relevant histories of buildings designed during the twentieth century, historians can also abolish the Orientalist assumption that the architecture culture stopped to evolve in these countries during the modern period. These were among my intentions in setting the theoretical framework in Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey and the Modern House (Duke, 2012), which offered a way understand the global movement of architecture, by tracing transportations between places and their transformations in new destinations. While contesting the clash of civilizations theory, the book was not meant to turn a blind eye to the imperial and nationalist attitudes that strengthened the claims to civilizational incommensurability on both sides of the ideological divide. Instead, it critically exposed the geopolitical hierarchies and nationalist anxieties, and showed evidences against irreconcilability, so that the clash theory does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It called for a new culture of translatability from below and in multiple directions for the sake of global justice and true cosmopolitical ethics that has long been rightly suggested as a prerequisite for perpetual peace.

    I have also come to think that the word "citizenship" should not be taken for granted or put on a pedestal as if its intellectual potentials have been accomplished. The vulnerability of noncitizens is exposed by sanctions such as the family separation and the Muslim ban, but this is not my entire point. Far from being subject to discrimination due to national laws, noncitizens are also only barely protected by international laws—a condition that exposes the insufficiencies of the current human rights regime. As we witness today the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, this condition has become even more apparent. For my recent book Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin Kreuzberg (Birkhäuser, 2018), I conducted many oral histories with former refugees and guest workers. Listening to their stories while watching the recent global developments, I was often confronted with the fact that the forces that had shaped the experiences of one of the most discriminatory periods in history (covered in the book) are indeed continuing today. These not only include spatial aspects such as the condition of asylum camps and refugee dorms, and the lack of decent housing for the immigrants, or habitual practices such as state brutality and hostility toward migrants, but also structural challenges such as rightlessness of the stateless and crises of citizenship categories. Given the fact that the definition of human rights is preconditioned on being a citizen of a nation-state, Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben have already conceptualized the status of the refugee as the limit condition of modern international legal order. Ever since the declaration of rights with the people’s sovereignty revolutions in the late 18th century, the link between natural and civil rights, “man” and “citizen,” and birth and nationhood has continued to define human rights, making it impossible to have rights without citizenship. “The refugee must be considered for what he is: nothing less than a limit concept that radically calls into question the fundamental categories of the nation-state, from the birth-nation to the man-citizen link, and that thereby makes it possible to clear the way for a long overdue renewal of categories” (Agamben, p.134). As a matter of fact, the concept of citizenship has been in constant evolution for centuries, as the former slaves, women and colonial subjects gained citizen rights. It ought to remain changing as refugees and global migrants continue to remain rightless, and as sanctions such as the family separation and Muslim ban frequently throw the world into crisis. The stateless constantly reminds us of the “long overdue renewal of categories” and the deficiencies of a world divided into nations. For this reason, the ultimate openness in architecture is the hospitality toward the stateless.  

    Launching logo of the “Critically Now” series in the Department of Architecture at Cornell University. (Critically Now team: Esra Akcan, Luben Dimcheff, Jeremy Foster, George Hascup, Aleksandr Mergold, Caroline O’Donnell, Jenny Sabin, Sasa Zivkovic. Logo design by: Caroline O’Donnell)

    In my remaining space, let me make one more point—this time about teaching. Shortly after the declaration of the travel ban, I and seven other colleagues in the Architecture Department at Cornell University (Luben Dimcheff, Jeremy Foster, George Hascup, Aleksandr Mergold, Caroline O’Donnell, Jenny Sabin and Sasa Zivkovic) felt the urgent impulse to do something and launched the “Critically Now” series. Our series has been bringing together (at Cornell, but by inviting many outside speakers) open classes, exhibitions, colloquiums, movie screenings, publications, seminar and studio collaborations, that aim to respond to the current events such as the travel ban, immigration and statelessness, racialization, civil liberties, infrastructure projects, climate change, automation and employment, to name a few, by discussing architecture’s role and critical potential in these matters. An example of much needed collaboration between architectural history and design studio faculty, the series has been shaping up and growing in time in response to changing exigencies and with the participation of faculty and students. For instance, I revised a session of the history survey as an open class on the architecture in the seven banned countries. Concurrently, an exhibition on this topic came up as part of the series with the participation of twenty faculty. Additionally, the series included panels such as “Architecture and Diplomacy,” “Immigration and Discrimination,” “Migration of Images,” “Will This Robot Take My Job? Migration, Automation and Architecture,” “Crossing the Mediterranean: Migration, Death and Culture,” and “Arts of the Immigrant Continent.” Needless to say, extra-curricular events constitute a very important part of an architectural school’s intellectual life and the students’ education as global citizens. So do the possibility of revising some of our courses’ sessions for urgent topics. Can architectural historians, or anyone for that matter, really afford withdrawing from criticality during volatile times?

    Esra Akcan is an associate professor in the Department of Architecture, and the director of the Institute for European Studies at Cornell University. Akcan's scholarly work on a geopolitically conscious global history of architecture and urbanism inspires her teaching. She is the author of Landfill Istanbul: Twelve Scenarios for a Global City (2004); Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey and the Modern House (2012); Turkey: Modern Architectures in History (with S.Bozdoğan, 2012); and Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA-1984/87 (2018). She has received numerous awards and has authored more than 100 articles on the intertwined histories of Europe and West Asia, critical and postcolonial theory, architectural photography, migration and diasporas, translation, and contemporary architecture. These works offer new ways to understand the global movement of architecture, and advocate a commitment to a new ethics of hospitality and global justice. Akcan has also participated in exhibitions by carrying her practice beyond writing to visual media. Akcan was educated as an architect in Turkey and received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.

  • The Top 5 Most Popular SAH Blog Posts

    by User Not Found | Jun 27, 2018
    Since 2012, the SAH Blog has covered a variety of topics related to the history of the built environment. Articles have addressed issues concerning politics, preservation, and pedagogy, some have focused on the work of a specific architect or building types, and others have provided readers with useful resources. The blog has also housed the monthly reports of SAH's H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellows as they document their journeys around the world.

    Below we share the top 5 most popular SAH Blog posts of all time.


    1. Confederate Monuments and Civic Values in the Wake of Charlottesville

     By Dell Upton, University of California, Los Angeles | Sep 13, 2017

    Hagia Sophia, Istanbul 

    2. Recent News on the Conversion into Mosques of Byzantine Churches in Turkey

    By Veronica Kalas | Dec 12, 2013


    3. Learning from Taksim Square: Architecture, State Power, and Public Space in Istanbul

    By Heghnar Watenpaugh, University of California, Davis | Jun 11, 2013


    4. Architectural History and Architectural Humanities

    By Dianne Harris | Jun 23, 2014


    5. The New Flower: Addis Ababa and the Project of African Modernity

    By Amber N. Wiley, 2013 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow

    What topics would you like to see covered on the blog? Let us know in the comments.

  • I Owe It All to SAH: Final Report

    by User Not Found | May 21, 2018

    They say be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it! Well, ‘get it’ I did, and it was an extraordinary journey and experience all the way. There is no better way to capture my fellowship year experience than this: deeply refining. The year was magical and exhilarating in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I thought I was going around Western Europe and Egypt to see architecture but far more than I bargained, I went 'round and saw life.

    The experience has fundamentally helped me to professionally rediscover myself. It guided my reconstruction of what architecture is and the role it plays in our cultural or religious identity. I saw the fire of history in a totally different perspective as it fiercely burns in the furnace of architecture. In this last year, my goal of learning new things was well achieved, even surpassed. However, I think a more valuable achievement was my unlearning of several stereotypes that I carried on over the years. I have often heard that it is much easier to learn a new thing than to unlearn a former—I can confirm to you now, without a doubt whatsoever, that this is true.

    Fig 1
    Fig. 1: In one of the long train rides across Europe: from Rome to the town of Pisa. My journey all through the fellowship year was extraordinary.

    Fig 2
    Fig. 2: Here I am next to the slightly larger-than-life statue of Pope John Paul on the grounds of Notre Dame, Paris.

    Fig 3
    Fig. 3: At the park near the Notre dame du Paris.

    Fig 4
    Fig. 4: In Rome, I sat for about 7 minutes while a street artist created a caricature of me. It was a hilarious and lovely experience. The artist is Michael. See his final work in Fig. 30.

    Fig 5
    Fig. 5: My travel companions: My Nikon camera, travel ID, and books.

    Fig 6
    Fig. 6: Scarecrow historian. In front of Notre Dame in Paris. The yard around the cathedral has become a sort of cultural melting pot with people from several nations brought together in the same spot for no other reason but to see architecture.

    With the deepest sense of responsibility, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Society of Architectural Historians and the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Committee for deeming me worthy of the prestigious fellowship. The award meant a lot more to me than can be imagined. I, being the first male and first non-American to be awarded the fellowship, count myself privileged to be mentioned amongst such stellar former recipients, all of whom I hold in very high regards. In light of this, I took every day very seriously and with such pride that captures the prestige of the award.

    I first became aware of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship when I happened upon a short video that featured Amber Wiley, the inaugural recipient of the travel fellowship. In it, I was awe struck by Dr. Wiley’s confidence and fine words about how the fellowship had helped her truly appreciate architecture through the magic of physical contact. From that point on, I was hooked. My excitement was contained, however, when I went to the official H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship page on the SAH website—I remember telling myself, “Nah! This is too good to be true.” I just did not think a ‘far away’ individual like me could win the award. It would take two more years and having attended the Chicago 68th Annual International Conference of SAH in 2015 before I gathered myself to finally apply. The rest, they say, is history. The day I received the email announcing that I had won the fellowship, I was filled with such joy. Well, that was not the reality of the matter. I was not filled with such joy—I was a total wreck! My initial email reply to the executive director was a mess—mumbled words and such. Thankfully, she was so understanding—such a remarkable lady. It took an appreciable amount of time before I could bring myself back to normalcy.  

    I owe the successful completion of this fellowship to many quarters. Firstly, to the excellent team from SAH with their unwavering support and understanding every step of the way. To my family who endured the grueling one year away from home having to make do with WhatsApp video calls only. To the cheering friends, students, and the very many blog readers who made the nightly reading, searching, and writing all worth it. And also, to the inspiration and guidance of the past Brooks fellows. Before I started my fellowship travels, I took the time to read through every single article posted by the Brooks fellows before me, and this gave me good insight on what to expect, what to focus on, how to approach my subject and very importantly, how to enjoy the trip. Amber Wiley drew words from deep within her. She gave meaning to simple things and brought even the most ordinary structures to academic importance and approval. I will not forget her emotive photographs of the male dungeons of Cape Coast castle in Ghana, particularly the pitch black shot where she records that the guide switched off the lights to give them a sense of the real conditions under which the slaves were kept. Amber Wiley is simply brilliant. 2014 recipient Patricia Blessing’s work and posts were extremely vital to me and critical to my trip as she had visited some of the countries I was about to visit. Her email to me with advice on transportation and moving around Europe was priceless. Then there is Danielle Willkens—an incredibly perceptive storyteller and a most brilliant photographer. One who sees Danielle’s photographs sees an excellent example of the articulation of visual realism. I was so anxious when it dawned on me that Danielle’s photographs will unconsciously present a standard for Brooks fellows moving forward—forward being me as it was my turn, right after her. At some point I wondered how on God’s earth could I match her expertise. I barely coped but thankfully I managed to survive. Her visual oration and crisp photos served me as a constant reminder of quality all through my fellowship year.

    Fig 7
    Fig. 7: Me with some of the other SAH-Getty International Program fellows at the 2015 annual conference in Chicago. Back row left to right: My very dear friend Nelly Liz. Klee, Prof. Ranee Vedamuthu. Front row left to right: Cristina Lodi, my very good friend Oksana Chabanyuk and Arc. Anvi Gor.

    Fig 8
    Fig. 8: At the SAH Conference in Chicago, 2015. That’s me on stage delivering my presentation to the SAH Board.

    Fig 9
    Fig. 9: With Dr. Danielle Willkens in Glasgow, UK, at the SAH 70th annual conference.

    Fig 10
    Fig. 10: On my way to Dresden, Germany. Long train rides afforded quality time to contemplate on many matters. Do not mind my serious look here, I was holding the phone camera and pretending like the shot was captured without my knowing.

    Fig 11
    Fig. 11: My stack of train tickets.

    The Art and Balance of Being Alone

    In the purpose statement of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship, we see a part that says, "Professor Brooks intended the recipient to study by travel and contemplation while observing, reading, writing, or sketching." All of these I did to the fullest but one other thing the fellowship predisposes you to is being alone. I spent many hours in the hotel rooms and book stores—particularly in France and the UK—alone reading, planning my trip, and just thinking. The alone time is probably one of the most valuable thing this research year has afforded me, a time to truly look inward and meditate about the things that matter professionally and otherwise—just as Professor Brooks intended.

    One thing Professor Brooks did not consider is that when you are alone, one does really strange things. Things like standing at the window for protracted periods staring into space (or the hotel street as the case may be). Things like pretending in front of the bathroom mirror that I am a guest speaker being interviewed on CNN, History Channel, or National Geographic because of some wonderful discovery I luckily uncovered during my Brooks year. And when I come back to myself as the shower curtain, towels, and toilet bowl reappear behind me in the mirror, I am filled with half portion of embarrassment and the other of bewilderment at what I find myself doing. Standing and staring into space or feigning a high profile TV interview did not worry me as much as the other me I met during the travels: the selfie-loving me. I will naturally define myself as a non-selfie person but alas, I was wrong. I found myself taking selfie shots at every opportunity I got—mostly in the confines of my hotel rooms. This peculiar act really surprised me about myself and I owe this strangeness to nothing but alone time. In my analysis, alone time can be as productive as it can be delusional, particularly for active minds.

    Fig 12
    Fig. 12: I am still not able to explain what came upon me. I find myself in several occasions taking a selfie. For me, this is strange behavior. Here in the hotel in Milan.

    Fig 13
    Fig. 13: Messing around taking a selfie in the famous Dizzy Gillespie big cheeks pose. Here in the hotel in Dresden.

    Fig 14
    Fig. 14: Between reading and taking a selfie. Here in the hotel in Frankfurt.

    Fig 15
    Fig. 15: Same hotel as in fig. 14, different night.

    Fig 16
    Fig. 16: Putting my alone time to good use. Reading about ornamentation and architecture was something I thoroughly enjoyed during my fellowship year.

    Fig 17
    Fig. 17: I also took some time to broaden my knowledge on a host of topics other than ornamentation—race and intellect being a particularly interesting one for me. I was stunned and concerned about what I learned. 

    Fig 18
    Fig. 18: Cathedral brochures are an excellent reading material to pass time. I made it a point to get one whenever it was available.

    Fig 19
    Fig. 19: The face of an unrepentant selfie convert: climbing up the stairs in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

    Fig 20
    Fig. 20: I battled with the bitter cold almost all through my travels. Being from the tropics it was really hard coping with sub temperatures, particularly during the “Beast from the East” chills. Here in Florence, Italy.

    Fig 21
    Fig. 21: In front of a hotel mirror taking a creative selfie.

    Fig 22
    Fig. 22: Enjoying a slice of Pizza in Pisa, Italy.

    Fig 23
    Fig. 23: I find myself standing in front of the window for long periods staring and contemplating. In this photo (Paris) I set the camera on timer to record this moment.

    Fig 24
    Fig. 24: A view from my hotel window in Paris, an energetic city with many varied characters.


    On Architecture as a Template for History

    In my first article, I asked the question: to what purpose do we study the history of architecture? It is a question I had hoped to answer as I travelled around Western Europe to see some of the world’s greatest cathedrals. I cannot categorically say I now have a straight answer to the above question, but I will venture a response here. Perhaps we study the history of architecture only for the purpose of knowing beauty. For beauty was all I saw in the structures I encountered, as they stood vivaciously with the stateliness and intricate allure of figural and floral ornamentation on them like a cloak of honor.

    In this last year, I learned that ornamentation is beauty and proof of the fullness of life. While it is tough to take defined positions in this matter and certainly I will require a more formal paper to argue my points on the issue, I strongly posit that ornamentation is a cultural and religious expression of identity and a testament of a collective past, the past that bore a common instinct which uncontrollably drives us to create figural art, usually in our image or a mimicry of the same. Perhaps it is the same instinct that the Father possesses that enabled the creation of man in the first place—where it was said, ‘Let us make (create) man in our own image.’ The functional words there being ‘create’ and ‘image.’ Therefore, wrong are those who saw it as desecration of architecture at some point in our history, however evocative their arguments were in context of the reality of their time. The manner and measure with which we engage ornamentation in architecture must remain a subject of debate, but to propose an instance where it is completely obliterated from our everyday architectural vocabulary based on what I can now almost confidently call a time-related philosophy is quite unacceptable. I also posit, that in seeing beauty, we may know life and in knowing life, we may live it. In living life then, we may further create beauty, but the day we admit to fully defining it, perhaps that day we finally cease to exist. So I conclude that understanding the communication of beauty through ornamentation must remain a wisdom built on continuous refinement. The type of wisdom that can only be understood through a process and not a finite end in itself.

    Fig 25
    Fig. 25: I secretly took this selfie inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Though we were repeatedly asked not to take photos of the works, I just could not imagine (or resist) I had come all the way to see this enigmatic work not to record myself in context of the masterpiece. A guard caught me taking this photo and gave me a mean look. I at once pretended to be texting, but I know he didn’t buy it. "No photos!" he yelled in his silky Italian accent!

    Fig 26
    Fig. 26: With one of the giant murals inside the Vatican in Rome.

    Fig 27
    Fig. 27: Nightfall in Milan. A silhouette of me with the Milan Duomo as backdrop.

    Fig 28
    Fig. 28: Breakfast in some hotels is on-the-go. Here is the ration in the hotel in Bath, UK.

    fig 29
    Fig. 29: Standard look for my work table. Checking the weather is something we don’t worry too much about in Africa but I found it to be very important when travelling around Europe. 

    Fig 30
    Fig. 30: Posing with the street artist, Michael, in Rome. He shows his caricature work of me.


    On a Final Note

    There is an African maxim that says, "He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left." This turned out to be true in my case. If one truly went on a significant journey, the many novel things one encounters will often have an impact on one’s worldview. My mind and thinking have been renewed and recalibrated. As I return to university teaching, I am poised to create a new kind of beauty: the beauty of the mind, particularly the mind of the next generation.

    Again, my sincere gratitude to all those who made this possible. To the faculty of the architecture department at the University of Lagos, I am grateful for their unending support and cheering. I am very proud to be a part of that team. I cannot end this without mentioning Pauline Saliga, Christopher Kirbabas, Beth Eifrig, and Helena Dean (all of SAH)—I have known no better team. Thank you!

  • The Basilica of St Peter: No Words to Describe

    by User Not Found | Apr 09, 2018

    'Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Besides a final report, this is officially the last article of my H. Allen Brooks fellowship year. Understandably, it comes with a cocktail of emotions. I had mentioned in the last article that I will write on my experience at the Vatican this month, but alas, here I am now at a loss for words to express the experience. Suffice to say that the Vatican numbs me in every beautiful way. For over three hours I paced here and there in the nave of the St Peter’s Basilica, voraciously feeding my eyes and mind with the intense visual array of ornaments, symbols, and patterns. Interestingly, in the end, I could not help the feeling of inadequacy. The feeling that I still do not know enough; that I remain significantly deficit in knowledge in spite of my best efforts. Every material I come across has something new to add to the Basilica’s history. The Basilica is one of those buildings you want to be able to talk about confidently rolling out dates from your head like an encyclopedia, but no matter how much I read, it felt insufficient and I, desperate. I am at once reminded of the fine letters of the Holy Book and forced to console myself therewith. It admonishes in its book of Ecclesiastes 12:12 “Be warned, my son … of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” I blatantly saw the rationality of this in my quest for comprehensive knowledge of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro.

    If I had just a day to see Rome, by all means I would spend three quarters of it at the Vatican, particularly at St Peter’s Basilica. I am not a Catholic, but I have a lot of devote Catholic friends and students. Perhaps in reverence to their conviction and in my uncontrollable respect and love for Church history, I would consider it a great error on my part not to have given ample time to St Peter’s Basilica during my visit. Of all its history and controversies, it continues to carry a type of transforming power and unseen force like no other space. The site and structures of the Vatican, however concrete and marble they are, will feed your soul in a manner that ignites an inner wonder; the type of wonder I have spoken about several times; the one that turns a history-loving person into a suckling. The words of John Varriano comes to mind. He declares there is scarcely an account of any Roman sojourn that does not contain the impressions of a visit to St Peter's. Those who remained silent about virtually everything else often found their voices inside the great basilica.1

    Fig. 1
    Fig. 1: An evening view of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (St Peter’s Basilica) from the St Peter’s square in Rome.

    St Peter's Basilica
    Fig. 2: As old and as true as the sky. St Peter’s Basilica, portrayed by Viviano Codazzi in a 1630 painting. Most of the main features including the obelisk at the centre of the piazza remain the same today.

    St Peter's
    Fig. 3: An evening view of St Peter’s Bernini's colonnade and to the left hand is the Maderno's fountain

    Fig. 4
    Fig. 4: The obelisk in the centre of St Peter’s Piazza. Standing 83 feet tall and moved to the current position by Domenico Fontana in 1586 on the order of Popes Sixtus V.

    Fig. 5
    Fig. 5: Close up of St Peter’s Basilica dome, redesigned and completed by Giacomo della Porta in 1590. In the foreground are statues of Christ the redeemer (to the right with the big cross) and St John the Baptist with the green patina slim cross. St James the elder barely shows to the far left.

    Fig. 6
    Fig. 6: The Loggia of the Blessings—Close up of the Papal balcony of St Peter’s Basilica—from here a new pope is announced and on this balcony he gives the Urbi et Orbi blessings. Also, the pope addresses the people gathered on special occasions from this balcony.

    Fig. 7
    Fig. 7: A gull quenches its thirst from the ‘living’ waters of the Maderno's fountain on the grounds of St Peter’s Piazza.

    Fig. 8
    Fig. 8: Papal Coat of Arms.

    Fig. 9
    Fig. 9: Coat of Arms of Pope ALEXANDRA VII.

    Fig. 10
    Fig. 10: A concoction of patterns, figures and symbols mostly of gold and blue and the natural shades of concrete too. Such wonderful beauty to behold. The space around the main altar inside St Peter’s Basilica.

    St Peter’s Basilica is deemed to be one of the Holiest sites in all of the world by many Christians and the principal church of one of the most powerful men on earth – the Pope. So I must be pardoned for my ‘sin’ of touching material objects of historical significance. It is a thing I do every time I find myself in a place or with an object of reverence; I do it to connect with the past and I must confess it gives me a heighten sense of delight. It is my way of affirmation that I came in contact with the past. At the Vatican, this my indulgence was in overdrive. When it was possible, I touched almost anything that had a sense of age and importance. To me, it is like touching the very hand of Michelangelo or Bernini.

    I am one of those who fantasise about touching something old and suddenly get transported to an unknown past – very much like the experience of the character Claire Frazer (played by Caitriona Balfe) in the TV serial Outlander where she touched an ancient enchanted rock and was sucked into a different time in the past. However, as magical as this experience may be, and perhaps as fruitful as it may appear for a historian, I imagine finding one’s way back to their rightful time may prove something of a difficult task. In light of this, I have resolved in my heart to stay in the present and look to the future instead.

    In the Vatican, not minding much for being warped into another time, I bent over barricades to get closer access when possible and I remember trying to reach the statue of St Peter mounted on a pedestal of 4 meters to the left side of the basilica’s front façade. The statue itself was about 17 feet tall, and one can imagine how clumsy it was to reach the feet atop the pedestal. I fell short of the feet of the Apostle, but reached the papal crest of Pius IX. In the bitter cold, my skin touching the stone was indeed a warm feeling. In my mind, I felt transported to the late 1849 when the brilliant stonecutters, Angelo Bezzi, Fortunato Martinori, and Vincenzo Biancheri completed the tall pedestals and decorating them with the heraldic emblems of Pope Pius IX. In my last article, when I spoke of the mesmerising feeling I had at the Vatican, it is to such experience I refer to; the type that I now betray its depth with my shallow and hasty words.

    Probably the height of my mesmerisation inside the Basilica was when I came eye to eye with the grieving mother of Christ in the beautiful work by Michelangelo: the Pietà. Time literally froze. I had seen several photographs of it in books and read countless articles but here I was only about 10 ft away from the master of masterpieces. It remains an indescribable experience. This is what St Peter’s Basilica will do to even the most restrained of beings, it reaches deep into your place of concealed emotion and brings out a measure of reality in you. I must have said ‘wow’ a hundred times in the twenty-two minutes or so I spent staring and not yielding to the light jostling by the crowd around me. Robert Kahn puts it this way, St Peter's is a resume of so much that is Roman, from Michelangelo's Pietà to Bernini's Baldachin and Cathedra Petri and Giotto's mosaic of the Navicella. Its outsized dimensions and grandiose decoration are overwhelming, making the experience of walking through the building a dynamic one.2 I couldn’t agree more.

    Fig. 11
    Fig. 11: Maderno’s nave of the St Peter’s Basilica looking towards the chancel. No space is left to waste – every spot available is ornamented or dressed by mosaic art or sculpture.

    Fig. 12
    Fig. 12: The papal crest in marble on the floor of the nave inside St Peter’s Basilica.

    Fig. 13
    Fig. 13: At the main altar of St Peter’s Basilica looking up into the inner portion of the baldachin. The 98-foot-tall baldachin is an elaborate ornamental canopy held by four immense twisted pillars all designed by Bernini between 1624 and 1632.

    Fig. 14
    Fig. 14: One of the four pedestals of the baldachin, made of fine polished wood with a brilliantly gilded ornamental plaque.

    Fig. 15
    Fig. 15: The dome of St Peter’s Basilica from the nave. Along the base of the inside of the dome is written (translation from Latin), in letters about six feet high each, from Matthew 16:18-19; "...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...." Near the top of the dome is another, smaller, circular inscription: "To the glory of St. Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590 and the fifth year of his pontificate."

    Fig. 16
    Fig. 16: The 17-ft-tall statue of St. Peter in front left side of the Basilica, commissioned Giuseppe De Fabris by Pius IX (1846–1878).

    Fig. 17
    Fig. 17: Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà (1498–1499), one of the most emotive of the artist’s work. It is tough to get a good shot of the sculptural piece as it is (probably deliberately) placed in a low light space on the northern part of the Basilica. A glass wall protects the pieces making it even more difficult to photograph due to reflections.

    Fig. 18
    Fig. 18: A statue of St Andrew inside St Peter’s with what has now come to be called the St Andrew’s cross. The piece is by Francois Duquesnoy.

    Fig. 19
    Fig. 19: A statue of St Veronica inside St Peter’s holding her veil with the face of Jesus on it. The piece is by Francesco Mochi.

    Fig. 20
    Fig. 20: Statue of Pope Pius X inside St. Peter's Basilica.

    Like many great church buildings, there was an old church on the same site before the ‘new’ and current one. St Peter’s Basilica is no different. The old church on the same site was a simple basilica commissioned by Constantine the Great after he converted to Christianity. The building of the old church itself was a replacement for an older sanctuary begun around the year 323. The current edifice, however, replaced the Constantine basilica in the year 1506 though it was not completed until over a hundred years later in 1626. The site where St Peter’s Basilica is built, is believed to be over the very place where Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus, first bishop of Antioch and later first bishop of Rome was buried. Clearly the scriptural rhetoric for the inspiration of the basilica on that spot will be the verse from the book of Matthew “… on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail over it…”3 this is however not expressly stated. The burial spot of the apostle Peter is said to be directly underneath the massive basilica’s baldachin.

    Directly in front of the basilica is the St Peter’s square – Piazza di san Pietro. This square has racked up quite a reputation and is now as famous as the basilica itself. Designed and built by Gianlorenzo Bernini between 1656 and 1667, the square is flanked by two elliptical colonnaded corridors with twin columns of the Doric order lining the whole length. A significant feature of the square is the array of over one hundred 10-ft-tall statues of saints along the roof of the elliptical colonnaded corridor.

    Fig. 21
    Fig. 21: The main façade of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

    Fig. 22
    Fig. 22: Statue of St Albert Avogadro – Carmelite on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St. Albert was born 1149 and died 14 September 1214. This piece was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelli c.1667–1668. St Albert was Patriarch of Jerusalem, and wrote the original Carmelite Rule of St Albert around 1210.4

    Fig. 23
    Fig. 23: Statue of St. Clare of Assisi on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St Clare was born 16 July 1194 and died 11 August 1253. The piece was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelli c.1667–1668. Clare was one of the first followers of St Francis of Assisi. She is shown dressed in the habit of the Order of Poor Clares, which she founded. The saint holds a monstrance that alludes to a story that her convent was attacked by marauders, and that she put them to flight by showing them the Blessed Sacrament.5

    Fig. 24
    Fig. 24: Statue of St. Remigius on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. The Bishop was born ca. 437 and he died ca. 530. This sculpture was created ca.1668 and installed between 29 May and 3 July of 1668 by Giovanni Maria de Rossi. Bishop Remigius was Bishop of Reims, he baptised Clovis I, King of the Franks, leading to the conversion of the entire Frankish people. His image is particularly numerous in France and Germany.6

    Fig. 25
    Fig. 25: Statue of St. Dominic on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St Dominic was born in 1170 and died on the 6th of August 1221. This statue was made installed at the Basilica in 1668 by Lazzaro Morelli, Bernini’s assistant. St Dominic wears the habit of the Dominican order, which he founded, with scapular and hood and a tonsure on his head. In his left hand he holds a lily. His foot rests on a closed book, which can be symbolic of a heretical work, as a major impetus in founding the Dominicans was to fight heresy. The spread of the Rosary is attributed to St Dominic.7

    Fig. 26
    Fig. 26: A shadow of the author is cast over one of the sixteen wind roses floor markers on the St Peter’s square. The wind Rose surrounds the obelisk in the Square and are aligned with compass points to show wind directions.

    Fig. 27
    Fig. 27: The massive twin colonnaded elliptical corridor of the St Peter’s Basilica.

    Fig. 28
    Fig. 28: An enormous marble bowl in the centre of the Pio-Clementino museum surrounded by brilliant life-sized renaissance sculptures inside the Vatican. An example of the exquisite art that one finds in the Vatican. The Vatican museum holds over 50,000 art pieces and about 20, 000 are on display at any given moment.

    Fig. 29
    Fig. 29: A frescoed wall inside the Vatican Museum.

    Fig. 30
    Fig. 30: A slightly larger-than-life-sized marble statue of Jupiter inside the Vatican Museum.

    Fig. 31
    Fig. 31: Ornamented roof work with an oculus, which concentrates light on Jupiter’s statue inside the Vatican Museum.


    Milan Duomo

    With almost 600 years of history, the Duomo di Milano is arguably the most impressive building in the whole of Milan. The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. The cathedral is one of the biggest pre-19th-century churches ever built, it is outdone only by a few great cathedrals like Seville Cathedral in Spain, Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One thing the Duomo di Milano has that is yet to be contested by any other church is the number of sculpture on the edifice. Duomo di Milano is famed to have the largest number of sculptural elements on it; it features over 3,300 statues. Milan Cathedral stands as the most sculpturally ornamented gothic building in the world. Thankfully, quite a lot is known about the creation process of many of these wonderful sculptures on the cathedral due to rigorous documentation.8 Probably the most famous sculpture of all the cathedral’s pieces is that of St Bartholomew. Designed and create by Marco d’Agrate in 1562, the sculpture presents the prophet with his flayed skin hanging over his body. The neo-naturalistic finish of the piece will do a number on the faint hearted. The artist presents the anatomy of the figure in very raw and convincing details—a brilliant visual representation of the reality of early Christianity.

    Many archaeologists believe that the location of the Duomo was a sacred Roman site for centuries before the arrival of Christianity. The first Catholic cathedral in that spot was known as Santa Tecla, built around 355 CE. The ruins of its baptistery can still be seen underneath the Duomo. A second basilica was later built next to Santa Tecla, called Santa Maria Maggiore. For nearly a thousand years, these two cathedrals performed; however, by the 14th century, fire and age had taken a huge toll on them. In 1386, the Archbishop of Milan, Antonio da Saluzzo, announced that Milan would build a new cathedral to replace Santa Tecla and Santa Maria Maggiore.9

    The Laying of the new cathedral’s first stone was in 1386 and work effectively finished only in 1965 when the last gate of the cathedral was inaugurated and, while this year is officially deemed to be the year of completion, maintenance and partial construction still continues until date. Surprisingly, it was Napoleon who ordered the final completion phase of the work on the Milan cathedral in 1805, leading to the months that he (Napoleon) was to be crowned king of Italy. At one point, the statue of Napoleon was placed on one of the 135 cathedral spires as a sign of gratitude to his commitment to finishing the cathedral. From the late 1820s to 1850s major finishing was done on the cathedral. The central and oldest of the cathedral’s five bronze doors facing the Piazza Duomo was already in place and is simply a marvel. It is the largest of the pack and frankly, I find it tough to wrap my head around the artistry and detailed craftsmanship put into the piece by its designer Ludovico Pogliaghi. For something that was done in the nineteenth century, the virtuosity and delivery is very commendable.

    Fig. 32
    Fig. 32: The main façade of the Duomo di Milano. In the foreground is the Duomo Piazza.

    Fig. 33
    Fig. 33: Details of the upper part of the front façade of Milan Cathedral. To the top, one will get a hint of the famous Madonnina, the statue of Mary that stands on the cathedral’s highest spire.

    Fig. 34
    Fig. 34: The southern façade of the Duomo di Milano showing several sculptural ornamentation attached to the surface of the building at different levels.

    Fig. 35
    Fig. 35: An interesting marble piece on the southern wall of Milan cathedral. It is of a man with a shovel carrying the remains of another.

    Fig. 36
    Fig. 36: One of the several sculptural pieces on the southern wall of the Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 37
    Fig. 37: The 1562 emotive sculpture of St Bartholomew with his flayed skin hanging over his body like a cloak at the Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 38
    Fig. 38: A most outstanding piece of art! The central door of Milan Cathedral’s western wing. The Ludovico Pogliaghi bronze work stands at over 30 ft tall and heavily ornamented with embossed sculpture of a naturalistic nature.

    Fig. 39
    Fig. 39: Details of the ornamented trimmings on both sides of the door.

    Fig. 40
    Fig. 40: Closer details of the marble trimmings around the central door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 41
    Fig. 41: Closer details of the marble trimmings around the central door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 42
    Fig. 42: Details of Ludovico Pogliaghi’s Pieta on the central bronze door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 43
    Fig. 43: Details on the central bronze door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 44
    Fig. 44: Pinnacle statues of Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 45
    Fig. 45: A view of part of the shopping Plaza near Milan Cathedral from the Piazza del Duomo.



    My journey to see ornamentation on temples firsthand started twelve months ago, and I am now at the very end of the road. It only makes sense to see the oldest forms of such expressions and nowhere else will I turn but to Egypt – possibly the oldest examples of ornamentation on architecture by man known to the modern world.

    Because of time and logistic constraints, my trip to Egypt was rather short but fruitful. I decided to see the Karnak Temple Complex. The UNESCO World Heritage site is famed to be the second most-visited site in the whole of Egypt, second only to the pyramids of Giza. For this site, I prepared myself to encounter the ruins of an ancient heritage as I saw in Greece, and while I did not expect to see much by way of structures, I can frankly say that my expectations were surpassed. The ruins at Karnak, though far less taken care of and of course far older, were as majestic as those of Greece in spite of the age over it. These structures are dated to the Middle Kingdom Era of Egypt, which is about 2055–1650 BC. That is about 4,000 years ago! Most of the columns still stand. Several obelisks were still gloriously pointing to the sky. As I stare at a physical articulation of age still standing relentlessly, almost immortal, I am taken over by awe. Millions have stood where I now stand, royals and simpletons, natives and invading foreigners. These walls are witness to time in a way that no history can recall. The temples are quite impressive and audacious and besides the hushed murmurs of the tourists, there is a type of stillness over the space. At every light wind, the eastern dust rises and with it rises one’s sense of pride and glory. These temples are as old and true as the skies, they have been the sky lines of this ancient city since the mind can recall.

    The temple area was used by several Pharaohs each adding his own extension and complexity to the system. Walking in the hypostyle hall, all the way to what would have been the naos (the place of the innermost alter) back then is indeed a privileged and humbling feeling. The hieroglyphs on the surface of the columns and walls are a testament to the age of the structures. I made no attempt at interpreting the hieroglyphs (not that I could on the go, but luckily one can make some sense out of the images if you land on the right google pages); needless to say the pictograms were telling. We owe the resurrection of this form of documentation in Egypt partly to a misfortune of an invasion by the French under the leadership of Napoleon and to the finding of what has come to be called the Rosetta stone. Through the tireless work of two brilliant minds: Frenchman Jean François Champollion and Englishman Thomas Young; many Egyptologists were reinitiated into the wisdom of old through the understanding and reading of the ancient pictograms. I am no Egyptologist but in Karnak, I was proud of what I saw.

    Fig. 46
    Fig. 46: The approaching the hypostyle hall with worn down pylons at the Karnak Temple.

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47: A Pharaoh’s statue amongst ‘hieroglyphed’ columns at the temple complex in Luxor.

    Fig. 48
    Fig. 48: Giant seated figure of the Pharaoh believed to be Ramses II at the Karnak Temple in Luxor.

    Fig. 49
    Fig. 49: The reverse side of the Pharaoh’s statue laid with hieroglyphs.

    Fig. 50
    Fig. 50: Details of hieroglyphs on a column in Karnak temple. These ‘texts’ are laid out in bands of about a meter in height. The hieroglyphic pictograms are finely done and rather precise in height and arrangement.

    Fig. 51
    Fig. 51: Pigment coloured hieroglyphs on a crossing beam. It is not uncommon to find the complete walls and ceiling of spaces covered with hieroglyphs either painted in or incised.

    Fig. 52
    Fig. 52: The Great Hypostyle hall with towering columns reaching the height reaching 70 ft (about 21 m) and 3 meters in diameter.

    Fig. 53
    Fig. 53: Details of hieroglyphs on one of the obelisks at the temple complex.

    Fig. 54
    Fig. 54: Details of hieroglyphs on the walls of the Karnak Temple.

    Fig. 55
    Fig. 55: A row of columns in the Karnak Temple complex.

    Fig. 56
    Fig. 56: The dead grounds come alive at night with night lights and modern events shows.


    1 John Varriano, A Literary Companion to Rome, (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 1995), 221

    2 Robert Kahn, Angela Hederman, Pablo Conrad, City Secrets: Rome, (New York: The Little Bookroom, 1999), 79

    3 Matthew 16: 18

    4 Roma Sacra—San Pietro in Vaticano, Itineraries 21–22, ©Fabbrica of St. Peter's, July 2001

    5 Ibid.

    6 Ibid.

    7 Ibid.

    8 Irving Lavin, Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini, (London: The Pindar Press, 2007), 35–36

    9 Christopher Muscato, “Milan Cathedral: History & Facts,” accessed March 15, 2018. https://study.com/academy/lesson/milan-cathedral-history-facts.html


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