SAH Blog

  • Images of Industry: Representation, Reinvention, and Reuse

    By
    Sarah Rovang
     |
    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.

    01TateLiverpool

    02AlbertDocks
    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.

    03LowryLandscape

    04OpArtRoom
    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.

    05RuhrPhotograph
    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.

    06NorrkopingacrossWater
    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.

    07NorrkopingBrickWindows
    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.

    08NorrkopingModel
    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.

    09NorrkopingPlayground
    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

    10Chimney1

    11Chimney2
    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

    12CopenhillfromNoma

    13CopenhillwithDevon
    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.

    14CopenhillChimney

    15CopenhillUpClose

    16CopenhillFarAway
    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.

    17MonetSaintLazare1

    18MonetSaintLazare2
    Claude Monet, “Le Pont de L’Europe, Gare-Saint Lazare,” 1877, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan-Monet.

    19BecherPitheads
    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.

    20BecherLandscapePark
    A selection of the Bechers’ photographs on display at the North Landscape Park in Duisburg, Germany.

    21FactoriesZaans
    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.

    22PaperFactory
    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

    23ArmaniExterior

    24ArmaniNewLobby

    25ArmaniNewLobbyInterior

    26ArmaniInteriorCentralWell
    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.

    27ArmaniInteriorWindow

    28ArmaniMannequins1

    29ArmaniPhotogallery

    30ArmaniMannequins2

    31ArmaniStaircase
    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.

    32CiteAcrosstheSeine
    Above, the view of Les Docks from across the Seine.

    33ExteriorPassage
    New vertical circulation created by virtue of the “plug-over” designed by architects Dominique Jakob and Brendan Macfarlane.

    34UpstairsVenue
    The rooftop terrace with multiple venues and restaurants/bars.

    35DownstairsVenue
    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.

    36MagasinsGeneraux
    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.

    37InstituteMondeArab1

    38InstituteMondeArab2
    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.

    39LesDocksCloseup

    40Warehousepassage

    41UnderOldWarehouses
    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.

    42MaritimeMuseumExterior1

    43MaritimeMuseumExterior2

    44MaritimeMuseumExterior3
    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.

    45MaritimeMuseumInterior1

    46MaritimeMuseumInterior2

    47MaritimeMuseumInterior3
    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.

    48LiverpoolOldDock
    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.

    49PisarroDock
    Camille Pissarro, “Déchargement de bois, quai de la Bourse, coucher de soleil,” 1898, oil on canvas.

    50FactoriesontheZaan
    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.

    51MaritimeExhibit1

    52MaritimeExhibit2

    53MaritimeExhibit3
    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.

    54HeddaSterne
    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.

    55CiteDentelleExterior
    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.

    56HandLoomStockholm

    57LaceLoom1

    58LaceLoom2

    59LacePunchcards
    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.

    60CiteDentelleFrontal

    61CiteDentelleFountain
    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.

    62ShinyWall

    63StainedGlass

    64StainedGlassLace
    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.

    65Historylace

    66LaceTunnel
    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.

    67MagritteExterior

    68MagritteInterior1

    69MagritteInterior2
    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.

    70VanGogh1

    71VanGogh2

    72VanGogh3
    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. ↩︎
    1 Comment
  • The UNESCO Industrial Complex: Multi-Use Heritage in Germany and Belgium

    By
    Sarah Rovang
     |
    May 7, 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.

    01SlovenianMineTour
    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.

    02UVARotunda
    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.

    03CrespidAddaSign
    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.

    04ZollvereinOverview
    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.

    05CoalWasheryInterior
    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.

    06RuhrMuseumExterior

    07IndustrialLandscape1

    08IndustrialLandscape2

    09IndustrialLandscape3
    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.

    10ZollvereinWalkway

    11DoppelbockWindingTower
    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.

    12KoolhaasExternalStair

    13GlowingStairwell
    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.

    14RedDotExterior

    15RedDotInterior
    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.

    16FolkwangMuseum
    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.

    17IndustrialPortal1

    18IndustrialPortal2
    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).

    19Gasometer1

    20Gasometer2

    21Gasometer3
    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.

    22DuisburgPark1

    23DuisburgPark2
    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.

    24ZollernColliery1

    25ZollernColliery2
    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.

    26MIATExterior

    27MIATInterior
    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.

    28SlagHeapView
    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.

    29Staircase

    30InteriorMemorial
    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.

    31MuseumEntrance

    32EnergyHouseEventSpace
    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.

    33GlassMuseum

    34PublicSculpture1
    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.

    35GrandHornuOverview
    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).

    36CIDExterior

    37CIDGlassShow

    38CIDInterior
    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.

    39ExteriorMassing

    40MACsExterior

    41MachineShop
    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.

    42MiningSymbol
    The ubiquitous symbol of German mining, which recurs across historic industrial sites nationwide.

    43CBehrensBuilding
    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.

    44SewellConcentrator
    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.

    45FagusOffices

    46FagusIconicFrontalView

    47FagusWorkshop

    48FagusInterpretiveCenter
    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.

    49MitsubishiPatternFactory

    50FagusWarehouse
    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.

    51ShoelastExhibition1

    52ShoelastExhibition2
    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.

    53ManholeCover
    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. ↩︎
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