SAH Blog

  • Soundscapes of Industrial Heritage

    By
    Sarah Rovang
     |
    Apr 2, 2019
    Rovang Blog 8 Sarah Rovang is the 2017 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

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

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    Part 1: Sounding Industrial Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    03Headgear

    04ArtInstallation

    05MemorialMural
    The most distinctive architectural feature of the Bois du Cazier site is the mining headgear, marking the shafts where miners would descend far below the surface of the earth. The two towers were nicknamed “les belles fleurs” (the beautiful flowers). In addition to the headgear, the administration buildings and several of the processing and engineering structures have also been preserved and reused as interpretive sites and museum spaces. Several memorials commemorating the tragedy of August 8, 1956 also exist on the site, such as the mural seen here.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    06SlagHeap

    07PanoramicView
    Today, the former of slag heaps of the Bois du Cazier are covered by new growth forest and feature a network of popular hiking and bike trails.

     

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

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

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

    JG: And the second?

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

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

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

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

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

    08MaritimeMuseumFieldTrip
    A group of young visitors explores the M/S Maritime Museum In Helsingør, Denmark, designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (completed 2013). The museum is situated within a former dry dock.

     

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

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


    09SkansenChickens

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

     

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

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


    10NDSM
    Previously one of the largest shipyards in the world, NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij) neighborhood in Amsterdam is today an artist community. Recent development and gentrification have changed the soundscape of the site—construction and traffic sounds are omnipresent.

     

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

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


    11ZeitzMOCAAGallery
    Designed as a “separate architectural universe,” the gallery space of Zeitz MOCAA resembles a convention white cube format, in stark contrast to the cathedralesque core space. See my SAH blog post on adaptive reuse in Johannesburg for more on Zeitz MOCAA.

     

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

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

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

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


    12GoldReefCity
    Gold Reef City is a theme park and casino complex located adjacent to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. Built directly on top of a former gold mine, historic gold mining has been incorporated into the theme park’s attractions. In addition to touring the uppermost level of the old gold mine and a small mining museum, visitors can witness a demonstration of “gold pouring” (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, does not feature real gold).

     

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

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

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


    13ZaanseSchansWindmills
    One of several operational windmills at Zaanse Schans, this one still grinds flour using a mill stone. For more about the architecture of Zaanse Schans, refer to my SAH blog post on European architectures of wind and water.

     

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

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

    14GhentCottonLoom
    A docent at the Ghent Museum of Industry (MIAT) operates the contemporary industrial cotton looms shown here as part of a permanent installation that illustrates the complete process through which raw cotton is transformed into consumer-ready woven textiles. The operator wears ear protection, as a single loom can generate up to 90 decibels of noise, which is the equivalent of a power mower, or an airplane one mile away. The museum space was originally a textile factory, and the demonstration looms operate in an acoustical condition similar to those in which they would have been heard when the factory was still in business.

     

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

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


    15BoisduCazierMineGallery
    An above-ground recreation of a mine gallery at the Bois du Cazier mine in Belgium, complete with atmospheric acousmatic sound recording.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    16HumberstoneDesert

    17ArtsetMetiers

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    18VideoInstallation

    19CopperHanging

    20FargfabrikenExterior
    Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s “In the Wake of Shifts and Memory” at Färgfabriken in Stockholm. This show stitches together the cultural contexts of Sweden and Burkina Faso, touching on themes of the artist’s transnational identities and more broadly, the legacies of colonial industry in today’s postcolonial hightech production practices. The former factory structure of Färgfabriken was renovated in 2011 by Petra Gipp Arkitektur, who describes the building as an “archive,” encoding layers of time through the building’s various uses over the past century as ammunition factory, paint factory, and art museum.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    21NorrkopingMuseumofWork 

    22MuseumofWorkExterior
    Another museum in a former textile factor, the Norrköping Museum of Work (Arbetetsmuseum) in Sweden is notable for the focus that it places on the lives of women workers, and issues of unionization, personal liberty, child care, and pay equity. Norrköping boasts one of the best preserved industrial cores in Europe, and the work museum sits at the heart of this waterfront industrial district. Many of the former industrial buildings are now used by the local college for student life and classroom space. The sound installation you can hear in the clip is shown in the first image above.


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

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

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

    23FabricShop
    The pulperia, or general store, supplied everything nitrate miners and their families needed for daily life, because the location of remote mines like Humberstone made regular travel to larger port cities impossible. The scale and complexity of this structure testifies to the prominence of the pulperia in the daily life at a salitrera (Chilean nitrate mine). Miners were also frequently paid in tokens rather than actual currency, which were only exchangeable for goods at the general store.

     

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

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

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

    24ZeitzMOCAAlobby
    The core space of Zeitz MOCAA, which spans a carved-out atrium comprised of the interstitial space between the old elevator building and silo building, is animated by the addition of sound installations, which magnify the cavernous feeling of the space.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    SR: Happy trails, listeners.

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

    Part 2: Listening to the Industrial Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    25BolognaMuseumofIndustry
    The clip heard here is from the Museum of Industry in Bologna, an institution which is notable for its adaptive reuse of a former brick and terra cotta factory. Seen here is the kiln, which has been transformed into interpretive space on the museum’s ground floor. The museum also owns an impressive collection of functional machines from Italy’s post-WWII manufacturing boom.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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


    26ShimizusawaDam
    Though I wasn’t able to access the Shimizusawa Thermal Power Plant when I visited in September, I did get some impressive footage of the nearby hydroelectric dam, along with an impromptu self-guided tour Japan’s postindustrial and economically depressed Yubari region on Hokkaido.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    27DieselEngine 

    28DieselDemonstration
    DieselHouse Museum in Denmark, Copenhagen. This massive Diesel engine built by Burmeister & Wain was the largest in the world for more than a decade after its construction in 1933. The building that houses it was part of the H.C. Ørsted Værket company and was built in anticipation of this massive generator in 1932. The engine supplied much of Copenhagen’s energy demands for many years and served as a backup generator until the early 2000s. It is still operational today, but is only used for educational and demonstration purposes, such as the one in the sound clip heard here.

     

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

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

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

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


    29CrespidAddaHouse
    Since the cotton mill at Crespi d’Adda near Milan, Italy is no longer active, much of the company town now has a rural and pastoral feel, amplified by the rustic soundscape of chickens and gardening activity.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    30HumberstoneEngineHouse
    The Humberstone Engine House, part of the salitrera’s industrial sector where the above sound clip was recorded. As the sheet metal cladding on these industrial structures has rusted and decayed, new sound elements emerge.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    31SpinningMuleJenny

    32GhentMuseumInterior

    33GhentMuseumExterior
    The permanent exhibition on the top floor of the Ghent Museum of Industry (MIAT) is comprised of a series of single-room exhibitions that flow in chronological order, each in separate, enclosed structures scattered across the open daylight factory floor. One of these room-sized displays is the darkened room that houses the spinning mule jenny, one of the rarest and largest artifacts in the museum’s collection.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    34MaritimeInteriorDisplay

    35MaritimeMuseumExterior
    A slick, high production-value historical display at the M/S Maritime Museum In Helsingør, Denmark, which opened to much acclaim in 2013. The theatrical polish of the permanent exhibition rivals that of the architecture, an award-winning Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) design sunk below the earth in a historical dry dock in the Helsingør shipyard.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    36GrandHornu1

    37GrandHornu2

    38GrandHornu3
    The architect of the Grand Hornu, Bruno Renard, was directly inspired by Ledoux’s 1804 book, and the site incorporates many features similar to the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans. A former coal mine and company town, this site was nearly razed in 1969 to make room for a shopping mall parking lot. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012 and today shares its space with two art museums, in addition to housing office space and serving as an occasional community gathering and theater space.

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

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

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

    39MACsExterior

    40MACsInterior
    The blend of old and new construction at MAC’s, and the interior gallery stairs where I heard the sound installation that was part of Belgian artist François Curlet’s recent exhibition there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    SR: Happy trails, listeners.

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

    Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Further Listening

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

    Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast.

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

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

    By
    Sarah Rovang
     |
    Mar 7, 2019
    Rovang SAH Blog 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    21-4PhasesofCrespidAdda
    The Four Phases of Crespi d’Adda, plans showing the town’s original development. Image source: “Maps and Drawings,” Crespi d’Adda: UNESCO, accessed February 28, 2019, http://crespidaddaunesco.org/maps-and-drawings/?lang=en

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    29-AnthonysMainRoad
    The former mine headquarters at Anthony’s Main Road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Historic windmills line the Zaan River.

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

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

    43-GoatBarn
    The petting zoo attraction at Zaanse Schans.

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    Outside the Wooden Shoe Museum at Zaanse Schans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    The entrance area of the Zaanse Schans Museum.

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

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

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

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

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    The exterior of the Verkade Pavilion.

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

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

    Conclusion

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

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

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