Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Industrial Artefacts

(A photograph by Angela Inglis, of King's Cross Gas Holders also called the Siamese triplets. the photograph has been sourced from Angela Inglis's website which has some more photographs of the King's Cross and other railway/industrial artefacts)
I came across a very good interview with Photographer Herald Finster by Tommy Manuel. what struck me most can be summed up where Herald Finster (whose work involves photographing industrial ruins) explains: "In most cases I do some research in order to answer the “how did it work” question, but the “who did the work” question remains unanswered in most cases and remains open to imagination." With number of city governments (London-Lea Valley, Bombay-Eastern Waterfronts, Athens-Gazi, Bilbao-port area etc) feeling an urgent need to regenerate their industrial past it becomes even more important to be aware of the nature of transformation.

(image sourced from AJ, showing Feix and Merlin's proposal for Gas holder number 8)

(image sourced from AJ, showing proposal by Hakes Associates for Gas holder number 8. These 2 are of the five short listed entries selected from 80 entries for a competition, you can find the complete article and other entries here on the AJ website)
In context to these transformations or rather conservation of industrial ruins through injecting hybrid programmes as some architects prefer describing it, Herald Finster explains "Essen and the Ruhr area will be “Kulturhauptstadt Europa 2010? (Capital of Culture 2010). The official pamphlet says “Die Identität dieser Metropole ist nicht mehr geprägt von Arbeit, sondern von Kultur” (the identity of this metropolis is no longer characterized by work, but by culture). This statement declares an antagonism between work and culture. It expresses the arrogance of the authorities and the powerful who feel themselves superior to the working class, if you permit me to use this old-fashioned term. They deny the merits of millions of people, who laid the ground for our welfare. These are the sorts of people who abuse industrial installations as vehicles. They cannot deny the existence of industrial architecture (although they do the best to wipe out as much of it as possible), but they try to pervert the original meaning of the installations. They add futuristic architectural elements, they pull out historic machinery to make the interior look “nice and modern” and they turn former work places into meaningless Disney Land like amusement parks."

(photo sourced from official website for Zollverein coke plant and colliery. The industrial site is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, to which Herald Finster is refering to while talking about Essen- the city in which it is located. One can also find more sites like this on the European Route of Industrial Heritage website.)
The interview is very good and very well articulated using simple language, it raises important questions like..
1) how do we as architects/designers acknowledge our industrial past not just for the empty shells and aesthetics but for the history and people? or

2) how can we really avoid this "pervert" commodification of history? or

3) Is museum-ification the only response to conserving the industrial relic?

4) What does turning an industrial ruins into a public space achieve?

I believe these questions become even more difficult to deal with if one is from the design profession. It questions our contentment at transforming an old industrial shed into a plush restaurant or an art gallery.

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