Palimpsestous Landscapes: Post-Industrial Parks

A post-industrial park is typically a sexy landmark, easy to make a story of, photogenic, and a palimpsest in itself. It presents a victory of public use over the private and industrial by opening previously closed-off spaces. A post-industrial park offers some crucial topics of remediation, adaptive reuse, and social integration, among others. For a landscape practitioner, there is probably nothing more satisfactory than cracking open the asphalt layer and letting the sprouting grass underscore this feature – inviting nature to do its course, combined with rust eating away the human creation. Natural processes at their best.

Michael Friedrich writes that “landscape architects have created popular public spaces by layering the pastoral (wildflowers, water features) onto the post-industrial (steel, concrete), evoking nostalgia for a lost urban wilderness”. And he is right – we are all aware of the eye-candy derelict spaces offer and the popularity they can grow. We could add that what appeals the most in the post-industrial park is the sense of decay-over-progress and entropy revealed – they infuse the eeriness of the civilization burial site, where we can contemplate, play and explore.

Post-industrial parks fill the magazine covers and social media feeds. On the other hand, however, they often confront us with a dilemma – How much post-industrial is about enough not to become too overwhelming and a thing in itself? And if we expect them to become things in themselves, where is it sensible to design with them? How to incorporate post-industrial layers so that they present solid, meaningful and functional space.

The oldest example of a post-industrial structure inhabited in a park designed by a landscape architect is Gas Works Park in Seattle by Richard Haag, which was open to the public in 1975. Instead of deconstruction on top of which creating an Olmstedian landscape, his proposal used the existing industrial structures. Besides, the implementation comprised novel approaches such as bioremediation of the oil-polluted soil and engaging with the community. The majority of the old factory is fenced off and thus works as a backdrop and a marker through which the community finds expressions like “free the Gas Works”.

Duisburg Nord is a pioneering and most-known project that hailed the popularization of post-industrial park aesthetics. It is an example of a coal and steel production plant turned into a popular recreational area for the citizens of Duisburg. Latz+Partner’s project was selected together with 100 other strategic interventions in the region, following the IBA Emscher Park plan to socially and economically transform the former industrial region. The project celebrates 25 years this year. Exposing the industrial past and incorporating the old steel and iron plant structures are closely interlaced with new uses and additional programs in an awe-creating atmosphere, readdressing the memory component.

Rhine Park by Atelier LOIDL is another project in Duisburg that incorporates the old Thyssen-Krupp steel mill and railway structures. Clear incisions and sharp folds of the landscape, supporting connection to the river, accent the industrious past and its structures that become giant exponents and orienteers in space.

The site of a former coking plant became the Park of Islands (Parc des îles) designed by Ilex. In this case, the industrial plant was completely dismantled, leaving behind hills of slag that remain visually dominant landscape forms. Between the heaps sits a park on the water, constructed as a connective tissue designed with robust materials. Created landforms offer an allusion and reflection. Adopted by the community, it works as a catalyst and framework for future development.

A small cape in Tasmania, depleted by industry, becomes a point of cultural infrastructure aimed at recovering social connections. GASP! Stage 2 – Glenorchy Art & Sculpture Park by McGregor Coxall, accompanies MONA, Museum of Old and New Art, as a setting for art installations. Its exposed location and depleted resources force the design to create a rich minimum. Constructing a simple shelter with coloured glass and designing a “bare” planting scheme produces a strong visual (and emotional) effect and a new interpretation of what is seen.

Play Landscape be-MINE in Belgium designed by Carve and OMGEVING Landscape Architecture is a translation of former coal mining into a playful recreational environment. The terril becomes a landmark and an outlook that can be reached by climbing up the concrete structure with the help of ingenious play equipment. Wooden poles reference the support of the underground mining shafts and accentuate the prismatic play structure. Visually striking and heavy, it conveys the past and uplifts it by incorporating playfulness, turning the upside-down or inside-out.

One of the main objections for Zollverein Park in Essen was to make a left-over space “experienceable“. Planergruppe Oberhausen carefully designed the park with a strategic maintenance plan for the natural succession process already in place. To avoid a museum-like industrial landscape, designers used reduction in materials and subtracting while adding a human-scale layer of use. The ensemble of architectural elements performs as an open room and a framework.

Project Bethlehem SteelStacks Arts + Cultural Campus in Pensylvania serves as a platform spurring investment on the one hand, supporting the local and non-governmental organisations, arts and education on the other. By creating a point of traction, WRT developed a design model that helps to overcome the social and economic issues with the transition from Steel to Rust Belt. The project offers ecological remediation, value and new ways for the public to engage.

Shoreline Park in Sweden is intrinsic for its experimental-lab concept on a former landfill and harbour as a preliminary stage to planned residential development and, by now, already established Jubilee Park. “No design can be truly resilient if aesthetics, ecology, education, and maintenance all will not find its equal place in a park landscape”, say designers Mareld Landskab and le balto. The team got involved at all stages of the project as gardeners, leaders of public workshops, construction and maintenance, aiming to create a bridge in knowledge and shift in perception of new urban natures and planning methods.

Bio-Towers Lauchhammer embodies a ‘ruin’ innuendo. To preserve the memory of the place and give it value, hochC intentionally left space around the former coking plant towers empty, so the towers work as ‘detached monuments’ on a sharp-angled and contrasted surface designed for public events. Black aggregate carpet dotted by white concrete crosses set in raster adds to the dramatic effect, eased but paired by birch trees.

Built on Sugar Park, designed by hutterreimann Landschaftsarchitektur, uses the remnant structures as points of interest for forming a new linear connection. Structures, such as basins for cleaning sugar beets get repurposed by adding additional layers alluding to and building a narrative of the past uses through abstraction and use of materials.

Ecological restoration of a quarry is a typical task for landscape architects. Tangshan Quarry Park is beyond the scope, an inviting landscape with a striking appearance. Z+T Studio developed the park by carefully assessing and selectively developing parts of the quarry and opening them to the public while leaving others unattained. By designing remediation management for water, soil and biodiversity they boost natural processes as well as incorporate them into an informative and playful design, flowing down to the valley.

North Wharf Promenade doesn’t shy away from existing adjacent harbour and waterfront uses but exposes them to be seen fully, building the aesthetical experience of found conditions, like foul fish smell and gritty looks. Besides repurposing materials found on-site, designers TCL and WA create a strong identity for Auckland and a place of negotiation, a buffer between private and public uses. The waterfront remains raw, with new structures designed to allow for multiple uses.

The former steel mill Schalker Verein was converted into a park by German Planergruppe Oberhausen. Designers use the protected ore bunker as a monument, incorporating the often “unwanted” uses like skatepark and pump track. By penetrating the bunker in some parts and allowing people to enter, it is available, yet with little intervention left open for interpretation. The feeling of desolation is accentuated by the contrast between the designed squares and surfaces and the buildings sitting there without use. This atmosphere is even more supported by leaving the ‘second-hand’ nature as the ‘green investor’.

The riverside Uferpark by mavo Landschaften is non-pretentiously creating a park by connecting the former sewage treatment plant into a larger scheme, creating spaces with minimal and pragmatic interventions. The project establishes bicycle paths, drainage and openings towards the Aare river in a smart and effortless way.

Years of being unused, industrial structures will often gather some organic matter due to the decomposition of autumn leaves, birds bringing seeds and other natural processes. Gilles Clément reinterpreted this moment in his project under the banner of Tiers Paysage in Saint Nazaire. The spontaneous vegetation that occurred on the concrete served as an inspiration for the planting plan.

In Zhengzhou Grinding Wheel Plant, by Lab D+H, the very industrial product produced on location was used as an inspiration for the design, so the site also offers a shape-based theme park. More importantly than the use of circle, the project comprises fully grown trees, adding to its ‘awesomeness’ and meanwhile sparking the discussion about how to design new industrial facilities with post-industrial use in mind. The verticality of the leftover industrial structures that penetrate the tree crowns adds to the experience of immersion and significantly impacts the sense of scale.

Designers of HEITO 1909 uncover the multilayered past of a sugar factory set up in Taiwan with archaeological precision. The complex history of a century-old factory is presented through the unveiling and repurposing of buried structures. By preserving, instead of erasing, ECG Landscape Consultants maintain a point of memory for local people and save the resources. Each of the structures tells a story, filling the gaps of history we are sometimes too eager to forget.

How much is enough?

Each geography has its own history of industrial production. With the global displacement of industry that usually spurred the urbanization of local centres, post-industrial parks pose a sensitive question on how to work with the sore points of the local community and economy.

Interlacing industrial structures and landscape design can be beneficial. Besides creating eye-catching tourist attractions, they can offer a place of social and ecological remediation. Sometimes, minimal design interventions can make post-industrial landscapes safe and interesting to use.

Post-industrial parks have been gaining traction and are by now well affirmed landscape typology which suggests a shift to a post-industrial society. On the other hand, there were recent cases of European countries putting coal back on standby as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That leaves an open debate about how much of a post-industrial society we are knowing these processes are now unravelling someplace else.

Commodifying existing structures as design features can seem too simple and appear as kitsch. Conversely, complete erasure can diminish the sense of value for local communities. Post-industrial parks can serve also as reminders of past economic ties and factories as economic generators of communities. Navigating through issues of what to do with obsolete industrial infrastructure is always localized and cannot be summarized in a method that fits all.

With their new programs and appearance, post-industrial parks can encourage new, previously unexperienced moments. If proper safety measures are in place, such landscapes can also offer new means of interaction with the landscape when one has yet to figure out new uses and experimental, spontaneous engagement.

Although repurposed, post-industrial parks bring the industry closer to our daily lives, in public view, invoking a pertinent reflection.


Published on May 3, 2024

2 thoughts on "Palimpsestous Landscapes: Post-Industrial Parks"

  1. Haein Lee says:

    A great post! Seonyudo Park, designed by Seoahn (led by last year’s Jelico Award winner Youngsun Jung) is also a great example of “palimpsestous” design.

  2. Fantastic! Park of Islands is the one that catches my eye, It’s incredible how they turned an old factory into a beautiful park with hills and water. Amazing transformation! Cheers!

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