Viewed from outside, these enclosed and luxurious monolithic complexes, in Britain in pleasant surroundings often tucked into the protected landscape of the Green Belt, have become the working equivalent of the upmarket shopping mall or the gated residential complex - highly privileged environments for the car-borne that remain entirely secure and separate from the outside world. The certainty that their activities will eventually impinge upon us all, in unspecified ways, merely compounds their unsettling nature, architecturally impeccably well-mannered, entirely multinational and utterly uncommunicative.
In Douglas Coupland's novel Microserfs (1995), the scene is set on the Microsoft campus in Seattle, where trees and black-windowed buildings 'seemingly clicked into place with a mouse' dot the
Parkland landscape and an 18th-century mansion provide the setting for the Sanger Centre, the base for the Human Genome Project at Hinxton outside Cambridge, England, 1995-7, architect Sheppard Robson.
continuously mown lawns. It shifts to Silicon Valley in California, where the same eery, clean landscape is repeated: slick buildings surrounded by immaculately groomed grass, looking like smart Japanese audio equipment, 'machine-shaped' to express the arcane and inscrutable processes within.
Unusually for the USA, where most new automobile plants are in the Southern states, if not beyond the national boundary, the new Cadillac works, Jefferson North, have remained close to their roots in Michigan. Designed by Albert Kahn Inc., who remain the premier architectural firm in the field, they cope with their setting by design. Physically buffered from the nearby residential areas by a sequence of green spaces, five-lane service roads and then 20-foot (6.09 m) high 'berms' or mounds, 'the design of the Jefferson plant explains the changing relationship between the community and industry, enforced by the principle of globalization, the dominant feature to the economy of capitalisation. The result is physical dissociation between the site-specific community and the site-less economy'.3
But equally the modern factory has an affinity with the Picturesque. In rural locations, the constraints of landscape can dictate the form of the architecture. David Mellor's cutlery factory, sited in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty north of Sheffield, was designed by Michael Hopkins in close consultation with his industrial designer client. The conical, lead roofed building settles tactfully into the 'footprint' of a gasholder formerly on the site and, surrounded by trees, makes a quiet neighbour to the stone cottages and farmhouses of the valley. The siting of the new Ercol furniture factory, a sliver of a building elegantly set amidst the Buckinghamshire woods, benefits employees, company image and the local economy.4 In another wood near Mulhouse in France, the polycarbon panels used as cladding by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron in their factory for Ricola, makers of herbal sweets, have been silk-screened with foliage and plant motifs to provide a leafy camouflage, reflecting the sylvan location of the works as well as the nature of the product being made there.
Since Eero Saarinen's idyllic setting for General Motors' Technical Center at Warren, Michigan, built in the early 1950s, its 36-hectare site conceived on a scale dictated by the automobile rather than by man, a pattern of luxuriance has accompanied the physical location of major industrial complexes, which, seen against the pressure for development in open countryside in densely populated parts of Europe, seems profligate. Meanwhile the trend has been for industry to leave the city, in Europe as in the USA. With neat, if unintentional irony, the site of the celebrated Citroën works at Javel in Paris is now itself a fine modern urban park.
Stockley Park is the Trafford Park of our time, sited just beyond the runways of Heathrow on a large site where only the methane pipes peeping out of the swelling hillocks of the new Country Park and golf course betray its origins as an infill site. In a setting every bit as carefully premeditated as that of the landscape garden at Stowe, linked by serpentine roads and watercourses, a series of sleek sheds by some of the best regarded British architects of the 1980s, among them Foster Associates, Ian Ritchie, Arup Associates and Eric Parry, are home to the blue-chip names of finance, IT and computer software, mostly Californian and Japanese enterprises. The ubiquitous car parks are screened by careful planting and the setting, buildings harboured by streams, lakes, mature trees, thoughtful planting and subtle contouring, demonstrates modern traditional landscape design at its best. This secure, protective environment is the twenty-first century version of the paternalistic factory village, although here the end product is information, not goods.
Cleanliness is the image of modern industry, as grime was of its predecessor. An unrelenting programme during the 1960s and '70s, in which the buildings of the Pennine mill towns were stripped of the soot of decades, revealing their stonework blinking in the daylight, coincided with the decline of the British textile industry. There was little recognition of the importance of some of these seminal buildings. At Marshalls' Temple Mill the vast top-lit weaving shed with its ranks of glazed cupolas and Egyptian frontages disappeared in the 1960s (leaving as evidence just the office block, now the headquarters of a mail order company), hardly noticed and far less mourned than the nine parabolic roofs of the Brynmawr Rubber Plant, reduced to rubble in June 2001. Similarly, the rise of the Asian car industry has seen the dereliction and piecemeal demolition of the pioneer Detroit car factories, happily countered by the renaissance of the Fiat Lingotto, saved largely by the commitment
The campus as factory. View over the lake to General Motors HQ, Warren, Michigan, 1948-57, architect Eero Saarinen.
to its cause by the internationally respected architect Renzo Piano, who even has an office in the building.
In the 1960s came a move to present the industrial past to new generations. A network of museums now stretches from the Ironbridge Gorge (Coalbrookdale) to Lowell, Massachusetts, even involving the manufacture of authentic items, such as textiles or ceramics, before the eyes of a curious public and for the bottomless purses of the heritage market. Elsewhere the fabric of industry is being transformed, in the case of Sir Titus Salt's mill or the Baltic Flour Mills on the River Tyne at Gateshead into cavernous art gallery and installation spaces. Factories, mills and warehouses offer suitable congenial space for clubs, loft apartments, health clubs, prestige offices or, on occasion, revert to type, back into flatted factories and workspaces, the kind of low-rent premises in which good ideas have always been born.5
Kunsthallen Brandts Klsdefabrik, Odense, Denmark, a clothing factory to arts centre conversion.
The 1940s Baltic Flour Mills warehouse, Gateshead, Tyneside, undergoing conversion to an arts centre in 2000.
Tate Modern, London, 2000, conversion of a power station to an art gallery. Architects, Herzog and de Meuron.
As Lowell or Nykoping, much later, vividly demonstrate, most locations for manufacture prove to be dramatically short-lived. The textile town was a social and economic phenomenon that expanded, peaked and crashed within a few decades, recorded only in the solid evidence of its structures and the published accounts of its many admiring visitors.
Company towns were doomed by their tight specialization. Nowhere illustrated this more vividly than the model industrial settlement built for George Pullman, the manufacturer of luxury railway carriages, a short way from the steel mills of south Chicago. After 1894 it would be chiefly remembered as the tainted site of one of the bitterest labour disputes in the history of organized labour. The parks, fine hotel, elegant shopping arcade, good quality housing, churches and schools that Solon Beman and Nathan Barrett, respectively Pullman's architect and landscape architect, had conjured up out of the prairie at astonishing speed between 1880 and 1881 could do nothing to eradicate that ugly stain.
By definition, the settings for the early stages of industrial experiment vanished as victims of their own success. The crude smelters' huts along the River Severn or the Morris garage at Cowley outside Oxford were quickly discarded in the rush to growth, as the small artisan enterprise became large scale. One mill in Coventry saw manufacture within its walls shift from cotton ribbon making to sewing machines, then to bicycles and then, logically enough, to the internal combustion engine - at which point its name became Motor Mills. Out of each slump came a new opportunity.
Heavy industry has left heavy buildings. In the Ruhr in Germany, the remarkable transformation of the landscape of the coalfields and steelworks around Duisburg came about from a determination not to obliterate the recent history and structures of the region, as it had functioned until the mid-1980s. With the closure of the Zollverein
The Industrial Museum (Museum of Work), Nykoping, Sweden, converted from a 1916 cotton mill.
Colliery in 1986, the area became a major (and, necessarily, unique) regeneration project. Although a scheme on such a scale and carried out with such vision is not replicable across other graveyards of heavy industry, it offers a seductive alternative to the more straightforward (and finite) options of the factory as museum.
The strategy at Duisburg-Nord was based upon retaining and celebrating the structures of industry and bringing the landscape to life by day and night. Much of the huge area has been adapted, rather than redesigned. The gigantic skeletons, threaded by pipes, tracks, waterways and old railway lines, and the tough, subtly replanted landscape, are left to speak for themselves. Local people, many of whom had worked there, have been involved at a practical level, suggesting the uses for structures that might otherwise have been carelessly demolished. It is the visible and honest connection of the site with its industrial origins that gives it such force and has led to it becoming the most admired post-industrial park in Europe.
The Ruhr still hard at work, seen from a post-industrial country park, Landschaft Duisburg-Nord.
Canalside in leisure use with the silhouette of the disused steelworks in the background, Landschaft Duisburg-Nord, Ruhr, 1990s. Landscape architects Annaliese and Peter Latz.
At the symbolic centre, the Piazza Metallica is designed around a 'paved' core, constructed from eroded pig-iron plates. The former blast furnaces are lit in a blaze of celebratory colour by night, and provide climbing walls by day. Bunker gardens are hidden behind the massive walls of demolished structures. The gasometer has become a diving tank and the heavily polluted landscape is being allowed to recover through a strategy in which 'the rules of ecology [are] managed by technology', as the landscape architects Peter and Anneliese Latz put it.6 The huge skeletons of pulleys, interspersed among a new heathland of birch trees and rough ground, are reminders that this is a landscape in remission. Coal tar lakes, mine shafts, massive pollution of both ground and water systems are the poisonous, long-term legacy of a vast dead industrial enterprise.
The triumphant reworking of the site is to celebrate, not negate, the working lives of many thousands of people, to commemorate the place in a way that changes the emphasis but consolidates memories. This complex park, serving a much shrunken but still
Landschaft Duisburg-Nord, Ruhr, 1990s. Nature reasserts its hold on a redundant steelworks.
An industrial building at a former steelworks displaying a frieze of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Landschaft Duisburg-Nord.
An early 1900s flour mill in Girona, Spain, converted to El Punt newspaper offices in 1999, architect Rafael Masof Valenti.
considerable local population, provides an extraordinary range of activities, pleasures and entertainments ranging from the physically gruelling to the peaceful and contemplative.
In much of the former South Yorkshire coalfield the opposite approach has been adopted, and almost every trace of former activity erased as if to wipe away memories of mining and the bitter disputes that hastened its end. The 'new' landscape consists of eerie facsimiles of land forms, empty dual carriageways and speculatively built factories, many un-let.
More positively, the massive steel-making sheds at Temple-borough, near Rotherham, have survived to be transformed by Wilkinson Eyre into the Magna project, an ambitious, Lottery-funded science centre and winner of the Stirling Prize for 2001. The scale of the building allows the shed to remain empty like an immense carapace, within the dense blackness of which the visitor is guided through a succession of interactive science displays, each in a separate illuminated bubble or cocoon. Only with the deafening roar of the sound and light show, demonstrating the firing of the blast furnaces, comes the forcible, and necessary, reminder of the original purpose of the building. Yet like a coal-effect gas fire, it is just a symbol.
Cleaned of detritus and grime, odourless and dust free, its working parts left as sculptural objects in the space inside and out, the Templeborough Mill has become an object almost entirely out of its context - perhaps an apt enough metaphor in Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, which now (in 2002) obtains just one fifth of its GNP from manufacturing industry. The only link back to the former working life of the area lies in the cluster of small engineering works that loiter nearby. Each specializes in some component required by manufacturing and heavy engineering industry; they survive productively in a huddle of serviceable, rough-and-ready sheds, like awkward country cousins to the huge, sophisticated black build-
ing along the road, which once provided their raw material but now can only commemorate the making of steel with theatrical enactment of the process.
The working modern factory, landscaped politely into the background, has become almost obsequious. But as if to answer a sense of growing disquiet with this anonymity, this sense of distance, some new industrial architecture evokes the era of romantic transparency and brilliance, when gas lights blazed in the valleys and Moderne factories on the new arterial roads offered a light show after dark. A cast glass street front on a warehouse for Braun at Marktheidenfeld by Schneider and Schumacher encourages a shimmer of colour from the domestic electrical goods piled within, while the glazed front elevation of Henning Larsen's factory for Mekoprint
The steel-making sheds at Templeborough, now converted to the Magna science centre, architects Wilkinson Eyre.
in Denmark ingeniously uses a serigraph of a circuit board (one of the company's products) as solar screen by day and an emblematic motif by night. Nicholas Grimshaw's works for BMW Rolls-Royce at Goodwood in West Sussex has a 'living green roof, is sunk tactfully into gravel workings and designed into near invisibility in the precious landscape around the South Downs, but for those who penetrate this disguise and manage to find their way on to the site, the production line will be fully visible from the glazed central courtyard.
Manufacturing industry, with robotics and laser-operated and computer-programmed machinery, operates in unrelentingly clean, even sterile, windowless conditions. There may be less manufacturing in sum, but the products being made are more refined, higher value items. In its own way the age of Information Technology is as hungry for gadgets as was the era of the Industrial Revolution. The profiled steel and glass panelled sheds that typify the anonymity and slickness of nameless industrial-scale operations, whether chip assembly or car plants, call centres or research and development laboratories for biotech or electronics multinationals, form the invisible background to our lives. Un-peopled, they flash by on hoardings and posters, as backdrops to advertisements in the press and television, or, in reality, on the sites to which they have been banished, far from town. In Silicon Valley, Fen or Glen they sit, shiny, self-sufficient and purposefully secretive.
The imagery of the modern factory - however we define it - is essentially hermetic, with no references given or even hinted at. The journey from those belching furnaces reflected in the River Severn at Coalbrookdale that provoked such wonder and fear to this curious anomie has been travelled at breakneck speed. Where next?
Clean, automized assembly. The Volkswagen 'Transparent Factory' near Dresden, 1999-2001 architects-engineers, Henn Architects.
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