Industrial Second Life

By Louis Lefaix

I looked out my window, all I could see was this gargantuan monster made from bricks. It was angrily exuding smog, troubling my breathing and darkening the skies. Now, 30 years later, the behemoth has fallen silent. Its chimneys are still, and people are constantly going in and out of its mouth. The horizon is back to its pure blue color. What has happened to this fearless beast? Industrial Second Life shows us how the remains of the Industrial Revolution can be exploited for a greater purpose.

These giants of steel dating from the Industrial Era can be seen around the world. They have been for most of them abandoned, left for dead. But, in some cases, cities work to give them a second life. We see more and more of these instances in our time. Here are deserted industrial sites that have been bought back to life:

London’s Tate Modern once was a giant Bankside Power Station. It arbored a stunning 35-metre-high and 152-metre long turbine hall alongside the boiler house and a single central chimney. Built in 1943, it truly was a powerhouse in all its glory. Until 1981, when the site became redundant. Finally, the dragon had been slain.

Millenium Bridge, North bank, and Southwark Bridge

No longer after a new flame was sparked. In 1994, the Tate Trustees selected the Power Station to convert into a new art gallery. Soon enough, Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron were appointed to do the job. It was imperative that the building retain much of its original character.

In 1996, the plans were unveiled and so the work started. The huge machinery was removed, emptying the Monster’s insides. Only leaving its shell of steel structure and brickwork. The turbine hall was made into the entrance, shocking visitors with its incredibly high ceiling. As for what remained of the boiler house, it became the galleries.

The leviathan had now been tamed and it was ready for the public. After it’s opening in 2000, it quickly became one of the UK’s top three attractions. And it generates an estimated £100 million annually. The beast had traded its constant smog for round trips of art enthusiasts. Where once lay heavy machinery, could now be sighted pieces of art.  Ranging from l’Escargot de Henri Matisse to The Kiss from August Rodin. 

Start Display, Henri Mastisse and Ceal Floyer, Level 2

The Halle Freyssinet in Paris, France

In France, Paris city of lights, yet another giant is resting. This titan once devoured trains and trucks day after day. The colossal hangar truly is a sight to be seen. A remarkable structure that could bear great loads while remaining light. Made of prestressed concrete and held together by Eugene Freyssinet’s ingenuity. The Halle Freyssinet was initially conceived in 1927 as a transshipment hub for trains and trucks.

After having served its purpose for decades it was eventually put out of commission in 2006. At one point, it neared its end. In fact, it was condemned to demolition in 2011. Luckily, it got its recognition in 2012 and was listed as a Historical Monument for its original structure. The building used to be open on all sides. So, when came the time to give a second life, it was a real challenge. Bringing up the building to current standards of comfort, all the while retaining the original architectural appearance of the building, was particularly complex.

Despite that, the renovation of the building was completed. It offered high-level lighting comfort and thermal performance while preserving the initial vision. Then in 2017, Xavier Niel, French businessman decided to invest in the once-thriving structure. His project was to transform the hall into a massive workspace for startups. The plan came to completion and the structure is now crowded by entrepreneurs as of 2017. It has had great success and has become the World’s biggest startup campus. 

The Parco Dora in Turin, Italy

In Italy, Turin’s city of magic, lay dormant three giants in the Parco Dora. They had once emerged during the zenith of Turin’s industrialization in the early 20th century. A Fiat steel and sheet metal workshop and a Michelin tire factory were edified. The giant structures engaged in ceaseless labor. Their run time bordered on a century, but it was nearing its end. At last, the monsters were dismissed in the 80s.

Part of them can still be spotted. A large hall, cooling towers, and a remaining substructure can be observed in the landscape. They bask in the sun amidst a 45-hectare park. This park is traversed by the river Dora, which gives it its name.

In 1998, an urban renewal program aiming to regenerate the area was launched. The different spaces of the park have been linked by promenades, ramps, steps, and bridges. With the main linking element being a 700m Passarella made of steel.

Trees and shrubbery were planted around the park, to screen the public areas from residential use. This vegetation will over time make the giants of steel recede into the background. They will give the former industrial site a new face. Yet, frame the remnants of the industrial past. It is also giving back to nature at the same time.

The Art-Zavod Platforma in Kyiv, Ukraine

On the outskirts of Kyiv, in an establishment that prospered during the Cold War. A silk factory built in 1947. Production decreased in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapsed. Until eventually it ceased completely. Where once men and machines teamed up to produce silk had now fallen silent.

This silence was broken nearly a decade later. When Israeli businessman Ofer Kerzner purchased the factory in 2002. At first, it was planned for the former factory to be repurposed into a shopping mall. Yet ultimately the turnover was different. But, after launching Platforma in 2014, Kerzner envisioned more.

He went on to create a space for exhibitions the Art-Zavod Platforma, as well as a coworking space. It quickly became Ukraine’s largest creative cluster. It hosts events such as festivals, including the Ulichnaya Eda food festival, which has grown from a small event in a parking lot to an event that attracts 15 000 people. And, the first “White Nights” festival, which changed everything. It combined a music festival with food courts and various entertainment. It also engages in charity and has a school and gallery that have been added. Platforma is a comforting place where Kyivans go on weekends. The former factory is today a sanctuary for creativity.

The Guild of Saint Luke Gallery in Paris, France

Back to France, in Paris once again another abandoned infrastructure has been rescued from dilapidation. A former factory that had last been serving as a car park. Hadrien de Montferrand, an art gallerist, bought the building with the intention to transform it into a gallery.

Only the building’s façade and aluminium roof were restored to retain its rawness. The Guild of Saint Luke, a group of artists and Studio ECOA an architecture group were the first tenants. They are now making use of the exhibition spaces with their art. It houses a hybrid live-work space, the lower mezzanine. This space contains a large wooden table, a kitchenette, a bed, and a bathroom concealed within a mirrored volume.

There are also other installations such as the second mezzanine which is directly underneath the building’s skylights. The pictures that have been taken of this space are amazing. The boldness of the concrete and rust building in contrast with modern furniture is mesmerizing. The former factory now serves as a canvas for the expression of artists’ creative freedom.

The Ibug in Germany

Somewhere in Germany, every year an old infrastructure is brought back to life. This revival takes place during the Ibug festival. Urban artists are invited to transform the area by means of various artforms over the course of a few weeks. The artwork is then presented to the public during festivals. This temporary exhibition usually takes place in late August to early September. It is a remarkable effort to breathe life into abandoned walls.

These buildings which were once regarded as great achievements of Humanity, were later called into question. Although they had allowed to us to make substantial technical advancements, they were also responsible for initiating our certain downfall. The Industrial Revolution had set off the climate change disaster that we still face today. In some capacity, these factories had become the enemy, monsters. After having abandoned them, demolishing wasn’t an option. In fact, it would be harmful to the environment rather than help. So, people started coming together to give these fragments of the past a second life. In doing so, we have seen beautiful demonstrations of creative freedom.

If you enjoyed reading Industrial Second Life why not read Art of The Industrial Age

Find out more about Studio ECOA at website Here

Find out more about The Guild of Saint Luke at website Here

Find out more about the Tate Modern at website Here

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