2030: The Role of Industrial Heritage in Development Objectives

Antique Hansa coking plant in Dortmund, Germany (2018). Photography from the author.

The panorama opened by the Objectives of Sustainable Development by the  United Nations (UN) in their 2030 Agenda permits the establishment of a specified focus on work done from different disciplinary fields. In the field of architecture and urban planning, the objectives are oriented around encouraging inclusiveness, security, and resilience of cities and their infrastructures1. Within this general aspiration, a particular reflection about the role of industrial patrimony as merging territories would be opportune, as well as what their conservation and reuse represents in the construction of more resilient cities and territories 2. In this sense it is worth reflecting on aspects such as the evolution of landscapes, the reuse of infrastructures and manufacturing complexes, or even the experiences derived from the construction memories of a piece of architecture that defines a cultural legacy, undefined by the immediate past in a determined place. In fact, this growing interest in the repercussions of sustainable development and the resiliency of different territories has seen itself reflected in important events  about industrial patrimony, such as the latest editions of the International Day of Industrial Patrimony INCUNA or the Congress of Industrial Patrimony and Public Works from TICCIH-Spain.

The typical conservation of patrimonial remains defines them as spaces that give way to current social dynamics, forming sustainable acts while making use and recycling that which preexisted before planning interventions based on the premises of tabula rasa – meaning that of a fresh start. Considering industrial patrimony in these terms presents a series of challenges from its treatment relative to its historical proximity – and therefore, the abundance of remains – to the complexity of steps that address it – from territorial to public – the specificity of its structures and spaces linked to logical production, and last but not least, its rare recognition on behalf of society, even after decades of investigation and diffusion about its cultural and technical values and its importance in recent history.

In relation to the role of patrimonial industry in the achievement of a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive environment, it is worth pointing out various essential aspects 3. First off, to highlight the importance of the study and the significance that the industrial remains have in a particular context, as part of the identity and the dynamics of a place upon stopping its productive activity. Secondly, the consideration of the current social reality is necessary with its coexistence with the industrial remains to function as a smarter and more sustainable conservation effort. In this sense it is interesting to remember the reflections of the research Aprendiendo de las Cuencas 4  (Learning from the Cuencas) in which the revitalization of industrial elements in spontaneous interventions with the local population were considered and given value. Lastly, the importance of environmental consideration needs to be mentioned in the contribution of industrial patrimony to attain a sustainable development in its concrete enclave, not only from a strategic point of view, yet rather from the concrete practices through which the conversion of the use of the industrial elements requires.

Has industrial patrimony acquired a significance that surpasses its aesthetic sense or the testimony of its historical and cultural values? In the light of recent studies and strategies, these remains are able to convert themselves in the nuclear element of temporal and spacial order of a territory that layers upon layers of memories add up to its configuration. This entails an understanding of industrial patrimony through the change of perception over the past decades, through the iconic or singular element in itself, to its lecture in terms of landscape and on its territorial level, as a connection of elements and processes on a complex scale throughout the intervention of these industrial remains and their link to the process of sustainable development of the area. Therefore, it is worth considering a deeper investigation into its intrinsic qualities and in what its conservation and reutilization could provide for the structures of more resilient cities and territories in the 21st century.

Text translated by Kaitlyn P. Delaney
(Gijón, 1984) Doctora Arquitecta formada en la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, la Universidade da Coruña y la Università degli Studi di Ferrara, desarrolla su actividad como investigadora en la ETSAM-UPM en el ámbito del patrimonio cultural. Colaboradora habitual y miembro de INCUNA y TICCIH-España, su actividad más relevante se centra en el estudio y difusión del patrimonio industrial arquitectónico.

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