Category Archives: heritage

Dig, dig, dig

(Photo by busymonster)

This blog developed from our search for adaptively reused quarries and when we relaunched it back in April last year our first post was about the adaptive reuse of a cement works near Vancouver, now the Butchart Gardens, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Canada. We were trying to prove that the abandoned cement works at Portland, a few kilometres from where we live, was a great asset that could one day be revived in a new role.

It should’nt be a hard point to argue. Throughout the civilised world (ie countries not controlled by extremist right wing economic ideologues) quarries are often highly sought after redevelopment sites. Even fairly isolated sites have “infinite potential” (as real estate agents say) in the hands of people of imagination.

(Photo by dulcie)

We thought we would revisit the subject but we’ve been a bit slow posting lately due to a combination of home and garden renovations, upgrading to the latest WordPress version (problems!) and installing new (pre Vista) computers that all have to be set up to dual boot Linux and Windows XP (ah if only Linux really was perfect, but it isn’t, it’s just better than becoming a slave to Microsoft) and since we began slowly writing this post a few weeks ago two bizarre quarry stories have appeared.

The first was a story in The Guardian about Monsanto in the 1970s using a Welsh quarry to secretly dispose of toxic waste. We have some doubts about the safety of genetically modified food but we are much more concerned about GM as a tactic being used by Monsanto to control the world’s food supply. If you still need evidence that Monsanto has indulged in deceitful and criminal behaviour, just read this story, then consider whether you still believe the rosy stories they now tell about GM food.

The second is this post in the admirable BLDGBLOG about a different sort of toxic quarry. The Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana is an abandoned open cut copper mine whose polluted waters have become home to a range of “novel forms of fungi and bacteria”, many with unexpected medicinal potential. So humanity is creating mass extinction on one hand and on the other creating unlikely environments that demonstrate the extraordinary resilience and adaptive ability of life. It makes you wish you could live a few centuries just to watch the amazing events that are about to unfold.

That’s one of the things about quarries and similar abandoned industrial sites, even the most contaminated can become havens for wildlife, often because their polluted state protects them from destructive redevelopment. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be adaptively reused, however, if only as wildlife refuges. The Brick Pit Ring aerial walkway on the Sydney Olympics site is a spectacular example.

The long disused brick pit, with the massively contaminated but partly remediated Homebush Bay on one side and the various Olympic stadiums on the other,

(Photo by yewenyi. Check out his Homebush Bay set including interpretive signage by Wendy)

is at the geographic centre of Sydney. It was found to contain colonies of the now endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog ruling out any reuse that might injure the frog’s habitat. Even its use as a study centre for the frogs had to be handled with extreme sensitivity. The resultant structure by Durbach Block is not just sensitive, it’s beautiful. (Wendy was part of the Australian Museum consortium that were the runners up for the job so we’ve watched its development with wonder.)

But frogs aren’t the only thing swimming around in quarries, there are frogmen and frogwomen as well and they’re studying rather than being studied.

One of the most successful diver training centres in Europe is the Stoney Cove Diving Centre in a flooded granite quarry in Leicestershire, UK.

During the quarry’s working life, the spring water was a constant problem. Pumps were used to prevent the quarry from flooding. When all quarrying ceased in 1958, spring water was allowed to flood the quarry workings. Five years later, the flooded quarry had already become popular with local pioneers of diving and waterskiing.
The discovery of North Sea oil was important to the development of Stoney Cove. During the 1960s and 1970s, the flooded quarry was used to train commercial divers en route for the North Sea.

Stoney Cove is very popular with around 100,00 dives a year

(Photo by flibber)

(unlike another flooded UK quarry used for diving, the suicidally deep and cold Dorothea Quarry in North Wales, probably best avoided.)

There are also other sorts of study centres in adaptively reused quarries.

The most obvious example must be the Eden Project, a sort of botanical theme park built in a former clay pit near St Austell, Cornwall, UK.

(Photo by Emil Klemens)

Wikipedia as usual gives an excellent overview

At the bottom are the two covered biomes. The larger, the Humid Tropics Biome, is for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature. The smaller of the two, the Warm Temperate Biome, houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various pieces of sculpture. The Outdoor Biome represents the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops and hemp. A third covered biome representing the dry tropics is planned for the future.

It’s now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK, proving yet again, again, again,

(Photo by Emil Klemens)

that the average person is more aware of environmental issues than are the pygmy politicians manufactured and sold to them by the corporate media. Perhaps they are all sizing the place up for adaptive reuse as their future home, a wise move given the way things are going (again thanks to BLDGBLOG for the link).


The history of prefab buildings is long and honorable (even the First Fleet sent out to set up a British colony in Australia in 1788 brought prefab buildings), and the importance of old prefab buildings cannot be understated for they are among the most vulnerable elements of the built environment. It is especially true of commercial prefabs. That makes this a real gem, a beautifully restored and reused porcelain enamel metal panel prefab garage from the 1950s now beautifully adaptively reused as a frozen custard shop.

Starting life as a gas station, it was moved from a location near Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in the 1970s and turned into an auto repair shop, complete with an “updated” look of fake brick and a mansard roof. The new owners Steve and Vicky Uhr realised the underlying classic nature of their building and employed KKE Architects to restore and modify it for their Liberty Frozen Custard business.

The brick and wood was removed and the original gas station was discovered mostly intact underneath.

Essential elements in the restoration were exposing the building’s original porcelain panels and incorporating the original red, white and blue patterns. The existing garage doors were used as functional architectural elements, opening up the indoor dining area and connecting it with outdoor seating. A complementary 500-square foot addition was constructed, and the interior was modified to its new use.

What can we say, it’s beautiful

and it fully deserved the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota‘s Adaptive Reuse Award it received in August 2006.

There is more on their flickr site.


(Photo Colin Gregory Palmer)

It’s one of the most recognisable buildings in the world, certainly the most famous power station. You would think its adaptive reuse would be so obvious and simple, yet the devious twists and turns in its recent history, the trickery and betrayals, would make baby Jesus weep. Yes, it’s Battersea Power Station, roofless, vandalised, the empty shell slowly being demolished by neglect, but one of those buildings that, once seen, forever haunt the memory.

(Photo Tom Maloney)

The saga has gone on for years despite the devoted efforts of its admirers and maybe just maybe there is finally a resolution at hand. After receiving approval for its redevelopment plans in late 2006 the property company Parkview, owned by the Hwang family, almost immediately sold the site to another development company Real Estate Opportunities. Right from the time of their initial purchase in 1993 it had appeared that Parkview was not acting in good faith and would never carry out their development proposals. Given the severe deterioration of the heritage listed building on their watch their exorbitant profit leaves a very sour taste in the mouth. Now that they are finally gone real progress is possible although there is also still plenty of room for it to go wrong.

But this could be the start of something big. A growing awareness of global warming is finally getting through to even the most reptilian brained corporate leaders. The Conscious Earth reports that Exxon-Mobil, having spent US$16million since 1998 funding “global warming disinformation campaigns” (or lies, as they are usually known) has announced that it is accepting reality and will cease funding organizations that deny climate change science, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI made the unintentionally but grimly hilarious “CO2 – They call it pollution, We call it life” television ad. Exxon-Mobil will now concentrate their efforts on crippling legislation (they didn’t put it like that, exactly). Also this week the European Commission is calling for an unprecedented common energy policy.

“Europe must lead the world into a new, or maybe one should say post-industrial revolution – the development of a low-carbon economy.”

This all makes one thing clear, there will be more and more redundant coal fired power stations. Few of them are as architecturally impressive as Battersea, the largest brick building in Europe, but most will be candidates for adaptive reuse.

(Photo Dan Taylor)

The gardener on the roof

There can be no doubt that urban agriculture is going to get more of our attention in the future but we draw the line at the adaptive reuse of entire city buildings for intensive urban farming, a dubious idea that seems to be yet another attempt to extend corporate control of food production, an issue that is already reaching crisis point.

Another reason to be cynical about such large scale corporate proposals is a basic management principle – if you have a major fuck up on your hands, get new people to fix it, never ever leave it to the same people who created the problem. Global warming goes with global capitalism and global capital’s “solutions” (eg more nuclear power) will always regard maintaining corporate power as a greater priority than solving the problem – that’s the nature of the globalist meme.

But that doesn’t mean that growing food on the rooftops of city buildings is a bad thing, in fact like all localised and independent forms of production it can be more sustainable and ethical and an important tactic in taking some control back from corporations. And it fits with our belief that adaptively reusing what already exists is always the first step.

Check out this article on rooftop hydroponics in Singapore. The move to food production is the latest step for the burgeoning green rooftop movement (a timeline of the development of green roofs is here).

For many years a building in Sydney’s central business district had a rooftop filled with water and water plants, a sort of rooftop swamp complete with spectacular birdlife. We don’t know if it’s still there but it was the first time we realised that the roof top garden could be more than just an aerial collection of pot plants.

In fact the technology of rooftop gardens has come a long way since then and the benefits of a green roof are now indisputable.

Green roofs conserve energy by moderating temperature on roof and surrounding areas, dramatically reduce storm water runoff, add ecological and aesthetic value by providing wildlife habitat in the urban environment and assist sustainability by protecting and extending the service life of the roof.

As Dr. Manfred Koehler, spokesperson for the new World Green Roof Infrastructure Network (WGRIN), launched this month in Berlin says

Rooftop greening provides an outstanding opportunity to accomplish multiple sustainability objectives and fight climate change.

Until recently the majority of green roofs were on contemporary buildings

such as this commercial building in Kassel, Germany,

the spectacular Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium by nikken sekkei

or the recent coastal research Laboratories of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute by Lyons Architecture for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, considered to be Australia’s best green roof design so far (Photos John Gollings),

or the Solaire building, Battery Park, Manhattan, the first ‘green’ residential high-rise in North America. The building’s design incorporates two green roofs: an intensively planted 5,000 square foot terrace green roof on the 19th floor and a 4,800 square foot extensive green roof on the 28th floor. The cleaned run-off water from the roofs is collected in Solaire’s basement cistern along with the building’s grey water and is later used to irrigate nearby parks.

In recent years, however, a new trend has developed, green roofs on heritage buildings such as this roof garden atop Chicago City Hall, 11 stories and 220 feet above street level, or the incorporation of green roofs into adaptive reuse projects, thus further increasing the contribution that these projects make to sustainability. In many instances this now qualifies the buildings under various certification schemes for tax rebates, assisting their financial viability.

One typical example is the Brewers Hill project, a $120 million multi-stage redevelopment of one of Baltimore’s most significant historic brewery complexes into office space, retail shops, residential units and light industrial spaces. Cho Benn Holback + Associates has designed the focal point Natty Boh building, a 10-story brick building complete with planted green roofs and a rainwater collection system.

Some are even arguing that the adoption of green roofs is being accelerated by the bird’s eye view provided by easily available satellite imagery such as Google Earth:

In this degraded age, the roof is emerging as a focus of society’s growing environmental anxiety. Not that green roofs will save the planet — sadly — but in cities from Toronto to Tokyo they are viewed as increasingly necessary if we are to slow global warming. In the Japanese capital, green roofs are a legal requirement for all projects over a minimum size. Even Toronto’s rooftop profile is starting to change, to become greener, thanks in part to a growing awareness of the bird’s eye view.

On the other hand, speaking of the bird’s eye view, how often is a roof top designed for that much despised flying rat, the urban pigeon?

Here is one that is also an example of the sort of art that we really approve of.

It’s by Natalie Jeremijenko at Postmasters Gallery, New York, here’s the press release and here’s an interview and a profile. We first came across her as a mover and shaker at the admirable How Stuff Is Made project then discovered her numerous art projects.

All we can say is that the video here at Seed made our week.

The carcass of western capital

Although the developed world is full of abandoned mining and industrial sites like the Bethlehem steel works, the problems they pose are nothing compared to the difficulties of numerous sites in the third world. Africa is now facing major pollution issues, for instance, but South America has an even longer history of western exploitation.

Now little more than polluted and degraded bare bones left behind by global movements of capital, “El Cerro Rico” in Potosi, Boliva is home to some of the poorest and most desperate people on the planet, yet the silver from El Cerro Rico, mined by indigenous slave labour, supported the Spanish Empire for 250 years and ultimately bankrolled the industrial revolution in Europe. The community and its historic mines and buildings must be one of the most pressing candidates for an adaptive transformation to be found anywhere.

It is hard to exaggerate the role this bleak place has played in creating our world. Seemingly having learnt one small lesson from the Spanish, the current crop of US neocons make sure that the profits of their current colonial pillaging go straight into the pockets of their friends in the US oil and armaments industries. This may also have happened as Spain expanded its empire in the 16th century if not for the fact that the Spanish royals had just kicked both the Muslims and Jews out of their kingdom. This left their agricultural land bare and industry without a base. As a result the Spanish were forced to buy the resources they needed for their conquests from other European countries and in so doing they spread the wealth that they were robbing from the indigenous people of Latin America.

The mineral wealth discovered there during the 16th century provided the European continent with the largest injection of capital it had ever seen.
In its heyday, the riches of Potosi were spirited away to help finance the heavily indebted Spanish empire. During the 17th and 18th centuries this wealth flowed in increasing amounts directly into the coffers of the empire’s major creditors — Dutch and English bankers. It is no coincidence that England and the Netherlands subsequently became major colonial powers and were the world’s first to develop industrialised economies. (more here).

Needless to say, conditions for the workers of El Cerro Rico were nothing short of horrific. The BBC article quoted above says that conservative estimates of the number of people who died working in the mines of Potosi range from 4 to 6 million. In his book “The Open Veins of Latin America” Eduado Galleano places the figure at 8 million. He also gives this figure some context.

The Indigenous people of the Americas added up to no less than 70 million, and maybe more, when the foreign conquerors appeared on the horizon; one and a half centuries later they had been reduced, in total, to only three and half million.

Put these pieces of history together and we can see that the colonial expansion that led to the English arriving in Australia was at least partly funded by the horrible exploitation of the resources and people of Latin America.

The question of the restoration and adaptive reuse of these sites pales in comparison to the centuries of exploitation and environmental degradation. As such a clear example of the way the quest for capital has produced desolation and destruction, Potosi and its Cerro Rico already stand as a major monument to the greed and exploitation that has created the first world.

But if the buildings and mines of Potosi can be put to an alternative use that puts into perspective the scale of what has occurred there, while offering the current crop of miners something more than an early death, then it would surely be the most appropriate use that land has been put to since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Fortunately UNESCO has recognized something of the great cultural and historical importance of the town and its mines.

Unesco is backing restoration projects for about 2,000 colonial buildings and is monitoring the conservation of the Cerro Rico, where the mining installations dating from colonial times are historic monuments.

Curiously there might be another resource waiting to be reused in and around Potosi. Writing here on the problem of cleaning up the horrible pollution caused by centuries of mining in Potosi Patrick Stack says

one of the best ways to clean up Potosí may be good old capitalism: The heavy metals in the area are prized for industrial use, and the cadmium, lead, and zinc in all those piles of tailings could make a nice profit for a company with the resources to extract them.

We can always hope…

Double dutch

We’re having a dutch day because last week Architectural Record announced its annual Design Vanguard for 2006 and one of the winners was the Rotterdam architectural firm BAR architects (yes even more crap flash animation).

We had seen their bridge house but we didn’t know about several interesting adaptive reuse projects.

The retirement home for junkies (yes, you read that correctly, Netherlands has never fallen for drug war idiocy) houses 28 addicts.

Their rooms are at the back seperated from the administration area at the front by these service units. According to the architects the over-scale photo-print ivy wallpaper is not a reference to drug-induced hallucination, it is designed to ease the drastic transition from a life roaming the streets to life spent under a roof. Hmmm, yeah.

The BAK contemporary arts centre is in a 17th-century building in the historic center of Utrecht.

The architects inserted a 28-foot-high, glass-and-galvanized-steel element behind the old facade, creating space for service functions. Stairs, toilets, reception area, pantry, library, and storage space are all integrated into the new element. Glass floors allow visitors to appreciate the full height of the modern insertion.

It no doubt allows visitors to appreciate other things as well.

But the one we really like is this, the “Mies-Meets-Granpré” mobile meeting space. It has a polyester skin decorated with imitation bricks and can be delivered to the site on a standard trailer chassis. Everyone knows who Mies was, Granpré (Marinus Jan Granpré Molière) was a dutch traditionalist architect and planner who died in 1972.

It is described as “a comment on the struggle between Modernism and traditional design”, not exactly an original theme, but it is done well and with humour, something architecture lacks on the whole.

Down by the old mill stream

The opponents of heritage conservation and adaptive reuse are usually overjoyed when a mishap like fire destroys a building on a site that they would rather see redeveloped as a big box shopping mall or something equally visionary.

But sometimes all is not lost – the Parthenon for instance was blown up when being used to store gunpowder in the seventeenth century, yet it remains as a much admired ruin.

Here is a newer ruin which in its own way is also admirable. (Photos SteveSchmeiser and MS&R)

It is the remains of the Washburn “A” flour mill in Minneapolis, Minnesota, now adaptively reused by the architects Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle as the Mill City Museum:

The Mill City Museum is housed in one of the original flour mills built along the shores of the Mississippi in Minneapolis. The building was named the Washburn A Mill and opened in 1874. The mill exploded four years later, due to bad ventilation, claiming 18 lives. The owners completed a new Washburn A Mill and continued operations in 1880, and was the largest and most technologically advanced mill in the world. The mill could grind enough flour in one day to make 12 million loaves of bread.

The Minneapolis milling industry began to decline in the 1920s although The Washburn A Mill continued production until 1965. The building was heavily damaged by fire in 1991. The city cleaned up the wreckage, preserved some of the orginal architecture, and built the Mill City Museum inside the ruins.

The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibits that help visitors understand the history of the milling industry and the impact it had on the city of Minneapolis.

Below the Museum is Mill Ruins Park (photo by anonymist) opened in 2001 to celebrate the history of 19th-century ruins that were once mills and powered by St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River.

At the time, flour became what put Minneapolis on the map, as it was exported around the nation and the world. The Minneapolis mills and canals made up the largest direct-drive, water-powered facilities in the world. The historic tailrace canal carried water from the mill turbines back to the river.

One of the world’s finest bloggers, Jason Kottke of lived in Minneapolis in the late 90s and has posted about his affection for this ruined building, with numerous interesting links. Highly recommended.

A blue grass original

We tend to be uninterested in adaptive reuse projects that are little more than renovations or restorations. It’s not that they are unworthy because they are extremely important – contemporary adaptive reuse is based on sustainability principles on the one hand and heritage conservation as a basic social building block on the other. It’s just that we believe they should be the norm rather than the exception.

The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation is typical of the many heritage trusts throughout the world that support the conservation of built heritage and the promotion of adaptive reuse has been one of their main tactics.

Founded in 1955 in Lexington, Kentucky to purchase and restore the 1814 Hunt-Morgan House, they then

helped save many other historic structures, including the Dudley House, Shakertown of Pleasant Hill, the Adam Rankin House, Henry Clay’s Law Office, Belle Breezing’s Row Houses, the Mary Todd Lincoln House, the Stilfield Log House and Benjamin Latrobe’s Pope Villa.

And it’s Pope Villa that interests us here.

It was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the US Capitol and the man who put the stamp of the Greek Revival on American public buildings of the period.

The Villa is a delighfully domestic variation on Palladio’s rotunda villas.

The Pope Villa is Latrobe’s best surviving domestic design. Its plan is unique in American residential architecture: a perfect square, with a domed, circular rotunda in the center of the second story. Latrobe drew inspiration from 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, but unlike Palladio’s villas, the cubic mass of the Pope Villa conceals within itself a surprising sequence of rectilinear and curvilinear rooms, dramatically splashed with light and shadow. Latrobe called these interior effects “scenery”; they reflect his reliance on the compositional principles of 18th century Picturesque landscape design. Latrobe’s fusion of classical sources and Picturesque theory places the Pope Villa among the most important buildings of Federal America.

That’s its heritage significance. Its significance as adaptive reuse lies in the way the Blue Grass Trust, in the restrained way that it is restoring and interpreting the building is turning it into a full scale teaching aid,

an exposition of early ninetenth century building techniques and a centre for training heritage architects and trades people.

It’s rare to see the basic principles of the ICOMOS Burra Charter,

to “do as much as is necessary and as little as possible” and “leaving original fabric in ‘as found’ condition” apparently being enacted in such a positive way and we look forward to seeing the restored building.

Dream castles

It’s beautiful, but we can find very little about it.

What we do know is that it is the adaptive reuse of Schloss Rothschild, Umbau, Austria as a museum by the Viennese Pritzker Prize winning architect Hans Hollein (who has an excellent website with NO FLASH!) and it is due to be finished in 2007.

Hollein’s unbuilt 1990 project for a Salzburg Guggenheim inside a mountain

is one of the greatest lost buildings of the 20th century.

In 1989 the Mayor of Salzburg sponsored an architectural competition to develop a conceptual design for the Salzburg Museum Carolino Augusteum. Hans Hollein’s design for a museum to be built into – rather than on – the Mönchsberg mountain, was selected by the jury. Various controversies, however, soon brought the plan to a standstill.

The Mönchsberg is a large rock formation that is one of the principal features of the city of Salzburg.

The building would also have been partly an example of adaptive reuse.

The museum entrance hall would incorporate the Gothic hall of the Bürgerspital, an existing building on the edge of the mountain. Below ground the museum would take up 15,500 square meters of excavated space, including a labyrinth of galleries and museums covered with vast skylights.

The project eventually fell through but you get some sense of what might have been

from his 1995 Vulcania,

a vulcanology centre built within an extinct volcano at Saint-Ours-Les-Roches, Auvergne, France.

Heritage Spam

We’ve talked about spam before but this time it’s Spam, the real thing, if you can say that about Spam. The Spam Museum is in an adaptively reused K-Mart, appropriately enough. It’s in Austin, Minnesota, “otherwise known as Spam Town, USA” (but not to us).

The museum also houses the offices of the Hormel Food Corp, the makers of Spam.

We found it on Big Box Reuse, a website about the reuse of that urban blight, the big box building, by Julia Christensen, a new media artist.

Since the spring of 2004, she has traveled over 75,000 miles around the country in her car, visiting the sites and meeting the people who are transforming empty Wal-Mart buildings, K-Mart buildings, Target buildings and more into useful structures for their community. She has been collecting a growing collection of photographs, interviews, stories, and documents relating to the renovations, and has been giving presentations in communities about how towns are dealing with this common situation.

The coming energy decline economy and the growth of web based marketing probably spell the death of the accursed big box, but as candidates for adaptive reuse they could become interesting but difficult community assets. Julia Christensen’s project is more than an interesting social document, it’s a pointer to the future.