The Westergasfabriek is a complex urban project currently being developed on a strongly contaminated industrial site to the west of Amsterdam’s city centre. Cultural activities and a park for the 21st century are transforming the Westergasfabriek into a new place of encounter with international appeal.
We have chosen the theme of ’the creative city’ to indicate that complex urban projects can be successfully realised if one takes an integrated creative approach. This can be witnessed at many sites where the post-industrial city has been given a new, exciting lease of life following the departure of major industry. In this creative city, culture is playing an increasingly important, catalytic role.
Moreover, this creative city has an enormous need for a new green infrastructure.
In this conference we aim to present a wide and international range of projects where the creative process is the motor for a successful green or cultural redevelopment. The vast majority of these are complex projects involving the reuse of old sites and multiple utilisation of space.
Over the past ten years, the redevelopment of former industrial or military sites and buildings has been the focus of growing attention all over the world. Sometimes this reuse has been of a clear and simple nature, but in other cases complex and intriguing urban projects have often resulted. In this conference we aim to examine how such projects can be successfully brought about.
We will compare successful and less successful projects, those just starting and those already completed, ones on a larger or smaller scale. In this way we can compile and share the experience built up over the years. Besides transfer of knowledge, the major goal of the conference is to link together various networks. In fact, this process should be a natural result of the form, content and quality of the conference itself.
We can see the results of this regeneration process in three different ways: the post industrial city, the park city and the cultural city.
The post industrial city
The city stands on the threshold of a new golden era. Since time immemorial it has been the place where people could meet each other. But in the industrial age the city increasingly took on the role of industrial production centre, with all the negative consequences thereof. On the other hand, the factory was an important element in social cohesion.
Now that a major part of industry has been banished from our cities, the city can once again take on new form and content as a place of encounter.
In recent decades, in many cities in the former industrialised world, disused industrial sites and abandoned military buildings have been redeveloped and brought back into use. This has resulted in a wide range of spectacular projects. Many other cities are still struggling with the issue of what to do with abandoned sites and derelict buildings. In reusing these former industrial sites the city can offer itself an enormous opportunity to develop new space for new uses. This is especially true in cities that have almost no possibility for growth and change in their old historic core.
The creative city
A new economy took shape in the last decades of the previous century. The development of this new economy was, above all, determined by the growth in information technology. We have seen new combinations of artistic and intellectual creativity in combination with technological innovations and cultural entrepreneurship. This is visible in the arts and culture sector and in the entertainment industry, dramatic changes are taking place in both printed and electronic media, and there are major consequences for education, health care and tourism, to cite just some examples. It is this change which, to a great extent, is the motor for the developments in the new creative city.
The derelict buildings and polluted wastelands of the vanishing economy can provide a unique launch pad for dynamic activities that define the image of the new economy. The manufacturing centres of the industrial age can give rise to the meeting places of the communication era.
In recent years a large number of spectacular and trailblazing projects have been realised in this field. These include:
The Parc de la Vilette with the Centre for Music and the Museum of Technology on the site of a former abattoir in Paris, www.la-villette.com.
Ria 2000, with the Guggenheim Museum at its centre in Bilbao: a city formerly ’renowned’ for its highly industrial and unattractive character, www.bilbaoria2000.com.
IBA-Emscherpark in the Ruhr region of Germany, where disused industrial buildings are receiving a new lease of life as museums and concert halls, www.iba.nrw.de.
The Tate Modern on London’s South Bank, in a former power station, www.tate.org.uk.
The park city
The abandoned industrial sites are also the last available areas in the city where new parks can be created. During the industrial era the cities had very little space for greenery, while large groups of people lived in the city only because they could find work there. The lack of high-quality green public space, even today a problem, is prompting many people to leave the city again; if this increasing suburbanisation is to be halted then it is vital to make our cities attractive again. The departure of industry gives us the chance to make a dramatic improvement in the living quality of the city, and in this respect the creation of high-quality public space is just as important as the construction of new homes or workspaces.
The new city parks can in turn become important urban places of encounter. Not only for dog-walkers, joggers, skaters, cyclists or Sunday afternoon footballers, but for the entire city as a place for special events and concerts (Hyde Park, Central Park, Vondelpark).
In recent years and in many cities, a large number of former industrial sites have been redeveloped as parks:
Paris boasts the most examples with the Parc de la Vilette, Parc Andrée Citroën and Parc Bercy, while in the Parc du Buttes Chaumont it already had a 19th-century forerunner.
Barcelona has the Parque de la Creueta del Coll and Parc del Clot
In Vancouver, Canada, the Andy Livingstone Park has been created on the site of former gasworks.
Toronto now has the Music Garden, inspired by a cello suite by Yo Yo Ma.
Seattle has seen development of the Gasworks Park.
The Thames Barrier Park and Stokley Park have enriched London.
The framework of the IBA-Emscherpark allowed development of the Duisburg-Nord Park and the Bundesgartenschau (National Garden Exhibition) in Gelsenkirchen.
An international network on industrial regeneration
From 1990 to 2000 an International Building Exhibition (IBA) was held in the northern part of Germany’s Ruhr region. This major exhibition was entitled IBA- Emscherpark and its main aim was to draw international attention to lost industrial heritage. In the process a broad, integral approach was advocated that focuses on several aspects of reuse. The disused industrial buildings in the Emscherpark received new functions, many of a cultural nature. Many of the associated projects involved the reuse of industrial buildings, but other aspects such as complex infrastructure, ecological connector areas, cultural functions, employment and social structure also played an important role.
In 1994 the initiators of IBA-Emscherpark organized an international conference, inviting many projects not only from Europe but from countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan and Brazil. Here it became evident that the various projects have many aspects in common.
This IBA-Emscherpark conference was of great importance to many of the projects represented at that time. The Westergasfabriek also profited, finding it possible to better formulate the goals of the project following the conference. The impulse provided by the IBA conference in 1994 gradually blossomed into a transatlantic network. Since then know-how and experience have been exchanged at a number of international meetings.
In 1997 the American ministry of the environment, the EPA, cited the Westergasfabriek project, together with IBA-Emscherpark and the Groundwork Trust in Manchester, England, as European model projects.
During the last ten years Westergasfabriek became a node in an international network. A network of providers (existing projects) as well as a network of demand (projects looking for answers) but also a network of knowledge (Harvard) and a cultural network.
We have been asking ourselves: "What is it that makes these projects work? and what is the importance of catalyst like culture, creativity and architectural quality in these projects? We intend to bring together the people that were behind those projects when these questions were first asked as well as people who are working on those questions today.
What is a park?
What is a park? This question was asked at the beginning of the planing proces for the new Westerpark in 1996. And there were some very interesting answers. Famous Dutch landscape architect and founder of West 8, Adriaan Geuze said: `A park is a secluded area with as many trees as possible’. A year later Jan Pronk, Dutch minister of Environmental Affairs stated: `A park is not the representation of the country side within the city. The park is the city.’
In what ways are these unique examples of contemporary parks different from those built in the past? What makes the park of the 21st century different form the parks that were built before?
In many aspects the Duisburg Nord park, designed by Peter Latz can be seen as revolutionary. It is a completely different vision on a park than anything done before. Compared with Parc de la Vilette or Andrée Citroën in Paris, where almost all relicts of the past have been carefully removed it is a shocking experience. In this sense the park in Dortmund on the derelict Hansa colliery even goes some steps further: here the buildings and the land are completely given back to nature. Only one footpath allows the visitor to experience that.
The new Westerpark is in many aspects complementary to the future use for the Gasfactories buildings where it offers small and large usable spaces. Rooms where one can sit alone or with a friend and next to them a huge space where a Techno party or a concert can be accom- modated. The design for the new Westerpark gives a structure to all these spaces. The central axis will function as the corridor in the house: connecting it all. Gathered around the axis are all these built spaces as well as these roof less spaces, the squares, the plazas, the gardens and the events field.
Where can Westergasfabriek be placed in the discussion about the `Park of the 21st century’? Can this new urban park represent a new type of park, by constituting the traditional functions altogether with the unconventional ones, such as the locus for the avant garde?
The new Westerpark suffers from a disease that is very typical for our time: a stressed program. The park wants to blend all of the different opinions together into a design that integrates the desires of all the users.
The public participation in the decision making process has been immense. On top of that, the park can also represent a case study of public participation program, a process that took into account social needs of various kinds. If the new park is able to accomodate the kids, their parents, can be the perfect place for the people liv- ing in the neighbourhood coming from many different countries, as well as the city dweller and the tourist and on top of that can also be the place where the avant- garde artist still wants to go this can be considered as an enourmous success on it’s own.
A new arena for creativity?
In 1992, the district council of Westerpark embarked on an innovative initiative to find temporary uses for the buildings of the former gasfactory site. Although the temporary plan for using the buildings as cultural venues was initially fueled by pragmatism, it ultimately sparked neighborhood and community interest in the site. It also provided an opportunity to test the success of opening the site to cultural events. The demand for the kind of space offered seemed to be immense. Many artists chose the site as a working place. Rather than rent to one anchor tenant, it was decided to form an organization to rent out the buildings for multiple uses. The prestigious Holland festival hosted several unforgettable productions (among them Zingaro, Karl Heinz Stockhausens Helicopter Streichquartet and the opera Antigone). Video clips and commercials were filmed. The Drum Rhythm festival hosted the top of the bill in international pop music. Techno parties were held. In this way Westergasfabriek started to provide exactly the kind of space that the creative industries had been looking for.
In `The growth of the creative class’ Richard Florida writes: "Creative people don’t just cluster where jobs are. They cluster in places that are centers of creativity and also where they like to live. (...) successful places are multidimensional and diverse (...) they are full of stimulation and creativity interplay ".
Westergasfabriek is fighting against the conventional attraction that cities want to offer today as a place of tourism and consumerism. This derilict industrial site turned out to be a magnet for creativity in the heart of the city
Purpose of the conference
In the conference `Creativity & the City’ we want to look at these projects, ideas and places starting from different perspectives. But the important thing will be to connect. The purpose of this conference can in that sense be defined in the following points:
transferring and exchanging knowledge and experiences on creative city building;
promoting the idea of creative and integral thinking in city planning;
enlarging the basis for a creative and deliberate development of projects;
bringing about an informal network.
The exchange of knowledge on the creative process is of social importance, as is the connection of a high level knowledge network, with the creative process as a connecting element. It is a conference of temptation: of inviting creativity, of reflection, a conference of investing.
Especially to mark the occasion of the opening of the project, the Westergasfabriek is organizing this conference to offer a meeting place for producing and exchanging experiences and ideas. This conference is also intended to examine the desirability of continuing the international network, and whether there will be a follow-up. During the conference we will try to define guidelines for other creative projects.