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THE IBA IN THE RUHR REGION. The Architecture International Exhibition at Emscher Park.
by Véronique Brom

(...) The Ruhr region is located close to the northwestern border between Germany and the Netherlands and the Land that administers that part of Germany is the Northern Rhine - Westphalia Land.

This German region is a damaged and devastated area which has been deeply undermined by unemployment among miners, workers of the iron and steel industry, metallurgists, boiler and smelter operators, all those who used to work in the heavy industries that deal with the extraction, refining, welding, distillation, sintering and drilling of metals, a harsh men's world as well as a piece of 20th century poetry in which soot and dirt mingle with solidarity, trade-union struggles, human dignity and hard work, and, today, a world that has embarked upon a new venture, using reactivation as a basis for further recovery.

A mere ten years ago, the President of the Northern Rhine - Westphalia Land decided to take the bull by the horns and to pave the way for the setting up of a policy focused on the development and restructuring of the region's resources, using human dignity as their only "political" slogan. The route they had to follow was punctuated with a series of milestones such as the decision to acknowledge not only a past but also the reality of a landscape which could hardly be described as bucolic, a landscape in which lands, woods and waters were contaminated by industrial waste, not to mention the pollution of the atmosphere, the air people have no choice but to keep on breathing in, whatever its chemical content. The scale of the task they were undertaking was as enormous as that of the disaster they were confronting.

As we said before, it was a mere ten years ago when the Land administration decided to provide the groundwork for a strong movement towards the development and restructuring of the resources of a region that had suffered disappointments and drawbacks of all kinds.

(...) Ten years have now elapsed and the mission that was entrusted to the IBA is reaching its end. The time has come to take stock of the situation. There has been no significant improvement in the actual rate of unemployment; however, in terms of characteristics and indicators, local unemployment figures are now getting closer to those registered in other countries within the European Union. Moreover, the incidence of delinquency has decreased. The landscapes seems to be pulsing with life again. The buildings are pleasant-looking and inhabited. Newly-settled companies are hiring employees. As if by magic, local foresters transform themselves into guides-cum-lecturers. And this is how that new phenomenon labelled "Land Art" is being smoothly integrated into the landscape.

In the next issue of our magazine, we shall present the readers with more detailed accounts of different projects carried out in the region under guidance from the IBA and of the exhibitions that will put the finishing touches to those ten years of co-ordinated activity. We shall also talk about tourism, outlining the four tourist routes that cross the Ruhr region - respectively centred around industrial culture, architecture, sculpture and landscapes -, allowing us to get better acquainted with a vindicated "industrial nature".

Besides, we shall let the forester-cum-lecturer-cum-guide who escorted us on a tour of the old mines on a sunny morning comment the situation in his own words.

 

An avant-garde project
by Enric Franch

(...) The Emscher Park International Exhibition is a clear example of that second possibility and it is precisely for that reason that we would like to emphasize some aspects that make that initiative a particularly interesting experience. Namely those aspects that guarantee overall consensus, define the framework and impart greater strength and dynamism to the working processes, so that the selected design projects might be appropriate and of the highest quality.

(...) In view of the significant changes that had taken place at the beginning of 1989 as a result of the collapse of the social systems, the globalization of the markets and the abandonment of any expectation of further growth in the West, paralleled by an increment in social tensions, the board drafted and approved a second memorandum that included new importants points of references such as "tourism" and the "creation of reasonably priced, unpretentious housing estates for would-be home-owners".

Finally, nine years later, after taking provisional stock of the situation, we may now say that the results achieved so far are excellent as the environment renovation programme is being implemented with remarkable speed and efficiency at Emscher. A network comprised of sixteen entrepreneurial initiative and technology centres offering a high-quality industrial area of approximately 500 hectares has already been reconstructed. The renovation of existing workers' dwelling places is under way and new high-quality housing estates are being built (there are 2.000 dwellings already completed or well under construction). Highly significant and large-scale industrial facilities have been rehabilitated and remodelled: the Zollverein Mine XII Shaft, the Oberhausen Gasometer, the Meiderich iron and steel works, etc... The new landscape structured according to the second memorandum's guidelines has now become the backbone of the region, an area in which the use of solar energy and the construction of timbered houses are being fostered.

Great effort is also being made to push forward and support those cultural and economico-cultural projects that might contribute to a better territorial structuring of local development and that fit in an integral regional structuring policy. A large number of documents are being published, dealing with important subjects such as: Areas that require special renovation programmes - Finding ways to encourage the tenants' co-operation and participation - Promoting tourism within an industrial landscape - The Emscher Natural Park - Ccreation of reasonably priced housing estates, etc..

A shining example to be followed, no doubt about it.

 

The Architecture International Exhibition at Emscher Park, 1999. The finale
by Mr. Wolfgang Clement. president of the northern westphalia land administration

When, at the end of the year 1988, the Administration of the Northern Westphalia Land took the decision of organizing an International Exhibition on Architecture in the Ruhr valley, it was in fact a resolution that fitted in a long-standing tradition. Several exhibitions centred on building design and construction had been held in the Land since the middle of the 19th century. However, what differentiated this event from earlier exhibitions was its very approach to the subject because, from the start, the concepts and criteria brought forward by the IBA Emscher project went well beyond the sphere of architecture and town-planning. More ambitiously, the stated objective of the International Exhibition was a cultural, environmental, social and economic remodelling of the whole Ruhr Region. To that effect, the International Exhibition proved to be a resounding success in practice, even at an international level. From the very start, the basis of the philosophy underlying this exhibition was the conviction that any lasting economic advance is conceivable only in terms that might prove environmentally defensible and justifiable. In the early nineteen eighties, the exhibition was already functioning as a kind of "detector" of junctures favourable to further developments. Constancy of criteria in the decision-making concerning the region's architecture and landscape configuration has been the distinctive feature common to the more than one hundred projects directed by the IBA up to now. All those projects have been carried out in areas which had been vacated after a period of continuous industrial exploitation. Sixteen scientific research and promotion centres are currently forming an extensive regional network which constitutes a powerful driving force and provides suitable backing for those initiatives orientated towards the renovation of the region's economic structure in accordance with environmental criteria. The Emscher Natural Park offers unmistakable proof that, using aesthetic and environmental criteria as a basis, it is actually possible to successfully reshape a 70 kilometre long landscape spreading over a 500 square kilometre area that had been badly damaged through industrial exploitation. And, to that effect, the environmental remodelling of the Emscher system is a task that will keep at least two more generations fully occupied. However, the Emscher Park also appears as a relevant model in other fields: through the construction of new centres of population of a high social, cultural and aesthetic standard, the place embodies and interprets anew the innovative idea of a "garden city" within modern parameters. So, through the reconversion of the vacated production facilities that were sadly falling into disrepair, the project has succeded in preserving structures that constitute a tangible testimony of inestimable value to the evolution of techniques and the history of the building industry, while granting them a new function more specially related to culture and the economic management of cultural events. Finally, the creation of the advertised "industrial cultural route" has become the new cornerstone of urban tourism in the Ruhr region, a business that has actually been experiencing a remarkable development over the last years. From the very start, the Exhibition was put within easy reach of all those who showed an interest in it. Several thousands of people were actively involved in the project planning and implementation processes in the 17 towns within the Emscher area. Now, in 1999, the Architecture International Exhibition at Emscher Park is being presented to the whole world with a view to showing how a region with a long-standing and quite powerful industrial tradition can actually overcome obstacles and achieve a successful structural transformation. The 99 IBA project is more than an event intended for experts. Its programme shows the kind of audacity peculiar to all unusual endeavours. The 99 IBA project stands out for its portrayal of a region whose inhabitants, facing up to the economic, environmental and cultural renovation of their homeland, have carried over into action an initiative that will never be sufficiently appreciated. The 99 IBA project is synonymous with culture and the occupation of leisure time and, at the same time, it stands as an incentive to carry the renovation of the region still further into the twenty-first century.