(...) 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
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
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.