Industrial Heritage

“The industrial heritage consists of sites, structures, complexes, areas and landscapes as well as the related machinery, objects or documents that provide evidence of past or ongoing industrial processes of production, the extraction of raw materials, their transformation into goods, and the related energy and transport infrastructures. Industrial heritage reflects the profound connection between the cultural and natural environment, as industrial processes – whether ancient or modern – depend on natural sources of raw materials, energy and transportation networks to produce and distribute products to broader markets. It includes both material assets – immovable and movable –, and intangible dimensions such as technical know‐how, the organisation of work and workers, and the complex social and cultural legacy that shaped the life of communities and brought major organizational changes to entire societies and the world in general. («The Dublin Principles» Joint ICOMOS – TICCIH Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes, 2011)
Industrial heritage sites are very diversified in terms of their purpose, design and evolution over time. Many are representative of processes, technologies as well as regional or historical conditions while others constitute outstanding achievements of global influence. Others are complexes and multiple site operations or systems whose many components are interdependent, with different technologies and historical periods frequently present. The significance and value of industrial heritage is intrinsic to the structures or sites themselves, their material fabric, components, machinery and setting, expressed in the industrial landscape, in written documentation, and also in the intangible records contained in memories, arts and customs.” («The Dublin Principles» Joint ICOMOS – TICCIH Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes, 2011)

Industrial Heritage reuse

Industrial heritage reuse can be defined as the adaptation of an industrial heritage site to a new program. This action usually involves modifications, especially in the internal organisation of space. Change is therefore an organic feature of reuse. Yet, the balance between change (repairs, alterations, additions) and preservation of portions that convey the site’s historical, cultural, technical and architectural values is what makes the action sustainable or destructive. The Dublin Principles provide a guiding theoretical framework towards a sustainable approach.

“Appropriate original or alternative and adaptive use is the most frequent way and often the most sustainable way of ensuring the conservation of industrial heritage sites or structures. New uses should respect significant material, components and patterns of circulation and activity. Specialist skills are necessary to ensure that the heritage significance is taken into account and respected in managing the sustainable use of these industrial heritage sites and structures. Building codes, risk mitigation requirements, environmental or industrial regulations, and other standards should be implemented in an adapted way to take heritage dimensions into account when they are enforced through physical interventions.
Wherever possible, physical interventions should be reversible, and respect the age value and significant traces or marks. Changes should be documented. Reverting to a previous known state may be acceptable under exceptional circumstances for educational purposes, and must be based on thorough research and documentation. Dismantling and relocating are only acceptable in extraordinary cases when the destruction of the site is required by objectively proved overwhelming economic or social needs.” («The Dublin Principles» Joint ICOMOS – TICCIH Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes, 2011)

Industrial heritage: from the ugly duckling to the spotlight

Early attempts to conserve industrial heritage mainly involved its transformation into museums. Very soon though, it was understood that alternative ways were required in order to respond to the particularities of this new heritage group. Since the late 1970s the process of reuse has been employed as the most sustainable way of protecting and prolonging the life of industrial heritage.
Industrial heritage reuse practice has gone through many shifts since the late 1970s. From a heretic and scarce form of conservation during the 1980s, industrial heritage reuse became common practice in most western European countries during the 1990s and flourished in the first years of the 21st century, when Europe was enjoying a good economic situation. Nevertheless, this prosperous period did not meant to last. In 2008, financial crisis hit Europe, causing financial and social upheavals in all countries which in turn resulted once more in major shifts influencing the heritage sector.