Post World Wars Central Europe might not have a lot a lot of positives you can say were taken away from the devastation of war. However, when everything is bombed to rubble you certainly have a clean slate to start over from when it comes to design. Many cities like Frankfurt, Bonn, and Berlin that suffered the highest amount of city destruction took the opportunity to rise from the literal ashes with a new era of urban design and architecture.
In Frankfurt, for instance, over 50% of the infrastructure was destroyed by 1945. Today, 52 percent of the city area is green space, consisting of parks, woodland, farmland, orchard meadows, grassland, allotments and hobby gardens, cemeteries, roadside grass verges and bodies of water. And as of 2019, Frankfurt has been ranked the most sustainable in the world.
Sustainable communities can arise naturally over time as well, through the reclamation and re-purposing of infrastructure. When a large industrial site or landfill, that used to be on the outskirts of town, finds itself decommissioned and eventually absorbed into the growing city, it can present a multitude of challenges (i.e. contaminated soils, eye sores, wasted space, etc). Europe’s ancient cities can serve as great examples of how to cope and even benefit from these challenges.
For industrial sites, Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Germany is a patent example of how a derelict site can be reclaimed without disturbing the polluted soils through deconstruction and wasting materials and energy in mass deconstruction. Through this they achieve the addition benefit of preserving a bit of history. Landschaftspark was transformed from a disused old industrial ironworks into facilities with multiple uses into a one of a kind park space. The huge buildings of the former ironworks have been modified to provide patrons with a multitude of new functions such as alpine climbing gardens created in ore storage bunkers and a viewing tower made from a decommissioned blast furnace. Landschaftspark represents how an area can celebrate its industrial past by integrating vegetation and industry, promoting sustainable development and maintaining the spirit of the site without morning it as an eyesore.
Metabolon in Bickenbach, Germany serves as an interesting example of landfill reuse. Metabolon is a multi-purpose site built upon a decommissioned landfill. The site today takes advantage of the artificial topography to serve as serves as a lookout point, bike track, public park, playground, and research center and more. Converting waste to energy is the most significant goal in the research center. What was a disaster for the town has become an attraction and public benefit.
The benefits of recycling and reclaiming are shared among citizens, tourists, developers, customers, and the environment alike. Firstly, an industrial reclamation project produces ecological benefits to the environment and its inhabitants through the growth of plant materials that harbor ecology that break down pollutants in the soils and filter water runoff. Secondly, by transforming dilapidated space into functional and aesthetic pieces, a city brings economic revitalization to the surrounding area. And thirdly, when site is transformed into a useful and attractive space the area becomes more attractive to potential businesses and tourists.
This mindset of design applies to projects large and small. When we think about renovating our residential spaces we have two options. Tear everything out and start anew, or integrate and recycle. Many people in the industry will take the easy road- remove it all and put in new. I urge more of you to consider the value in preserving and recycling the old. Keep more structures out of the landfill. Integrate those priceless 30 year old shrubs into the plans if you can with a nice pruning. Reuse materials where you can. New is not always better, it’s just cleaner for a few years.