Industrial heritage

Results of the CreativeCH workshop in the framework of the Pilsen Week of Cultural Factories (Pilsen, Czech Republic), held at the former Světovar brewery on the 17th of September 2013. The Week of Cultural Factories was part of the city’s preparation for Pilsen 2015 - European Capital of Culture.
The workshop focused on how to promote the preservation and use of industrial heritage. It addressed feasible approaches for particularly difficult cases of industrial heritage, the role of public-private partnerships, and involvement of civic and cultural communities.

Workshop highlights

Large variety of situations:
Industrial heritage sites present a large variety of situations concerning the type of former use (e.g. energy production, mining, manufacturing, storage), location (e.g. metropolis, city periphery, rural area, etc.), and the socio-economic situation (e.g. striving vs. declining regional economy, or well-to-do gentrified vs. deprived city district).

Particularly difficult constellations: Among the particularly difficult constellations are small towns in former industrial areas and peripheral regions in general (e.g. boarder regions or rural areas), which are typically afflicted by high unemployment and lack of economic dynamic (e.g. entrepreneurship and inflow of investment). In such a situation the rationale for preserving former industrial sites is difficult to communicate, especially because there might be no need of spaces for new offices, shops, restaurants, cultural facilities and the like.

Stimulate creative ideas and positive images: Particularly if the overall situation is not favorable it is important to promote creative ideas and images of a desirable future of the run down sites. This can increase the sense of ownership and confidence of local stakeholders that positive change is possible, and help mobilize citizens for targeted initiatives aimed at “re-inventing” the sites through re-using them for new purposes.

No blue print solution, evaluate the specific situation: Because of the variety of situations no blue print solutions are available even for the same type of industrial heritage. Rather the specific constellation, context and options must be evaluated case by case. Available expertise and inspiration from other projects should be sought, but copying what worked in one place under specific conditions might not work out successfully.

Use = protection: The time horizons of interventions can range from a few months to over 10 years. The key point is that former industrial sites have often been abandoned for an extended period and should be protected from further degradation in order to explore and keep viable options. There needs to be a long-term horizon and more than just one concept (e.g. finding a major investor). Involving young people and students to work on projects on-site and actively use spaces for some months can raise awareness of the value of the site. Some ideas and exemplary uses might be turned into initiatives that receive support by citizens, the municipality/regional government and other investors.

Temporary use based on low investment: Temporary use of sites by creative groups should be allowed and supported. Such usage might be turned, step-by-step, into self-sustaining solutions, which can attract further activity and investors. Small investment by the public hand will mean low costs for users, e.g. creative people in search of spaces.

Public governance has a core role to play: Governance of the public sector (e.g. municipality, regional government) has a core role to play even if little public money is available for preserving and revitalizing a former industrial site. There are instruments that might be applied and make a difference, tax breaks or relaxation of regulations, for instance. Demonstration of a clear position and engagement by the public sector can help mobilize, bring together and guide the cooperation among the stakeholders, including resolution of conflicts, if required.

Working with site developers: Revitalization through new uses will often not work without commercial investors, developers and operators of spaces such as shops and restaurants, offices or residential spaces. Therefore Public Private Partnerships and a balancing of the different values and interests (e.g. commercial players, public heritage protection agencies and citizens / civil society groups) are necessary.

Common ground, bridging values: Values which are shared by all parties can help in the often required negotiation and consensus building. For example, the “historical character” of buildings is valued by citizens and developers alike, by the latter because this typically allows for higher rents than new buildings. The same goes for “accessibility” of sites. Citizens wish to retain social places to meet, while investors are looking for “frequency”, i.e. places that are regularly visited by consumers. However, it is important to keep the social character of places, i.e. they should not be fully overtaken by commercial interests. Furthermore it should be noted that change in zoning and public investment (e.g. infrastructure, transport, cultural and other centres, etc.) can increase property values and potential and, thereby, impact on existing residential and other areas (e.g. gentrification, loss of small shops, etc. due to increasing rents).

Citizens as stakeholders and investors: The potential of citizens as actors in the preservation and revitalization of industrial and other cultural heritage is underestimated. Overall there is a high willingness of citizens to volunteer for preserving cultural heritage (Europa Nostra Forum 2011). There are also inspiring examples where citizens have taken the initiative and invested own labour and money to safeguard heritage (e.g. Stadsherstel Amsterdam NV, Netherlands). For citizens this is a matter of sense of belonging / identity, community spirit and pride in the historic environment, the preservation of which adds to the local quality of life. This applies not only to industrial heritage but even more so to urban areas, e.g. shrinking cities or city centres which have lost their social function and residents. An example is the HausHalten initiative of Stadtforum Leipzig (Germany) where occupants of historic houses act as guardians who refurbish and maintain the buildings.

Creative funding mechanisms: There are number of funding mechanisms such as lotteries for good purposes like preserving cultural heritage (e.g. BankGiro Loterij, Netherlands); long-term credits at low rates; sponsorship by companies based on Corporate Social Responsibility programs, or crowd-funding initiatives (e.g. on popular platforms such as; on different variants of crowd-funding see Röthler & Wenzlaff 2011). Concerning sponsorships it must be noted that the typical forms can only be part of the solution and often only after a site has been secured and a regular programme of cultural and/or other activities established.

Summary by Guntram Geser (Salzburg Research) and Gisela Gonzalo (Museu de la Ciència i de la Tècnica de Catalunya)

Workshop content

Full report of the workshop, presentations, videos, additional content and links at:

Includes presentations by

  • Eusebi Casanelles (Life President of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage - TICCIH): The preservation of industrial heritage through cultural reuse in a dynamic city and in a deindustrialized region: the cases of Barcelona and the Llobregat Valley;
  • Jörn Harfst (Karl-Franzens-University Graz, Institute of Geography and Regional Science, Austria): Creative valorisation of industrial heritage sites? Experiences from European projects;
  • Laurie Neale (Heritage Consultant, Member of the Europa Nostra Council, NL): Opportunity and dynamism in Europe’s heritage sector – Private-public partnership models for financing industrial heritage regeneration;
  • Heike Oevermann (Georg-Simmel-Zentrum für Metropolenforschung, Berlin, Germany): Places that matter: Cities and their industrial heritage;
  • Lars Scharnholz (Institut für Neue Industriekultur - INIK, Germany): Industrial buildings as a resource.

Selected material and links