Eclectic plants, innovating to renew

Published on Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Large electricity plants turned into museums, multipurpose centres and theme parks. Old, out of use industrial sites are reborn as public spaces through creativity and dialogue with local communities.

Discovering Andy Warhol while walking in the engine room of an old power station, going scuba diving in the gasometer of a former steel mill, or doing free climbing on the walls of a disused silos. These are not cultural events in somewhat bizarre locations or performances for extreme sports lovers.

The world counts increasingly frequent cases of industrial sites, obsolete or embedded over time in urban centres, which have been turned into spaces of public utility, and instead of staying inert or end up abandoned, are granted a new life for the common good.

“In London like in Madrid, in Germany as in Italy, there are museums, theme parks and multifunctional centres that were once thermal power plants”

Art displayed in the machine room

The Tate Modern museum in London, until 1981 was called Bankside Power Station and was a thermal power plant, or rather, the "Power cathedral" of the English capital. The rooms of the Power Station of Art in Shanghai today exhibit works by Chinese and international contemporary painters: until 2007, they contained turbines, boilers and generators.

In addition to London and Shanghai, there are many other examples of redevelopment of former power plants reborn after years - in some cases even more than a century - of "honorable service". The most famous cases are the Caixa Forum in Madrid, the Tejo museum in Lisbon as well as the Montemartini plant in Rome, which today is included within the Capitoline museums circuit and reported by The Guardian as one of the ten most beautiful places in Europe.

The Tejo plant, presently museum of electricity and cultural and exhibition centre (Lisbon, Portugal)

Opening to dialogue, looking towards the future

Turning an old industrial site into something new, useful for the community and adapted to the needs of the times takes creativity, openness and ability to listen and dialogue.

The old Thyssen steel mill, built north of Duisburg in 1901, in 1994 became the Landschaftspark multi-purpose park, through a public contest in which architects and design studios around the world took part. The same  happened to the nineteenth-century Simmering gasometers in Vienna that now house homes, offices and rooftop gardens, restaurants and businesses, but also a multiplex cinema and a concert hall with 3600 seats.

History changes, energy renews itself

Industry has always gone through accelerations and changes driven by technological cultural and economic advances,. The energy sector, closely connected with a country’s development path, is one of the first areas that experiences these transformations, being their promoter.

“The change that we are experiencing regards sustainability and digital technologies, and results in renewable, distributed generation and smart innovation”

The transformation underway proposes a model already experienced in the past. The plant on Via Santa Radegonda in Milan, built in the late nineteenth century a few steps from the Duomo, was the first thermal power plant in continental Europe.

To give light to the Galleria and downtown shops, Milan also agreed to build a chimney behind the spiers and the Madonnina. This scenario, then symbol of global innovation, would be unthinkable today. But it was essential to embark on the long road of development and technology, of which we are now experiencing a new chapter.

Get a personalised quote for your home