- Hope and Rust: Reinterpreting the Industrial Place in the Late 20th Century
In the last four decades, as deindustrialization has accelerated across Europe, an abundance of initially derelict industrial sites has provided a legacy through which to reconsider the industrial past. Although they were often vilified as realms of dirt and danger, a gaggle of archaeologists, historians, urban planners, tourist marketers, and architects have collectively ensured that such sites now often serve as markers of heritage, symbols of local identity that are worthy of preservation and interpretation. In Hope and Rust, Anna Storm shows how these diverse actors have battled over vacated industrial places, offering changing and diverse regeneration schemes. In carrying out this project, she tracks the changing meanings, tastes, and uses that have centered on these old factories, mines, and warehouses, and she offers a timely account about how this re-use and reinterpretation has its own history.
These urban transformations have come so quickly that it can be difficult to come to terms with the reconfigured environments that emerge. In the Marxian sense, that solid epitome of modernity, the factory, has suddenly been turned into air; such places no longer produce tangible manufactures [End Page 230] but rather concepts, ideas, aesthetics, and place-images, or else they house offices or dwellings at variance to their original function. The astonishing capacity of capitalism to discover new markets and create new commodities in such places consequently defamiliarizes sites that were habitually worked in or unreflexively passed during everyday routines.
The site featured in Hope and Rust is the former ironworks in the Swedish town of Avesta, a well-chosen example at which numerous shifts in regeneration policies highlight the changing approaches to conservation, use, and interpretation that Storm is concerned to depict. A finely grained study of the various actors, policies, and influences over three decades at Avesta succeeds in highlighting the fluid, processual characteristics of heritage reinterpretation as it is contested and transformed at one symbolic heritage site.
Storm avoids overgeneralizations by emphasizing that the reinterpretation of industrial sites invariably takes place in local contexts, under their own historical, political, and cultural conditions. Yet she also highlights the transcontinental trends which circulate through places. Here, the actors interested in regenerating Avesta are influenced by policies devised for the reinterpretation of other sites of iron and steel production—at Ironbridge in England and at the Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Germany—while simultaneously attempting to ensure that it is distinguished from them. More broadly, this process of adoption and adaptation, or disembedding and reembedding, underscores how places are increasingly constituted out of their relations with elsewhere, through the people, ideas, commodities, forms of transport, and money which flow through them.
A key argument is that developments such as the one at Avesta are founded on the production of new commodified space in the form of apartments, condos, offices, or heritage attractions, and that, furthermore, this is broadcast as an optimistic symbol of future prosperity. Yet such gentrification is conceived of as ambiguous, for it may result in the opening up of industrial spaces that were previously out of reach for most people, bringing them back into (semi) public space.
Contestations also focus on the aesthetics of conservation. Should a patina which testifies to former industrial use be maintained, “improved,” or cleansed, replaced by a smooth, sandblasted surface? Should selective traces of work be preserved or obliterated? At Avesta, a row of iron girders and a former interior gable, exposed and “showing a multiplicity of colours and patterns originating from earlier floor levels, a staircase and partition” (p. 70) were retained to provide (recently revealed) signs of the past, replete with arresting textures and form. These aesthetics were later contested, however, by those who believed they confounded an image of regeneration and potential future vitality, and they were removed.
This re-aestheticization of place draws in new ways of valuing things and places and carries the threat that places with difficult histories might be...