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  • Landscapes Of Extraction
  • Frank Matero

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Figure 1.

Slate quarry, Slatedale, Penn. (Photo by Joseph E. B. Elliott, 2000)

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Among the oldest of technologies, the extractive industries refer to those processes that involve the removal and processing of raw materials from the earth: mines, quarries, collieries, oil and gas refineries, cement plants, and the heavy clay industries (brick, tile, and terra cotta). These processes transformed entire regions and markets, creating a much altered landscape with vast and deep quarries, pits, and mines; enormous furnaces, smelters, and kilns; fabrication shops and mills; and transportation networks to bring raw materials in and product out. Entire worker communities with houses, schools, churches and synagogues, pool halls, and stores were created to keep local labor close at hand. Many such sites, while rich in historical and architectural value, are also toxic environmental brownfields, thus making them especially problematic for contemporary reuse.

The intersection of geology, technology, and culture, these places were an important part of modern life, and their stories are often still accessible through the visual testimony of the land, their structures, and their machinery, as well as in the stories of those who labored there. In recent years this industrial legacy has been proposed as holding the key to regional revitalization by "regeneration through heritage," not only in the preservation and possible reuse of these sites, but as catalysts for reviving and maintaining the social and cultural fabric of their surrounding communities and natural environment. Cultural and environmental conservation have become powerful partners in the reclamation of these complex and often compromised places through ecological and social as well as architectural concerns.

2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Kenneth Hudson's groundbreaking book and manifesto on "industrial archaeology," the "mongrel" field he first named as the bastard offspring of industry and archaeology.1 Today the remains of industry past now dominate the global landscape, which is littered with the evidence of former industrial activities, and many of these places, now abandoned, hold latent value for their transformation and reuse. In the United States, Lawrence Halprin's 1967 conversion of San Francisco's Ghirardelli Chocolate Company headquarters into an integrated retail and dining complex and Richard Haag's 1971–76 Gasland Park in Seattle led the way to reuse. Today, myriad examples—driven in part by building booms in the 1970s and '80s, as well as by historic rehabilitation tax credits stemming from the Tax Reform Act of 1976—have since followed. Recent initiatives such as the Industrial Heritage Reuse Project by the Preservation League of New York State are specifically examining the reuse potential of several abandoned industrial buildings in Albany to provide model approaches in similar urban [End Page 3] contexts elsewhere. But many other less adaptable sites, such as brick yards, cement plants, and quarries of landscape scale, pose enormous difficulties for preservation and reuse.

Despite the recent popularity of industrial chic, critics now question whether this form of "adhocism"—that is, the improvisation of new, unrelated uses devoid of meaning and interpretation—has led to, at best, a polite taming of industrial heritage, and, at worst, its grotesque disfigurement in the name of gentrification and short-sighted corporate marketing. According to the 2010 symposium "Retooling Industrial Heritage,"2 a shift in thinking is now required for more sustainable preservation: thematic approaches that examine the problems and potential based on the original industrial processes, consideration and interventions at the landscape scale, ecological as well as architectural thinking, and, finally, human connections through past and current associations. As Sir Neil Cossons has keenly observed, "the world came of age in the twentieth century[;] a century endowed at its outset with immense industrial power, widespread prosperity, and emerging technologies that were to affect the lives of every person on the planet."3

Why invest in preserving these former industrial landscapes? As proven elsewhere, this industrial legacy often holds the key to revitalization of a region by "regeneration through heritage," not only in the preservation and possible reuse of these sites, but as catalysts for reviving and maintaining the social and cultural fabric of their surrounding communities and reclamation of the natural environment. First...


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