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Olindo Caso

Staging the industrial past

Current experiential strategies in Amsterdam, Rotterdam e Copenhagen

Imm.1 Papirøen, exterior. 
Credits: website; website - ZOOM

Imm.1 Papirøen, exterior. Credits: website; website


The regeneration of dismissed industrial area witnesses a trend towards facilitating positive processes of requalification by making possible a mixed character made of culture, temporality, ephemerality, flexibility. This phenomenology is well distinguishable in the transformation of cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Copenhagen, emphasizing the role of the local community in triggering a positive value-building process to which traditional planning seems to be willing to leave space. This leads to places of / in transition that host functions of a predominantly cultural nature, promoted by a new type of "2.0" actors such as start-ups, creative industries, young entrepreneurs and cultural operators. The dismissed industrial area aims to transform itself, therefore, into an urban centrality through gradual self-triggering actions, planned in compliance with medium/long-term time schedules. This policy, supported by adequate urban planning tools, contributes to the reactivation of the latent potential of the disused space resource, while awaiting structural projects that are aimed at permanent regenerating interventions.

Since the ‘90s, culture-led development strategies have been widely applied especially for the regeneration of impoverished or dismissed urban areas (Miles & Paddison, 2005). By this, culture is supposed to be able to create value and urban significance, acting as anchor for the development of urban life. Culture-buildings like theatres, opera houses, musea, art-galleries, creative centres and more recently public libraries (these last able to realize a better direct people’s engagement) are consequently designed to act as urban centres and as points of interest for many. At the same time, these buildings often support the developments also by being architectural interventions of high impact, openly intended to function as catalysts for investments and tourism – most famous example being Bilbao’s Guggenheim (the ‘Bilbao’ effect) or the Tate Modern in London (Plaza, 2008). In this they embody branding strategies based on sensationalism, boldly superimposing a new explicit meaning in the given regeneration area. Yet, these strategies touch only upon a few chords of the potentialities of culture-led (re)construction of the postmodern urban identity and correlated socio-economics (Plaza 2008; Evans 2009), and proved to be arid in the end: attempted replications of Bilbao-like strategies returned ever lower results (Abrahams, 2016).
Looking at the landscape of industrial dismissing, the culture-led redevelopment apparently entered a new phase in which culture emerges as an autonomous, experiential value (Pine II & Gilmore, 1999),  no longer in need of support by iconic physical interventions. Here, urban culture is created from the bottom-up like a new wave of popular culture generated by social encounter, leisure and creative programming. For this, elaborated narratives embodied by high-ended cultural typologies are useless. The branding strategy aiming to the creation of added value through architectural iconicity are complemented and often substituted by strategies based on the creation of experiential value through the staging of the industrial heritage as-it-is, animated by bottom-up creativity. This experiential value articulates itself in many layers: the perception of rather untouched locations brutally exposing the signs of their original industrial functions and their layering; the often generous spatiality offering visitors and users plenty of experiential opportunities at exceptional city locations; the idea of temporality which suggests the unicity of the experience (limited) in time; the ad-hoc flexibility offered by local government into the framework of local planning instruments.
This hard-core experiential embedment into the architecturally unambitious configuration of the industrial space is the new value-creating frontier of culture-led development. At least, this is what we have observed by visiting recent developments in former industrial areas in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Probably our observation are not new to the academic or professional knowledge / practice, being largely diffused than we imagine at the moment. Nevertheless, we want to quickly expose below the observed cases, possibly postponing to another moment a deeper discussion of this interesting phenomenon.

Papirøen island
In Copenhagen, the former paper-industry in the old port area hosts since 2012 a street food market. The large halls of the former industry are populated by a variety of stalls offering cooked food from all over the world. Located just in front of the 2008 Royal Danish Playhouse building by Lundgaard & Tranberg, Papirøen Island is today a most popular places in the city, offering specific location qualities as to its position at the centre of the old port and along the water, and its ‘easy’ programme of accessible, delicious food opportunities and relaxed encounter. The halls are just kept as they are, as the containers for the street-food programme that required very little adaptations. The programme itself (stalls and pertinences) is realized by the individual operators as well following opportunistic logics (e.g. recycled/upcycled materials/components) in line with the industrial essentialism of the halls-container. Together with more traditional redevelopments in the surroundings, attractive infrastructural accessibility and other high-ended cultural interventions the Papirøen street food marked is clearly creating added value in the former port of Copenhagen contributing to settle the area in the mental map of Copenhagen inhabitants – as place for popular culture ad rituals in the city. 
The process behind Papirøen is very interesting as it shows the explicit engagement of the municipality in this value-creating strategy for the benefit of Copenhagen as attractive location. Indeed, the municipality blocked the redevelopment plan for the island by real estate companies to  favour the bottom-up development of free creative entrepreneurship at location, with the goal of stimulating a fresh, attractive image for the city. This was given for a time-span of 5 years, meaning that 2017 will be the last year for the street market. At the present time discussion are taking place at the city on the desired future of Papirøen island (O’Sullivan, 2016) and new plans have been presented following a competition (see e.g. COBE: and UBLA: However, most likely this treasure of created value will not disappear when the next steps of redevelopment process will take place. The present activities will be by then stabilised in place or will move to another area in need of similar value-building process. (Imn. 1-2-3-4)

A similar process is interesting the so-called Meatpacking District at the Vesterbro area of Copenhagen, facing the Halmtorvet, not far from the central train station area along the rails. This is a crucial location in Copenhagen, being a natural extension for the city centre – for many years blocked by the industrial/productive function of the area. Originally hosting cattle market, slaughterhouses and the connected industry Kødbyen is composed by two parts, the older one (called the brown Kodby) dating from the end of XIX century and a newer one (the white Kodby) dating from the ‘30s of last century. For the re-development of this large area, it has been chosen for a strategy of transformation in time based on the creation of value through their gradual urbanization with minimum investments and the bottom-up participation/involvement of creative stakeholders and investors. Accordingly the complex is now hosting food, art, architect offices, and conferencing programmes into the original buildings. The halls are currently a hot-spot in Copenhagen being a popular destination for an growing number of visitors. This is likely creating added value in the area, even though only a part is presently reused. Probably the next steps in the redevelopment process will try to exploit the created value, but for the moment the actual mode of occupancy and investment will apparently carry on. We have found no information at this stage about future plans. (Imm. 5-6-7-8)

The 2008 crisis played a role in this evolution too leading to a renewed consciousness in how to deal with resources in spatial development: no more waste of resources, bottom-up operations wherever possible, different understanding of time, scarcity in budgets. Concretely: the existing industrial spaces, voided of their original functions, are yet built ‘things’ holding a set of qualities which is often ‘unique’ – although not always responding to the actual standards in climatic, energy, safety and so on. These original qualities are brought at the centre of the development strategy, which is a plan over time (years) based on an inherent on-going flexibility, changeability, temporality, whose main actors are start-ups, creative industries, young entrepreneurs, cultural operators which are involved at an early stadium and which fully contribute in the operation in change of entrepreneurial advantages. In these practices, the traditional master plan is abandoned in favour of a responsive strategy of subsequent steps in time, a road-map in which the results obtained from the previous step are at the base of the actions for the next one. In this, these new strategies play upon the resiliency of urban structures. We came across two developments in Amsterdam that show this dynamics.

Stork area: De Overkant
The transformation of the IJ banks in Amsterdam from port functions into urban areas mainly followed the traditional master planning strategy, yet preserving or integrating particular industrial objects as memento’s characterizing the intervention area. However, around 2008 this strategy has been put under pressure especially for what concerned the re-development of the north-side banks. Development operations that were initiated at Amsterdam North for transforming old industrial areas into dwellings, offices, commercial and leisure with the commonly used strategy (demolition and reconstruction by substitution) were not feasible any longer. The development of the Stork area, acquired by a local housing corporation mainly for transformation in mixed living-working program, could not proceed due to the worsening of market conditions at that time and was put on hold. The corporation moved to a strategy of building resiliency to be able to save part of the done investments. Accordingly, the large halls were prepared for start-ups, creative offices, craftsmanship, market, young entrepreneurs, events (see: A restaurant was opened in a most attractive location, overlooking the IJ waters, and spaces for meetings and happenings were created. The Kromhout hall offered a very attractive location for events due to its generous dimensions. Many of these measures were intended to be temporary, for which little resources were destined. In the meantime the former Stork  acquired in value by becoming a part of the daily behaviour of local inhabitants and of Amsterdam. It was a successful operation as the situation is apparently stabilising: a large supermarket has occupied a part of the area becoming a local anchor, the offices, the commercial and the workplaces are busy. Further developments could now follow shortly, as the demand for habitations in Amsterdam is very strong and the economy is in the lift. And in fact, this temporary period is coming to an end. Redevelopment plans in the original envisaged mixed program of living and working are expected to start in few years. Yet, it is the question of which form this development will actually take. The success of the temporary occupancy has changed the perception of the Stork area in Amsterdam, it is likely that this experience and the connected value that has been produced will find a place in the future development. (Imm. 9-10-11-12-13)

Parool triangle
The Parool Triangle area at Amsterdam East is as well a typical example for this type of development (Caso & Cavallo, 2013, 2014). The area, originated by the dismiss of a railway area and junction (by which its triangular shape) is occupied by buildings built after WW2, starting from the 50’s, following the plan and the spirit of Van Eesteren’s AUP and therefore formed by buildings with a ‘modern’ (functionalism, Nieuwe Bouwen) conception holding difficult relationships with the surrounding area, dating from a century before (Sitte, Berlage, city of blocks). For long time this group of buildings along the Wibautstraat - hosting the headquarters of newspapers (Parool and Trouw, designed by Bakema Van der Broek, and Volkskrant by Kraaijvanger) that shared the same press facilities - has been considered by the folk as being the ugliest buildings at the ugliest street of Amsterdam (Vermeulen Windsant, 2014). The Lecorbuserian school (by De Geurs & Ingwersen) which is as well part of the area was an exception, being nominated (just in time) as city monument. Not surprisingly, once dismissed the building have been acquired by a local housing corporation for demolition and substitution, to develop a new living and working environment well connected to Amsterdam and the region due to excellent infrastructural facilities. The master plan designed by Busquets foresaw a huge densification of the area. Yet, the 2008 crisis has brought to a new insight and left the corporation with a financial problem. The buildings were then destined to incubator functions for cultural enterprises, leisure, start-ups and young entrepreneurs with very little investments. This temporary new programming completely changed the perception of the area in Amsterdam: the once ugliest part became one of the hot-spots in the city, a most wanted location for innovative business, students, and leisure/cultural activities. The Trouw building hosts an art centre with live music and restaurant; the Parool is suitable for student housing and creative business, the school has been restored and is a school again, the Volkskrant hosts an incubator, hotel, club Canvas and sauna terrace on the roof. Due to this development, the area stabilised and acquired much value yet keeping the original buildings. Part of the temporary activities can now be considered permanent. Probably, new investments are now possible due to the value-building strategy followed in the crisis time. (Imm.14-15-16-17)

Kop van Zuid, Wilhelminapier, Katendrecht, the Fenix warehouse
The strategy of redevelopment by creating experiential value was already tested in the ‘90s in Rotterdam for the Wilhelminapier. This was part of the Kop van Zuid area, at the opposite side of the river Maas in respect of the city centre, hosting amenities for the (dismissed) old port (Bakker et al., 1999) and for which a masterplan was prepared in the ‘80s. Already before the opening (1996) of Ben van Berkel’s Erasmusbrug, the starting of the Hotel New York (open 1993) at the far head of the pier was an operation of experiential branding and cultural colonization of the otherwise unhospitable industrial setting of the obsoleted port. The New York was the directional building of the Holland-America line, interoceanic ship connection for passengers and goods. Its transformation in hotel, just amidst the old port landscape of Rotterdam, before the obvious connections were laid down, meant the first ‘pioneer’ step in the transformation of the area and rapidly became a unmissable ‘exotic’ experience in the city leisure circuit. Indeed, the hotel could at the time mainly be reached by water-taxi’s, or by a long detour through mostly abandoned industrial areas at Rotterdam South. The ‘illegal fish restaurant’ that opened next to the hotel and the hotel itself, with its restaurant and particular position, became in no-time a very popular destination in Rotterdam, creating added value at Wilhelminapier and therefore helping to ease the path for the development of this part of Rotterdam. The Wilhelminapier and hotel New York are also linked to the current redevelopment of Katendrecht.
The Rotterdam Katendrecht area makes part of the old port facilities along the Maas. Katendrecht is a peninsula separating the waters of the Maashaven and the Rijnhaven. From the ‘70s Katendrecht was known in Rotterdam as derelict and difficult neighbourhood, with very little appeal. This part of the port also hosted one of the world’s largest port warehouses at the end of the XIX century, the San Francisco, also belonging to the North-America line. The warehouse was partly bombed during WW2 and was restored a first time, and later partly destroyed by a fire that left the large warehouse divided into two parts. Once restored, these parts acquired the name of Fenixloods I and II. With the development of the old port into an urban area and the consequent redevelopment of the Wilhelminapier, the Katendrecht area has become more central and strategically interesting. The new bridge for slow traffic between Wilhelminapier (Hotel New York) and Katendrecht (the Fenixloods) has increased accessibility of the area, which is also facilitated by two nearby stops of the city metro railway line. 
For the redevelopment of the area it was chosen for a similar strategy then in Copenhagen Papirøen Island: a bottom-up strategy of building resiliency and flexible development in time, driven by creative programming and fresh cultural enterprising. This is based on the creation of urban value through the transformation of the industrial spaces into bottom-up cultural spaces on the one hand, and on the punctual restoration of key buildings in Katendrecht located in strategic places – especially around the triangular Deliplein square, which is bordered from the side of the water by the Fenixloodsen. This strategy aimed to hold in the area the local cultural and economic actors (as social anchors and continuity) and to attract young enterprises, creatives, and value-building operations offering cheap and abundant space in the ‘romantic’ environment of the old port – an atmosphere that is now disappearing from Rotterdam. The opening of Katendrecht to Rotterdam, and the cultural values that were associated to the operation, resulted in a street-food market hall in Fenixloods II with a shared space concept as main attractor for general public. The street-food entrepreneurs are part of the Fenix Food Factory and include a now successful micro-brewery, and is presently enormous popular in Rotterdam. At the beginning of the operation, the Fenixloods I also hosted the activities related to the Rotterdam Biennial, part of the strategy of transformation of the industrial places in cultural places. Besides the food-market the Fenixloods II also hosts the café’ Posse, the circus Arts van Codarts – educational facilities for young talented circus artists (adaptation designed by Van Schagen Architecten), and spaces for innovative entrepreneurs / commercial. This was possible thanks to a municipal permission (2012) for functions that do not adhere to the official General Plan but are explicitly temporary. Accordingly, the temporary activities in the Fenixloods will be limited in time, but at the same time they are acting as value-creating elements for the area. The temporary permission originally expiring in 2017 has been extended for two additional years now, while the value of the area keeps rising. The Fenixloods I is indeed now the object of development. After having had temporary functions, now it has been demolished for the large part excepting the original ground floors that have been topped by new units for living and working (Van Dorsten, 2015). This evolution in the area development has faced much opposition from local inhabitants, and can be easily criticized in the light of both the architectural design and the fitting in a sensible process as this one has been till now. Yet, the strategy of development through transformation of industrial places in cultural places did work out. Ideally the temporary activities of Fenixloods II could now move to the new Fenix I building over completion (this is part of the plan for holding economic players on place) in turn rendering the Fenixloods II available for (similar) redevelopment. The question remains whether the redeveloped Fenix buildings will hold after renovation the same appeal than they presently have, in other words whether the value-creating strategy by this type of temporary occupancy will maintain a permanent share of appeal in the future too. (Imm. 18-19-20-21-22-23-24-25)

Few remarks
The experiential development strategy is especially interesting for truly historical urban locations , but also for many dismissed areas of the industrial era with their romantic, abandoned landscape made of chimneys, large halls, erratic open spaces and rusty infrastructures. The invention here is the sudden transformation of industrial spaces into cultural spaces. This is a surprising invention as we reflect that these industrial spaces were once the places of (heavy) labour and hard working conditions, landscapes of fatigues and routines as much hated as well needed by many generation of workers. Now that they cannot hurt anymore, they are docilely turned into romantic landscapes of pleasure, with a reassuringly un-dangerous rough edge.
The ‘traditional’ culture-led redevelopment strategies based on sensationalism and the creation of value through architectural icons, usually expose a staged spectacle that operates by means of interpretation and / or transposition of significance, eventually superimposing a new ‘superior’ / high-ended reality (top-down pretended to be relevant for all) to the original physics – potentially leading to experiences of alienation. On the contrary the developments described above just show the spectacle of the industrial spaces as they are, with no ambition to be architecture. What are staged here, are the truly quality of the location and the unicity / temporality of the experience, This spectacle is built around the participants, visitors and stakeholders, and is only valid when these participants are the focal points of the staged experience – by engaging them in the spectacle. Nor disturbance from architectural ambition is allowed, neither a  more or less pretentious cultural seriousness. Only the centrality of the performing mass of individuals is the spatial goal of the hard-core spectacle of untreated industrial walls. An advantage is however that the temporality of the experiential strategy also allows to construct a transition in time from an old (somehow romantic or poetic) past to a new reality which clearly emerge in time, giving the possibility to actors (people, stakeholders, inhabitants) to take leave of the past and handle the step into the next phase by recognizing some degrees of continuity between past and future.
The more traditional instruments of  planning development, based on master planning and value-creating value through architecture and in general through materiality can be helped and somehow better directed by not-material dimension as experience and narrative. In the cases exposed above, the narrative was enough powerful and fascinating to compensate for the absence of built architectural quality – only tearing upon the locational quality here and now. Value building is the urban goal, and should be recognized and meaningful for all participants in the urban scene, as a process of inclusiveness and equity. For this, it cannot be just material / financial. It must involve an emotional components as accessible common ground for the most people.
This type of operation are only possible within a framework of flexibility and cooperation among the participants, from the local government to the investors and the users. In turn, this is only possible when all involved parts can trust each other, being reliable and respecting the taken appointments in the spirit of own role. Temporality means that at a certain stage the experience should be terminated, and options for next developments re-assessed and re-discussed. For this, a clear communication and continuity of intents in the due time is a must. Ideological positions should be avoided. In the quoted case studies, all operations were defined and conducted in good agreement between all parts involved. In Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam (and probably elsewhere) this has been possible. Would it be possible in Naples, Rome or Milan too?


Abrahams T. (2016) "What culture is to a city". Architectural Review, January, 2016

Bakker R. (1999) Paul Achterberg, Frank de Josselin de Jong, Olof Koekebakker, Lodewijk Baljon, Joan Busquets.Kop van Zuid 2. Rotterdam.

Caso O.; Cavallo R. (2013) “Hybrid Buildings Celebrate the Collective Realm. Design Research at the TU Delft”. In Fidanoglu E. “Educating the Future: Architectural Education in International Perspective”. Proceedings of the EAAE Conference ‘Educating the Future’, Istanbul Kultuur University Publication 195. Istanbul: Golden Medya.

Cavallo R., Caso O.(2014) “Design Research in an Environment of Change. The ‘Green Approach’ in Urban Regeneration”. In Cavallo R., S. Komossa, N. Marzot, M. Berghauser Pont, J. Kuijper (eds.), “New Urban Configurations”. Proceedings of the EAAE-ISUF Conference ‘New Urban Configurations’. Faculty of A&BE, TU Delft, October 2012. IOS Press, Amsterdam.

Evans G. (2009) "Creative cities, creative spaces and urban policy". Urban Studies, 46, 1003-1040.

Miles S.; Paddison R. (2005) "Introduction: the rise and rise of culture-led urban regeneration". Urban Studies, 42, 833-839.

Pine II, Joseph B., James H. Gilmore (1999) The experience economy. Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Harvard Business Press, Boston.

Plaza B. (2008) "On some challenges and conditions for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to be an effective economic re-activator". International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32, 506-517.

On-line references

Dorsten, Tim van (2015) Tweede leven voor Rotterdamse Fenixloodsen. Accessed 8-12-2017.

O’Sullivan F. (2016) How Copenhagen paused its waterfront redevelopment. Accessed 8-12-2017.

Windsant V., De Parooldriehoek X. (2014) Accessed 8-12-2017.

Olindo Caso (1962, Avellino, Italy), architect, is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Architecture and The Built Environment of the Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, where in 1999 he achieved his Ph.D.. From 1989 he is also active in the practice and he gained special expertise in design and consultancy about the ‘space of mobility’. He is specialist in multidisciplinary research and the relationships between the different scales of design. His current research interests focus on the study of cultural infrastructures in contemporary city, and in particular on the development of library buildings, and on the growing ordinariness of the urban ‘hybrid’ experience. He is the author of international papers and publications, among which Architettura contemporanea: Olanda, Motta, 2009.

Imm.2 Papirøen, exterior. 
Credits: website; website - ZOOM

Imm.2 Papirøen, exterior. Credits: website; website