Vertical Urban Factory, curated by architectural historian and critic Nina Rappaport, features the innovative architectural design, structural engineering, and processing methods of significant factory buildings in the early 20th century and the present. A timely response to the ailing economies of post-industrial nations, the exhibit poses the question, can factories once again present sustainable solutions for future self-sufficient cities?
Once dominant in company towns and industrial cities of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, factories are now associated with pollution and brownfields. The Vertical Urban Factories featured in this exhibit, however, have pushed the boundaries of innovative design. A glance to the not-so-distant past recalls Ford’s Highland Park, which pioneered the 60-second Model T, and the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, a stunning complex of Modern architecture. These and other Modern factories around the world were once significant as agents of innovation and change.
Though factories today may not be as celebrated, architects are re-approaching factory design with growing interest. Contemporary factories such as the Madrid recycling plant and the new VW Transparent Factory in Dresden have tried to address issues of environment and economy by building taller, using high-quality design, and cutting-edge technologies and allowing for visibility into the factory floor. The relationship between factory, city, and economy has yet to be explored. While offshore manufacturing allows some products to be made more cheaply overseas, the manufacturing of local products, including perishable food processing, elevator repair companies, high-tech, fashion, and furniture — could revitalize neighborhoods and industrial infrastructures. Thus in the face of declining industry, a shrinking job market, and the polluted environment, the need for well-designed factories in cities becoming imperative. If industrialists and urban planners reconsider the potential for building vertically and thus more densely in cities, this, in turn, would reinforce and reinvest in the cycles of making, consuming, and recycling as part of a natural feedback loop in a new sustainable urban spatial paradigm.
This exhibition highlights the Modernist innovations of the past and illuminates contemporary architects’ present efforts, while educating the public on the potential future for change-making urban factories. It demonstrates how architectural and urban design issues that address manufacturing present an exciting design challenge for integrated systems and new design concepts. Photographs, drawings, and diagrams of architecture of industry, as well as a large format timeline, are designed in an installation adaptable for travel by Michael Tower of Tractor Architects, with bold graphic design by Sarah Gephart of MGMT Design. Six films by Eric Breitbart of historic and contemporary factories and new architectural models and diagrams highlight the significant features.