The transformation of the landscape

The facades of the exhibition wing of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) will disappear for four months behind the coloured billboards of artist Uwe Loesch. Nine billboards, each ten square metres in area and fastened by steel frames, will show built structures from the northern part of the Ruhr region. They represent the revamped image of this former industrial region. To illustrate the ten-year-long restructuring plan, the projects were previously exhibited in Gelsenkirchen and they will now go on display in Rotterdam under the title IBA Emscher Park in Rotterdam - The transformation of a landscape. This year is the finale of the Internationale Bauaustellung (IBA) Emscher Park, which looks back at this successful initiative in the province of Nordrhein-Westfalen. With this presentation, the NAI hopes to stimulate those interested to look across the Dutch border and take stock of new methods of re-using a landscape.

As recently as twenty-five years ago the Ruhr region was a flourishing industrial area. Owing to technological developments and lower production costs abroad, however, industry has shifted to other parts of the world. The region had lost its funcfion and what remained were signs of a once dynamic past. The function of the abandoned landscape needed to be reconsidered. Therefore, ten years ago, under the title 'BA Emscher Park, the government of Nordrhein-Westfalen started the ambitious plan to inject new life into the northern section of the Ruhr region, which has always had a less attractive landscape than the south. This project would strive to keep alive the identity of the area. The project concerned an ecological, economic and social transformation, and thus it amounted to much more than simply a large-scale architectural project limited to the reuse of buildings. The aim was to alter the image of an evil polluter into that of a landscape park in which the original industrial structures would form a backdrop. In reality this entailed an enormous change in function:
where once coal was mined and iron ore processed there is now a combination of nature, culture and recreation. The River Emscher is no longer a dumping ground for waste material but an attractive destination for recreation. The grey buildings are transformed into monuments of recreation. Visitors will not only be treated to seventy years of television history in the gas tank of Oberhausen and climb the walls of the former steelworks in Duisburg, but also learn about life in and around the Zollverein mine in Essen. The re-use has injected new life into the region and also saved the monuments from decline. Although the intention is to continue the process of restructuring into the next century, this year forms the official end to the activities in which the results of the past ten years will once again be reviewed.

Attention for the transformation of the Ruhr region is taking place within the framework of the NAI's long-term project The Layout of the Netherlands, which runs from 1997 to 2001. The subject of this project is the approach to physical developments at various levels of scale in the Netherlands.
By examining international projects such as 'BA Emscher Park, the NAI is seeking to stimulate the discussion about the future development of the Netherlands and make it accessible to a wide public.

The 'BA Emscher Park event is being supported by various activities in the Netherlands. In addition to the open-air exhibition around its exhibition wing, the NAI is organizing a symposium on July 2. A further announcement will be made about this. The covering theme will be Landscape Transformations.
Particular attention will be given to the influence of cultural and social change for the landscape. For those who want to experience what Nordrhein-Westfalen has to offer culturally, there is the possibility of joining an excursion to the Ruhr region. An information panel in the NAI entrance hall offers information on various activities in 'BA Emscher Park in the fields of architecture, urban design, and the arts and culture.

In September this cross-border co-operation between Noordrhein-Westfalen and the Netherlands will extend even further under the title Herkennen/Erkennen. This exchange project will take place in both countries and the aim is to promote collaborative projects in the field of performing arts. Taking place in tandem with 'BA Emscher Park is AIR ZuidwaartslSouthbound, which is examining the southern flank of the Randstad and the delta landscapes of Zeeland, and focusing on the exemplary role of the island of Hoeksche Waard. In this project and in 'BA Emscher Park, landscape is given a new significance. This is the sixth AIR programme (Architecture International Rotterdam) and will be on show in the Main Hall of the NAI from May 1 to August 8 1999.