The future Alzette Quarter is based on the vision of the Danish architects Cobe and Urban Agency, chosen by AGORA after an international competition. To create a dialogue between the industrial history of the site and its new uses, they propose to be guided by the “Stadtfabrik “ concept of “city in perpetual remanufacturing”. In other words, a Stadtfabrik quarter is a quarter that is being built on itself, in a never-ending “work in progress”, as architect and project manager Ole Storjohann of Cobe architects in Copenhagen explains.
How do you define the Stadtfabrik concept and where does it come from?
Ole Storjohann: “Our vision, very broadly, is to use the existing potential of the site to create a new liveable city. Our founder and creative director Dan Stubbergård proposed to call this concept “Stadtfabrik”, thereby connecting it to the areas past as a steel factory. This involves fully considering the former industrial orientation of the region to lead it towards a new context of “creating quality of life” Our idea is to move from a production plant to a factory for living, so to speak.
Let’s be clear: this implies a lot of new things, a lot of new uses, new allocations, a radical change to the land. But, at the same time, we want to keep the memory alive and make sure that everyone who sets foot on the site feels that they are on the site of a former production plant. The term Stadtfabrik has only recently come into use, but the practice has been going on for a thousand years. It was the norm among our ancestors, in ancient Rome for example, where the reuse of materials and the constructions on a previous foundations was simply the natural way to proceed. Nowadays, the practice is becoming popular again for environmental reasons: reuse is still the most sustainable option for building new.”
In a StadtFabrik approach, what exactly are the elements of the past that are used to build the future quarter?
O.S.: “Building a new quarter does not just involve a before and after image. There are many steps along the way and development never really stops. In this sense, some existing elements can be kept for a long time and some are only used for part of the way. Infrastructures can be part of this process, as well as old road layouts or characteristic features of industrial landscape. We decide whether or not to keep elements based on what stories they tell and on the identity they give to the Alzette Quarter. It will be a living city, not a museum. So we want to breath new life into old structures by finding new functions and allowing the changes that make those functions possible.”
Can you give examples on the Alzette Quarter site?
The most impressive parts of the former steelworks are the very large rolling mill halls to the north of the site. They can be incredibly versatile, they have for example already been used for a film set. As we begin to develop the site, these buildings will be able to serve many different functions over the long period that they new quarter is being created. We can imagine using them for different logistical functions during site cleaning, or as places to assemble building components during construction. They can also host large events, even in the preliminary stages when it is still a construction site. Inviting citizens to the future Alzette Quarter in the early stages is crucial in order to begin to bring the project alive and promote the emergence of a local identity. Next year Esch is the European capital of Culture, this could be a good opportunity!
Other elements that we are using as foundation and stepping stones for the new quarters include a 400m retaining wall. But also smaller elements such as the water tower, the cooling tower and an old transformer will be reused.”
What other examples in Europe are representative of StadtFabrik practice?
O.S.: “I can tell you about another project we are working on in Copenhagen, which has a similar history to the Alzette Quarter. The North Harbour (”Nordhavnen”) area is being transformed from a former industrial harbour into a dynamic new urban quarter where citizens are coming to live in search of quality of life and the amenities of an inner city location. With the increasing popularity of remote working, quality of life becomes more important than the location of ones workplace.Copenhagen is full of such urban projects that celebrate the “extraordinary everyday”. In the “Nordhavn” we have also kept a variety of existing elements. An important learning process from this project is that it is more important to give new life to old buildings than to preserve them untouched.”
Apart from the richness of its industrial past, why is the Alzette Quarter particularly suited to a StadtFabrik approach?
O.S.: “Luxembourg is a small country but it has the fastest growing population in Europe. It is our duty to provide housing to a growing population without damaging or occupying the already limited spaces for nature. In this respect, a new dense quarter on a former steelwork is the best possible solution. The Alzette sector is today a no man’s land, surrounded by the town of Esch to the west, Schifflange to the east, but also by nature reserves to the north and south. By developing and opening up the Alzette Quarter, we have the opportunity to connect and develop these human and natural habitats in pleasing continuity. This is also what Stadtfabrik is all about: trying to reweave the natural thread that connects territories to each other”
It is also about building the present while also considering future uses. What do you see for the Alzette Quarter in your crystal ball?
O.S.: “We try to imagine the future from the elements of the present. We know that this will always be a quarter with a strong identity and that we will have to nurture and cultivate this aspect. The identity of the Alzette Quarter is based on its past, not only industrial, but also on its green habitats. We will strenhten this by renaturate the Alzette River to something similar to what it was in the pre-industrial history of the area. For us, the Alzette Quarter must also be a place of sustainable innovation. This is in its DNA: it is about perpetuating the tradition of innovation, craftsmanship and production on the site, but in a new sustainable perspective. Instead of steel production, we imagine vegetable growing on the roofs, and solar energy production. Creating a sustainable city in this way will not only provide housing, schools, etc., but will also generate local knowledge and local jobs.”
Urban gardens, smart cities, eco-neighbourhoods or temporary occupation of urban space, Through the voice of experts, “Tell me more! ” is a series that explores new trends.
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