What To Do With Old Car Plants?

Before a new American car industry can rise up, the vestiges of the old one must be buried. The two bankrupt companies, Chrysler and GM, closed their assembly lines for much of May and June, and before this is all over more than a dozen plants will likely be permanently shuttered.

So what will happen to those hulking structures, with their cavernous hangers and assembly lines? Many will join Detroit’s growing inventory of abandoned buildings. But would it not make sense to preserve at least some of the plants as artifacts of an industry that helped build the American middle class? Should the rusting shells in all their dark grandeur not be saved? Here are three ideas for adapting the plants to new use:

gassworks park

1. Turn them into park monuments. These days landscape architecture is less about beautifying places in the conventional sense and more about preserving industrial relics as monumental memories of the past, like Gas Works Park in Seattle (above) which uses a coal gasification plant as its centerpiece.


2. Convert them to indoor markets. Retail space may not be Michigan’s top priority, but a farmer’s market/crafts outlet configured from an industrial shell could be unusual enough to draw shoppers. The precedent that comes to mind is HD Buttercup (above),  a furnishings outlet in the former Helms Baker in the Culver City section of Los Angeles.


3. Replace the assembly line with a concert stage. Would you pay to see Wilco play in a former blast furnace? I would. Something like that is happening at the former Thyssen plant  in Duisberg, Germany, where concerts and theatre performances (above) are  staged in smelting works and other raw industrial spaces. MC