Three Creative Ways to Remake Old Car Plants

Why destroy decommissioned factories when their lurid remains can be put to good use for everything from crafts fairs to rock concerts?

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 assembly lines for much of May and June, and more than a dozen plants will likely be permanently shuttered as they continue to rejigger themselves for the future.


So what will happen to those hulking structures, with their cavernous hangers and assembly lines that spanned multiple city blocks? Many, unfortunately, will join Detroit’s growing inventory of abandoned buildings. Some will be razed to make way for the new. But what about preservation and reuse? Wouldn’t it make sense to preserve at least some of the plants as artifacts of an industry that helped build the American middle class? Can’t we do something interesting with the dark grandeur of their rusting shells? Here are three ideas for adapting the plants to new uses:

gasworks 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. Witness Gas Works Park in Seattle (above), which uses a coal gasification plant as its centerpiece.

HD Buttercup

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 Bakery in the Culver City section of Los Angeles.

duisberg, germany

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

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