My absolute favourite projects tend to be post-industrial or reclaimed landscapes. There’s something poetic about taking a former working landscape that has been forgotten, healing it and regenerating it for a second life. From a more informative standpoint, it’s also a glimpse into the past beating heart and identity of a place. It’s easy to see why we are attracted to these post-industrial sites; there’s a thrill in walking around a place normally forbidden.
The industrial skeletons of both Duisburg Nord Landschaft Park and the Zollverein Coal Mine complex are past remnants of Germany’s economic significance in the golden age of Europe’s heavy industry. I visited both of these places on a cold, damp day last December.
Zollverein is the simpler, more functional little sibling of the two. The central axis spine follows the main rail tracks between the coal mine and the coking plant where walking trails, cycling routes and playgrounds weave into the vast industrial landscape and pockets of wild grassland. The wide open hard spaces make the Bauhaus-style buildings and structures feel like towering giants. Duisburg Nord, a former blast furnace plant, is a much bigger park where the programmed spaces are an interactive relationship between human and machine transforming the formerly utilitarian landscape into an urban playground for adults. There is access to climb up the furnaces, gardens in the concrete bunkers, pools for divers in the former gas tanks and concrete walls for rock climbers. Nature development and water recycling is also a huge focal point in the design. Several waterways are implemented as wet biotopes, water runoff is stored in reservoirs which filter through plants before the water system.
What surprised me the most was the sheer freedom of access to explore everywhere. You can play multi-level hide-and-seek across the park and scale a series of steps to the topmost rusty towers. Nothing feels off-limits. I’m told in the summer when the planting is in full bloom it feels much more vibrant, although this time of year it felt much more like of exploring through an apocalyptic landscape; a thrill of walking amongst the ghosts of the past world in which I would otherwise not have access.