Posts tagged with "Industry":

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Utopia to just-in-time production: a new book on the history of urban factories

This compendious, extensively illustrated slab of a book tackles, among other things, the development of the factory system, working conditions and working class resistance, utopian planning and modernist architectural design, the effects of suburbanization of industry, just-in-time production and containerization, fashion, urbanism, gentrification, and craft through such an onrush of dense information that it is often hard to ascertain exactly what the book is about. The nearest thing to a common thread—other than chronology—is an exploration of the factory in the city. That is, the role of industry in urbanism, what it means for a city to be a place of material production, how that production is housed and how its workers live and work, and, crucially, whether or not there is a future for urban manufacturing after 70 years of decentralization and inner-urban de-industrialization in Europe and the United States.

This central thread is so interesting that much of the rest of the book—basically a history of design and factories, familiar from the likes of Gillian Darley’s Factory—could have been cut away to make the book more lean. The eclecticism of the source material could do with major pruning, and the editing is often careless: Robert Owen’s Clydeside Utopia was New Lanark, not New Harmony, the account of Chicago slaughterhouses in The Jungle was written by Upton Sinclair, not Sinclair Lewis, to name two of several slips. Nonetheless, this excess might be the point—an appropriately daunting mesh of interlinked processes and stories. The question of why the factory left the city is put down to wartime paranoia and social planning; Rappaport takes the Jane Jacobs line that zoning industry out of inner cities was unnecessary and damaging to urban economies, which may have been true, but as recent histories like John Grindrod’s Concretopia might remind us, urban industry in dense 19th century cities like Glasgow was often extremely toxic and unsafe to the working class communities who had to live next door to it. However, her case here draws also on more radical sources, such as French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s assertion of the “right to the city,” and especially the inner city, being cleared of undesirables in Lefebvre’s 1960s Paris. The end result of “the removal of industries  away from public view” was also the removal of certain groups of people. As counter-examples, she traces a history of integrated factory settlements, like Berlin’s modernist Siemensstadt, to suggest that there were other possible approaches than zoning and suburbanization.

Beginning with the wartime U.S.—with its vast, single-story complexes like Willow Run—and continuing even through socially experimental factories like Volvo’s more democratic, collaborative factory at Kalmar, the factory left the city and settled into sprawling, off-motorway sites, expansive of land and elusive of view. Perhaps the most exciting parts of the book are Rappaport’s studies of some “vertical urban factories,” as opposed to the flat, hidden, exurban factories where most things get made—in the west, at any rate. These go from 1820s Manchester, where, in Schinkel’s words, “the life of the city runs along the massive houses of the cotton mills, to Manhattan’s astonishing, multifunctional Starrett-Lehigh Building, where a train could enter the building from West 27th Street and proceed to the elevators located in the central core, load or unload onto trucks and the exit onto 28th Street,” and to more recent examples like Zaha Hadid’s BMW Leipzig, where workers walk past the souvenir shop on their way to work. These genuinely do feel like a better way of designing production into cities than placing “pancakes” on the edge of motorways—a means of planning that makes production and distribution networks (and their workers) visible, and by implication, changeable.

However, many cities outside of the U.S. and Europe really are made up of vertical urban factories even today—Shenzhen and Dhaka being a particular case in point. The 400,000-strong Foxconn factory, integrated with eight-to-a-room dormitories is one she describes at length, while the multi-story textile factories of Dhaka are sketched out more lightly, though the fact that the worst industrial accident in decades, at Rana Plaza, took place in a vertical urban factory would seem to temper its validity as a means to create fairer cities. Although Rappaport never loses sight of the consequences of design and industrial processes on actual workers’working conditions, the emphasis falls too much on best practices. These include the new vertical urban factories that exist in the west—craft beer breweries in Canada, bike factories in Detroit, American Apparel in the U.S.—which use a seductive combination of adaptive re-use, renewed craft traditions, and inner city sites, which somewhat masksthe fact that they’re just as much part of the process of inner-city gentrification as Willow Run was part of post-war suburbanization. None of them can even begin to offer the quantity of jobs once offered to the cities they stand in that the motor industry or textile industry once did; she points here to a gap between celebrated middle class “makers” and invisible proletarian“‘workers.” The last quarter of the book features many examples of beautifully designed, sustainable, semi-automated actories integrated into the city; but whether these could ever have the role in most people’s lives that the factory once did is a very different matter.

Vertical Urban Factory Nina Rappaport, Actar Publishing, $64.95

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Annals of Computing: “Silicon City” exhibition at the New York Historical Society questions origins of the digital era

Radical inventions that lead to profound societal transformations tend to be accompanied by founding myths and overlapping claims for authorship. Once a certain founding story has been widely accepted, research will periodically uncover it as being false, and the evidence for an alternate narrative will emerge. Trying to change accepted founding myths is notoriously difficult: Gutenberg built his printing press after centuries of development in printmaking across the world, but his name is strongly tied to the advent of the printing revolution. Importantly, the significance of a figure like Gutenberg and the related story becomes a point of local pride. The founding myth of computing is a multifaceted story still in the process of being created. Since the invention of computing simultaneously challenged notions of collaboration and the concept of individual authorship, tracing the genesis of this technology is particularly demanding. Silicon City: Computer History Made in New—an exhibition that opened recently at the New York Historical Society—finds the roots of the digital era in the New York region. The curvilinear exhibition design is anchored by three bulbous spaces housing thematic multi-screen installations. The first spheroid is a mini- recreation of the egg shaped IBM pavilion at the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. The original Information Machine designed by Eero Saarinen allowed 400 guests to view a show directed by Charles and Ray Eames—a spectacle on twenty-two screens of various shapes and sizes. A second cavern, reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, is housing a video reel showing pioneering collaborations between artists and engineers in the 1960s. These include 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering, a series of large scale performatic live events at the Armory. Engineers worked with artists from various disciplines—including Robert Rauschenberg, Steve Paxton and John Cage—to create custom technical equipment including responsive systems and participatory apparatuses. These early experiments in digital art were certainly enabled by a convergence of artistic and technological talent only possible in New York. Meandering between these video installations, the core of the exhibition is tracing local achievements of the history of computing from the 1800s to the 1980s, showcasing a number of stunningly beautiful technological artifacts. Highlights include a IBM SSEC console, a large table with hundreds of regularly spaced knobs originally located in the IBM headquarters on Madison Avenue. Another fascinating device is a matrix of jacks connected by plug-in cords, programmed by making physical connections. These objects are accompanied by image documentation, in some instances highlighting the undervalued role of female engineers. Images of exceptional figures like Grace Hopper—a native New Yorker—teaching the coding language COBOL she helped to develop at IBM, reinstate the importance of women in the early development of computers. A section on identity branding and design highlights the work of Paul Rand and Eliot Noyles at IBM and a gallery on graphics, music and games presents a medley of various gaming consoles and cultural artifacts. A third immersive capsule ends the show with a multimedia showcase highlighting current tech companies and startups in New York, providing a uplifting outlook reinstating New York as a city thriving with digital technologies. Focussing on the development of technology from a local perspective produces some astonishing omissions—the military, a driving financial and ideological force behind the development of computers is barely mentioned. Nevertheless, filled with fascinating objects, the show presents one facet of a transformative global invention. Mythicizing the development of early computing as a New York story, it delivers a rich kaleidoscope of locally based innovation.
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VOA to design artist housing for Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood

Chicago's VOA Associates will design artist housing and community studio space in the Pullman, community group Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives announced last week, signaling another step in the resurgent neighborhood on the city's far South Side. President Barack Obama in February named the area a national monument, citing its historic significance as a formative environment for American industrial might and organized labor, including the country's first African-American union. In spite of economic decline over much of the 20th century, the neighborhood retains a handsome collection of Romanesque and Queen Anne–style architecture, as well as a strong sense of community. The new project, dubbed Pullman Artspace, includes 45 artist apartments at 111th Street and Langley Avenue near the new McDonough + Partners-designed Method manufacturing plant, a forthcoming community center, and the Walmart-anchored shopping plaza that in 2010 became the first major development there in years. Artspace is a nonprofit, national chain of art galleries based in Minneapolis. VOA's involvement is the latest news in a long process of revitalization. Earlier this year The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and AIA Chicago mulled the changing neighborhood's future in a design charrette titled "Position Pullman." Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and others have been working for years to turn around the neighborhood, successfully rehabbing dozens of historic row-homes and inviting attention—along with new investment—to the area.
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Chicago Mulls Zoning Changes To Ward Off Mountains of Petcoke

Piles of dusty, black waste from coal and petroleum processing have been piling up on Chicago’s southeast side, angering residents and prompting Mayor Rahm Emanuel to weigh in on the contentious environmental issue. The Sun-Times has reported that Emanuel will introduce an ordinance at next month’s City Council meeting banning new storage facilities for so-called petcoke—a byproduct of the oil refinery process that can be sold overseas. It’s a step back from an outright ban proposed in December by Alderman Edward Burke, whose constituents were outraged by black dust clouds wafting from uncovered piles of petcoke along the Calumet River. Southeast side communities like Calumet, South Chicago, and South Deering are no strangers to industrial zoning. The Illinois-Indiana border has long been a pastiche of brownfields, residential communities, natural areas, and heavy industry. But the swirling black dust incited a class-action lawsuit filed against three storage sites last year. Chicago’s Department of Public Health shares area residents’ concerns. “We know that petcoke is a respiratory irritant and the main concern is if the petcoke is inhaled,” Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Bechara Choucair told the Sun-Times. “If you have somebody with asthma or other respiratory problems, inhaling petcoke would really lead to more problems…We are advancing this ordinance to protect our residents.” The anticipated zoning ordinance would prevent new petcoke storage facilities from entering the city, and would keep current outfits from expanding. KCBX, the largest such facility in the area, says the ordinance is unjustified, a sentiment shared by some business groups:
Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association called the ordinance “a solution in search of a problem.” … The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is also questioning the ordinance, calling it an “overreaction.” “We don’t understand what the mayor is trying to accomplish here. Petcoke and coal have been handled and stored in Chicago for decades with few issues. This seems like an overreaction to one incident – good policy rarely comes from overreacting,” Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO said.
KCBX is an affiliate of Koch Industries, the business empire of brothers Charles and David H. Koch. Their company, Koch Carbon, came under fire last year for storing the same material along the Detroit River.
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Urban Planner Named New President of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

David Ehrenberg has been appointed president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre, former ship-building base turned city-owned industrial park. Ehrenberg is currently an executive vice president at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Over the last decade the Navy Yard has emerged as an essential zone for preserving and growing New York's manufacturing sector, especially small businesses. The Yard currently includes 4.5 million square feet of leasable space, with an occupancy rate of 99 percent. An additional 1.8 million square feet are expected to open within the next 2 years. More than 6,400 people currently work at the Yard in industries as diverse as printing, furniture making, and film and television production. Ehrenberg studied government and urban studies at Wesleyan University and has a joint master's degree in Urban Policy and Planning from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. “The Brooklyn Navy Yard is the national model of an urban, sustainable industrial park and I am honored to be entrusted with its continued growth,” said David Ehrenberg in a statement. “I look forward to working with the local community, city officials, and businesses to bring more jobs and modern-day, innovative manufacturers to the Yard.”
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Brooklyn Navy Yards’ Concrete Monolith To See Major Renovation

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has emerged as one of those rare, post-industrial-era success stories. The former shipyard, which closed in 1966, is now home to a mix of industries such as construction, cleantech, metal fabrication, film production, design, contracting, and even urban agriculture. The Wall Street Journal reported that the non-profit Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. will soon announce an $80 million renovation of Building 77, a monolithic concrete former ammunition depot and the largest structure on the 300-acre park. Jack Basch plans on relocating his company, Shiel Medical Laboratory, from one building on the yard into Building 77. He will occupy 240,000-square-feet of space, and then rent out 180,000-square-feet to companies in his industry. Basch expects this move will allow him to add up to 400 jobs. Renovation of the 16-story tower, which has been vacant for half a century, is expected to present unique challenges, including boring through 2-foot-thick concrete walls to add new windows. This continued investment in the Navy Yard might be well worth it. According to a study by the Pratt Center, the “Navy Yard generates $2 billion in economic output and sustains 10,000 jobs and $390 million in earnings each year.”
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Foxconn Said to Be Considering Investment in American Manufacturing

Much has been made of the decline of American industry and, more recently, the rise of small-scale urban industry, but one of the largest international manufacturers, Taiwan-based Foxconn, could change the industrial scene completely if it decides to build factories in the United States. The Guardian reports that Foxconn is considering Detroit and Los Angeles for potential outposts thanks to rising costs overseas, but the company infamous for manufacturing Apple products among others at its 800,000-worker-strong Chinese facilities would have to adapt to radically different American ways of working. It was early last year—after a string of workers committed suicide and a lethal explosion tore through a plant—when Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook asked the Fair Labor Association to assess Foxconn’s working conditions. Reforms where set in place that doubled Foxconn’s worker salary levels in China and cut overtime hours. The increase in costs in places like China has prompted the company to consider locations overseas. In September, plans were announced for a nearly $500 million factory to be built in São Paulo, Brazil where Foxconn will hire up to 10,000 people to make computer and some Apple products. The company also plans to open a new phone factory in Indonesia by the end of 2012. If built, Foxconn's new U.S. factories and work standards would be altered for the American workforces, who won’t likely work for China’s low wages or live in work dormitories. Instead of manufacturing products that rely heavily on hand labor, the American factories would  primarily build flat screen televisions, which use a primarily automated process. Company officials would not comment on the possible expansion into the U.S., but did say American engineers will be invited to its Chinese facilities to learn about its manufacturing process.
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S.Alt City Mural in Syracuse Blends Industrial Heritage With Modern Technology

This Syracuse mural project, S.Alt City, was sent to AN over the summer just as we were preparing our live coverage of the Venice Biennale and went unreported in the paper. But the mural by Cheng and Snyder Architects is a smart project that deserves more attention than it has received. The mural depicts a local waterside salt barge that alludes back to Syracuse's industrial heritage but it also imbedded QR codes throughout the work. These QR codes are becoming more ubiquitous in the world of art making and were in fact used in the Russian pavilion at the recent Venice Biennale in a grandiose and very expensive installation in their pavilion. In Syracuse the young architects cleverly and cheaply utilized the QR codes to send smart phone viewers to links for contemporary arts organizations in the Syracuse region. The connection between the old industrial fabric of the city and the contemporary use of codes and cultural facilities and organizations to help bring the city back to its former livability and economic strength. It is exactly the type of "art" young architects should be engaged with today. The mural is in downtown Syracuse on a west facing wall of Lemp jewelers (on Fayette Street just west of Warren). The mural is permanent and was funded by a seed grant from the Syracuse University School of Architecture (one of Dean Mark Robbin's last initiatives before he left his deanship ) as well as a larger grant from the Connective Corridor.
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Deborah Berke’s Yale Studio Exploring Urban Manufacturing (and Bourbon)

American manufacturing may be on the rocks, but Deborah Berke, principal at Deborah Berke & Partners, believes that by adding a little bourbon, one Kentucky city can make an industrial comeback. Berke is leading a graduate studio at Yale exploring the future of boutique manufacturing in the United States and using an urban distillery in Louisville as a case study. "I have been passionate about urban manufacturing for a long time,” Berke said. The studio is a continuation of ideas Berke began investigating over ten years ago in a previous Yale studio about boutique industry along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. “We’re looking into the new interest in artisanal industries, everything that could be a spur for boutique manufacturing.” “We’re looking at Louisville as a case study, a model that can be applied to other cities,” said Noah Biklen, a critic at Yale assisting Berke with the studio. “We were trying to connect the studio with what’s going on in the U.S. now. We wanted to look at the idea of work and how to introduce manufacturing back into the city.” Students have been asked to design a modern bourbon distillery on a half-block site on Louisville’s Main Street across from a historic row of former bourbon warehouses nicknamed Whiskey Row that were partially saved from demolition last year. The program is flexible within a narrow window, Berke said. For instance, students may choose to incorporate a handful of 19th century buildings into the plan or work with a blank site. In the end, a 40,000 to 60,000 square foot facility including spaces for fermentation, stills, aging, storage, and loading and unloading will be designed for the site. Berke said small industries like a boutique distillery can be the key to reinvigorating a city’s manufacturing core and to providing hundreds of new jobs as one industry fuels other tangent industries around it. “It’s not small scale as in three people knitting tea cozies, but it is small scale compared to the auto industry,” she said. A bourbon distillery employing 75 people could encourage still makers, custom glass and bottle manufacturers, palette makers, and label printers in the surrounding city to create a jobs ripple effect that adds up fast. The studio recently visited Louisville to see the site first hand, study the bourbon making process, and, of course, try a little bourbon along the way. “We had a great time drinking bourbon,” Berke explained, quickly adding, “but we drank responsibly.” The class took bourbon seriously during the trip. They learned about the distilling process by visiting local distilleries such as Woodford Reserve, where students could see the variable scale of the industry. “You could have a still in your living room or you could be producing millions and millions of gallons of alcohol a year,” Berke said. They also sampled different kinds of bourbon, taking in flights at Louisville’s many bourbon bars. Berke previously designed the 21c Museum Hotel farther west on Main Street, converting another former bourbon warehouse into a luxury hotel and art museum. Later in the semester, the studio will make a trip to New York to study existing boutique industries in Brooklyn such as an urban gin distiller and other companies in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Manhattan’s Garment District. [Via WFPL.]