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Rethinking the industrial landscape : the future of the Ford Rouge complex

By Constance Corinne Bodurow Rea


The growth and decline of manufacturing industries in the past century and the industrial landscape that this activity has produced has had profound physical, environmental, social and economic impact on the communities of which they are an integral part. Throughout the past century, industry has dominated the man-made environment in tenns of its size, frequency of occurrence and highly prominent position in the community. In America this is particularly true, as the history of urban industrialism has shaped our nation and the character of our urban environment over the last one hundred years. Because industrial sites have played a significant role in the physical form, social composition and environmental-both natural and man-made character of American communities - their obsolescence, whether creating a change in function or eliminating the function entirely, leaves a tremendous void, both physically and economically. The obsolete industrial landscape,whether abandoned or underutilized, leaves the public and private sectors, as well as the community with the task of "reconstructing"-the reintegration of large scale environments through reuse and reprogramming-the site, architecture and infrastructure that is left as obsolete. Reconstruction of obsolete or redundant industrial sites occurs in various ways, though efforts are generally of a fairly singular focus, with the private sector making decisions based largely on market and financial considerations. While the private sector has made some effort to retrofit existing facilities with new technology and processes, the conventional approach has been to leave them behind and start fresh. Existing infrastructure, environmental quality and employee relations are generally deemed too difficult to retrofit, and so new plants are developed on green fields elsewhere, while older facilities are abandoned, demolished or sold to other parties for redevelopment. Reuse strategies have focused on the subdivision of older industrial structures to accommodate incubator industries which require less square footage than traditional heavy industries. While examples of this conventional redevelopment approach dominate in the United States, a multidisciplinary, participatory approach has been used in both European countries and the United States. Over the last decade, increased interest in the industrial landscape and its reconstruction has spawned numerous efforts world wide. In Italy and France, private sector finns such as Fiat, Pirelli, and Schlumberger have joined forces with the public sector in order to develop planning and design directions for important pieces of the urban landscape. Programs range from institutional and mixed use development to industrial and commercial reuse. In the United States, planning efforts at the federal, state and local levels have produced various participatory approaches. In recent years, the Department of the Interior through the National Park Service, has developed and implemented a program of "heritage areas", focused on the country's transportation and industrial heritage. The objectives of the cultural development strategy are to preserve industrial heritage while catalyzing economic development in the surrounding community. A candidate for multidisciplinary reconstruction planning is the Ford Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan. The Rouge Complex has served for its 75 years as the center piece of the regional automotive economy in Southeastern Michigan and the automotive manufacturing in the country as a whole. From its modest beginnings on remote farm and marshland in 1917, Henry Ford I and Albert Kahn's joint vision for the Rouge quickly eclipsed their revolutionary Highland Park facility, inherited its assembly line and grew to become the largest manufacturing complex in the world. Once, the self proclaimed "industrial city" was admired, imitated, portrayed and visited by industrialists, artists and designers and tourists from every comer of the world. Today, the complex is in a state of transition and uncertainty about the future. Poised for reconstruction, it is now at the center of an economy which has been wholly dependent on the cyclical nature of the automotive industry and tied to its convulsions, relocations and downsizing. The Rouge is also in the midst of the region's economic and social strife Based on these existing conditions, can a reconstruction approach for the site create new economic and social value? If a strategy which embraces a multidimensional notion of value, emphasizing "information value", is employed, the answer may be in the affirmative. Considered in this way, the Rouge represents a major redevelopment opportunity. Nowhere is there a more potent site for such a redevelopment; nowhere in the region does the confluence of these three notions of value occur in a more powerful way. The infrastructure that exists there could not be cost effectively reproduced today. There is no other location in the region which is better served by modal options or better positioned in relation to such options. Most importantly, there are few other sites in the world which are so charged with historic and cultural meaning which is of significance at a local, national and international level, and where the juxtaposition of 20th and 21st century industrial landscape and technology meet. The thesis concludes with a recommended scenario for the reconstruction of the Rouge, focusing on a master planning approach and recommended development program which draw from examples of industrial reconstruction precedents in the the European Community and the United States. The recommended scenario advocates a multidisciplinary, participatory master planning approach. The process identifies different notions of "value" that are inherent in the Rouge. The development concept consists of four development components, each embracing different notions of value, all of which hold economic potential: infrastructure value, which focuses on the value of the buildings and infrastructure to the market, location value, which focuses on the sites context, adjacencies and linkages; and the information value, which focuses on the symbolic, historic and cultural meaning of the site. In approaching the site with this combination, the results are enhanced economic value and a physical result which addresses the concerns and issues of the stakeholders in the process-the company, the union and the Constance Corinne Bodurow Rea.Thesis (M.S.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Architecture, 1991.Includes bibliographical references (p. 267-273)

Topics: Architecture, Ford Motor Company. Rouge River Plant.
Publisher: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Year: 1991
OAI identifier:
Provided by: DSpace@MIT

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