INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE

SpaceMatters’ was established when the team won the commission for designing the memorial at the ground zero of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The project was radical in its vision. It reclaimed the abandoned, toxic industrial remains of the former Union Carbide factory as iconic monuments to the tragedy; while putting landscape ‘to work’ by developing in-situ, phytoremediation strategies for dealing with the contaminated soil and water. Here we were at odds with the two strong suits of architectural practice . The first is its ability to sanitise and make beautiful. This was at odds with the ruinous and rusted industrial architecture of the factory; proposed to be arrested in the state of decay as monuments to the tragedy. The second was the role of design to selectively make issues and objects visible. In this case, the persistent yet invisible contamination of soil and water was absent both from the project brief as well as from the architectural narratives received from across the country. Pollution is not an issue Indian design likes to grapple with; particularly when it comes with a political and social baggage. Sustainability here was choosing not to overlook the offensive (factory) and the invisible (pollution) while integrating them into the design; such that their presence offers new dimensions to engage with the challenges left behind by the tragedy. Today, 14 years into the project, industrial heritage and sustainable remediation have been two unconsidered spaces where architecture can bring value while adding a spatial dimension to their cultural and ecological sustainability. Through years of investigation, SpaceMatters has put together India’s first inventory of Industrial Heritage – a documentation of 400 sites across the sectors and states to populate this newly formed concept of Industrial Heritage. At Bhopal, we work with scientists, engineers, historians, artists and architects to devise a roadmap of remediation that will convert the urban void into a place of memory, contemplation and learning.

Taiwan

Ten Drums

Dissonant History

Solina Silk Filature

NEERI

Seeds

NORDROCS

Railway Heritage ISRS

ICOMOS India

Diagrammatic representation of our jounrey in the field of post industrial landscapes starting with Union Carbide Project in 2005

Industrial Heritage

The site of UCIL factory in Bhopal was abandoned after the fateful December night in 1984. As all industrial facilities, the site was used as a storehouse of raw material, which in this case were chemicals used in the manufacturing of pesticide. In the years preceding the disaster, UCIL dumped waste material from the manufacturing process into dumpsites within and outside of the site. These were later termed as Solar Evaporation Ponds. In 1994, the state of India acquired ownership of the site along with the indeterminate chemical waste that lay stored, buried and dispersed at site. It is important to note that no comprehensive or conclusive effort had been made during the first decade following the Gas Tragedy to ascertain the extent and nature of the pollution at the site.

Sites of Toxicity

The site of UCIL factory in Bhopal was abandoned after the fateful December night in 1984. As all industrial facilities, the site was used as a storehouse of raw material, which in this case were chemicals used in the manufacturing of pesticide. In the years preceding the disaster, UCIL dumped waste material from the manufacturing process into dumpsites within and outside of the site. These were later termed as Solar Evaporation Ponds. In 1994, the state of India acquired ownership of the site along with the indeterminate chemical waste that lay stored, buried and dispersed at site. It is important to note that no comprehensive or conclusive effort had been made during the first decade following the Gas Tragedy to ascertain the extent and nature of the pollution at the site.

Place of Conscience

Sites with a tragic history create a sense of remorse and make one question human values. These ‘sites of conscience’ are often marginalized and considered problematic as they represent the failures of humanity. These places represent the unpleasant periods of history but are necessary to respect the memory of those who suffered and become places of reflection and education for the society at large. The UCIL factory site in Bhopal is one such place of conscience.

Public Access and Engagement

This section brings together historic industrial sites that have succeeded in establishing high degree of accessibility and inclusivity through public engagement. They have overcome challenges of industrial preservation and remediation to become centers of dialogue and education. There is no doubt that despite the overwhelming issues facing the UCIL factory landscape, the real test for its reclamation will lie in the ability of the Memorial to reconnect with the community and the city. The UCIL site has been closed to the public for over three decades and its physical opening up needs to be supported with a cultural & educational agenda to make it a successful public space. Sites similar in history and contamination to Bhopal have been successful in creating an alternate space of significance to the community. These sites have been of benefit to the people of that area. Parque Fundidora in Mexico is a reclaimed site, which has preserved the industrial remains and opened to the public as a park. The site also contains museums, educational and recreational facilities. The Verket Museum in Sweden is housed in a building used formerly for iron works. The industrial past of the place has been preserved through a museum, arts center and exhibition area. The SteelStacks project at Bethlehem Steelworks, USA has seen over nearly 1 million visitors since its opening in 2011 to participate in a range of educational, cultural and entertainment activities. 

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