8 Industrial Projects Reborn as Creative Public Spaces

Wunderland Kalkar on the bank of a river on a bright day
Wunderland Kalkar, a children's amusement park, is built on the grounds of an unused nuclear power plant.

Gokke Baarssen / Shutterstock

Abandoned power houses, railroad lines, factories, and oil rigs—the infrastructure of 20th-century industry—are often demolished or scrapped to make way for brand new projects. Occasionally, however, people find inspiration within existing structures for a new and exciting reuse. In the empty shell of an unused nuclear power plant, a Dutch businessman envisioned a children’s theme park. In New York City, a group of concerned citizens dreamed of saving a deserted rail line and, in doing so, inspired a public greenspace enjoyed by millions every year.

From a deep sea oil rig resort to a power station art museum, here are eight incredible industrial projects reborn as creative public spaces.

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The renovated SteelStacks entrance at night with the furnaces lit up in purple

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Built along the Lehigh River in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Bethlehem Steel plant was once part of the second largest steel production company in the world. The 10-acre manufacturing hub produced steel for famous structures, like the Golden Gate Bridge, and employed tens of thousands of workers in its heyday. By 1995, however, steel production in the United States had dwindled significantly and the plant closed its doors.

The former Bethlehem Steel plant location is once again bustling with activity. Named for the iconic 230-foot-tall furnace stacks that rise above the grounds, the SteelStacks campus offers free concerts, festivals, and plenty of shops and restaurants for visitors to enjoy.

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Seaventures Dive Resort

The yellow, gray, and red Seaventures Dive Resort stands in the water on an overcast day

Felixlvh / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Originally used as a platform for deep sea oil drilling, the Seaventures Dive Rig off the coast of Mabul Island in Malaysia has been converted into a fully-staffed resort and diving getaway. The old drilling rig was decommissioned in 1985 after decades of use and sat for years in a Singapore shipyard. In 1997, the former oil rig was refurbished and towed to its current location where it has been the destination of divers and tourists ever since.

Seaventures Dive Rig is outfitted with a variety of rooming options, a game room, a 60-person conference room, and a sundeck lounge. Divers are free to dive at four different locations, including underneath the rig among the coral, seahorses, ornate ghost pipefish, and other sea life.

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Wunderland Kalkar

The tree-lined Wunderland Kalkar in the former nuclear plant in Germany on a bright day

Koetjuh / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Wunderland Kalkar—an amusement park unlike any other—can be found in the west German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The extraordinary attraction is built on the site of a former nuclear plant, known as SNR-300, which was never completed due to a negative public reception to the plan.

In 1991, businessman Hennie van der Most purchased the empty complex and 10 years later the theme park was open for business. Wunderland Kalkar has 40 different attractions in all, including the 190-foot-tall vertical swing housed within the space originally intended for the nuclear plant’s cooling tower. In addition to the popular amusement park, the Wunderland Kalkar complex is home to restaurants, pubs, and six hotels.

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Floyd Bennett Airfield

Hangar Two at Floyd Bennet Airfield in Brooklyn

Gmerrill / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Airfield was dedicated as a commercial and general aviation airport in 1930, and then became a naval air station with the build-up of World War II. When the military ended its airfield operations at the site in 1970, the space was reopened a few years later as a public park.

The former base is managed by the National Park Service and contains campgrounds, an archery range, a bookstore, and a kayak launch zone. Although half of the original eight hangars are now used primarily for administrative duties, the remaining four have been converted into the Aviator Sports and Events Center. The 175,000-square-foot space includes two NHL-sized hockey rinks, a gymnastic center, a 35-foot climbing wall, surfaces for basketball, volleyball, soccer, and more.

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Tate Modern Museum

The renovated Tate Museum as viewed from the River Thames on a clear day in London

Richie Chan / Shutterstock

One of the United Kingdom’s most celebrated art museums is housed in a former power station on the bank of the River Thames in London. In 1994, after years of dormancy, it was announced that the Bankside Power Station building would be converted into the Tate Modern Museum. 

Herzog & de Meuron, the architects for the project, kept many aspects of the power station’s original interior in their design, including the 499-foot-long main turbine hall and the iconic 325-foot-tall central chimney. To create more space, a two-story glass extension was added to the front of the original building. Since its grand opening in 2000, the Tate Modern Museum has received two considerable expansions. In 2012, the power station’s underground oil tanks were converted into live event spaces, and, in 2016, the 10-story Switch House was built to house additional gallery space.

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The High Line

Pedestrians walk along the High Line with the cityscape in the background

Matias Garabedian / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

The 1.45-mile-long High Line in Manhattan is an elevated linear park built upon a viaduct section of the New York Central Rail. Originally built in the 1930s, the elevated rail gradually fell out of favor as trucking became more prominent in American shipping. By the 1980s, many sections of the rail had been demolished.

After years of advocacy to preserve the historic High Line, a group of concerned citizens convinced the city government to rezone the site for public use. High Line Park opened in 2009 to wide acclaim. The beloved park was designed with a focus on creating green space, with over 15 distinct planting zones and more than 110,000 plants. Each March, volunteers gather at the High Line to cut back dried plants to allow for new growth and then reuse the organic matter as compost.

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Tempelhof Park

Park visitors sit in the green fields of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin

Gregory Varnum / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Berlin Tempelhof Airport was opened in 1923 and served as one of the city’s first commercial airports. The famed airport operated under Nazi control throughout World War II and later served American Overseas Airlines during the Cold War.

After many years of commercial use, the aging airport ceased all operations in October 2008. Two years following the closure of Berlin Tempelhof Airport, the site was reopened as Tempelhofer Park. The 877-acre park is the largest inner-city open space in the world and is open to the public daily.

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St. Louis City Museum

A ferris wheel, school bus, and giant praying mantis rest atop the City Museum, while visitors walk through airplanes and a maze are attached to the front of the building in St. Louis

Raymond Boyd / Contributor / Getty Images

The City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri is a 10-story urban playground for children and adults that must be seen to be believed. Once home to the International Shoe Company factory, the 600,000-square-foot building was purchased by artist Bob Cassilly in 1993. After four years of construction and secrecy, the City Museum opened its doors to the world on October 25, 1997.

A 500-foot concrete serpent greets guests upon their arrival while, inside the building, a myriad of themed worlds await exploration—from concrete caves and treehouses to a giant hamster wheel and a 10-story slide. In 2002, Cassilly and his crew added MonstroCity to the front of the building. Billed as the largest outdoor sculpture in the United States, the unique space contains a series of tunnels that take visitors through suspended airplanes, castles, and ball pits.