Can The Vertical Urban Factory Return To Our Cities?


Fiat Lingotto, roof test track, Turino, 1913-26

From the Industrial Revolution until about WWII, factories were vertical. There were a couple of reasons; at first, it was because motive force came from water wheels and was distributed by belts, and going vertical was shorter. Then the water was replaced by big steam engines. The development of the small electric motor finally enabled equipment to spread out a bit. But more importantly, the factories had to be where the workers were, and they didn't have cars and had to live nearby. Once workers had cars, then the factories could go suburban and spread out.

Perhaps it is time to rethink this. In a wonderful article in Urban Omnibus, Nina Rappaport calls on " on planners and architects to redefine and reimagine urban industry and its integration with city life."

She describes the benefits of urban factories:

Cities offer valuable advantages for industrial sustainability. Density allows for shared resources that can support industrial symbiosis -- one factory's heat waste fuels another. Nano and biotech companies, such as those in the Bizkaia eco-industrial park in Bilbao and the new CleanTech corridor along the Los Angeles River, have formed clusters in industrial zones to use proximity to their benefit. Imagine the New York waterfront returning to its manufacturing strength as clusters of vertical factories, linked by water, high-speed elevated rail systems or overhead conveyances, become hubs of production and distribution.

Factories are different today, they are not so noisy or dirty as they used to be. Designed properly, they could easily coexist with other uses.

Advancements in ecologically-responsible technology mean that clean manufacturing can exist adjacent to residential spaces, and that work and living can be hybridized in new ways. The architectural and urban issues addressing manufacturing in cities present not only an exciting design challenge of integrated systems, new fabrication technologies and emergent materials, but create a demand for new solutions. Vertical urban factories could produce energy rather than just consume it, and workers could recycle goods, rather than spew them out. This in turn would close the loop of making, consuming and recycling as part of a new urban spatial and economic paradigm.

More in the Urban Omnibus, via Planetizen.
More on the Factory of the Future
Herman Miller's GreenHouse Factory Generates 15 Pounds of Landfill Waste Per Month

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