The Emscher Park IBA



IBA Emscher Park

Rob MacDonald

project area
Plan showing the project area

This paper describes the development of the IBA Emscher Park in the Ruhr in Germany, which includes many new urban projects which provide valuable lessons for other cities and post industrial regions.

In May 1988 the Government of North Rhine Westphalia resolved to stage the Emscher Park International Building Exhibition (IBA) in 1999. This latest German IBA was seen to be preparing for the challenge which, sooner or later, faces all highly developed industrial societies, namely the repair of environmental damage caused by industrialisation. The intention of the IBA was to bring together international experience and organise a lasting and practical exchange of ideas. The sub-title of the IBA became the "workshop on the future of old industrial areas". The ambitious vision of the IBA involves creating new high quality urban areas and regenerating a natural landscape along the River Emscher between Duisburg and Dortmund. The area of the IBA is 800 sq km and comprises 80 individual projects set in 17 cities with a population of two million inhabitants.


International Building Expositions

Building expositions can be traced back to the mid 19th century when it became the usual practice to present innovations in architecture, engineering and technology at International Expositions and World Fairs.

The 1851 Crystal Palace Great Exhibition was particularly important in unveiling diverse innovations in engineering. In Germany, the tradition of independent building exhibitions was established in 1901 with the exhibitions in Darmstadt-Mathildenhole, and between 1901 and 1904 there were four expositions. In 1909 Heinrich Tessenhow designed the simple modernist housing at Dresden-Hellerau and in 1911 Bruno Taut designed Berlin's Sidelung Falkenberg.

The inter-war years saw a number of building expositions which increasingly took on a more forward looking and programmatic character. Against the background of an increasing urban population and an acute shortage of dwellings, the focus became the housing problem. The 1927 building exhibition in Stuttgart, organised by the Deutscher Werkbund, generated the Weisenhof Siedlung. Here the main intention was to create decent living conditions by way of strategies for urban planning and architecture. Following the war the tradition of building exhibitions was revived, first in Hanover in 1951 and then in Berlin in 1957 with the reconstruction of the Hansaviertel.

Again the aim was to create urban planning frameworks that were appropriate to the need of the time. The 1987 Berlin IBA was the first in German history to address the issue of the renewal of old building stock and the insertion of new buildings into the existing urban fabric.

Industrial landscape of the Ruhr
Industrial landscape of the Ruhr


The post-industrial city-region

Although the Emscher Park IBA has been inspired by Berlin, more significantly it focuses on broader issues of urban planning, architecture and urban regeneration. In selecting the Emscher area between Duisberg and Dortmund a corridor forty kilometres long and several kilometres wide has been chosen to highlight the question of urban ecology as a fundamental requirement for new working, living and cultural patterns. Historically, the Emscher area of the Ruhr was developed in the 19th century by manufacturing plant and transportation systems for coal, steel, chemicals and energy generation. This process of rampant industrialisation turned the area into the most densely and overworked industrial landscape in central Europe, with exceptionally high levels of environmental pollution and intensively carved up open spaces. The issue of soil contamination is the problem for the late 20th century post-industrial region of the Ruhr. The growing predominance of derelict land and under developed urban sites are the signs of rapid and major structural change, and together with high levels of unemployment are the major issues facing urban designers and architects in the Ruhr.

During the 1970s there was growing concern in the Ruhr about worsening economic conditions and the deteriorating quality of the environment. Coal mine closures, rationalisation of the steel industry and movement of manufacturing industry have changed the economic landscape. These post-industrial cities and regions now comprise spatial voids, as the dereliction changes the physical form of the urban areas, creating new types of urban landscape. These changes call for new attitudes towards urban design, architecture and urban regeneration and new thinking and attitudes towards a restored predominance of nature are developing out of the urban decline. In these situations urban regeneration projects no longer exist within the metropolitan framework of urban design, but rather they are to be discovered in new ecological systems where the landscape and the park are appropriate metaphors for a new greening of the city.

The Emscher IBA is a significant example of this new type of urban thinking, where viable strategies for the ecological, economic and social regeneration of the shattered industrial region are being developed.

The IBA has established special forward prototype urban projects which will constitute the essence of the exposition. Spatial guiding plans have been prepared in order to locate individual projects within the park and new workshops have been established to foster innovation.

Other prototype projects include the conversion of areas of the Emscher Riverside into new landscape parks and river cleaning and ecological improvement of the river and canal systems is developing. The Rhine-Herne canal is being developed into a new experience zone. Projects involving the existing industrial monuments are well represented together with the construction of new industrial workshops, housing, social and sports facilities.


Local and International Participation

The Emscher IBA aims to be open and receptive to a wide range of problem solving, planning and implementation. Competitions have formed an important part of the process. Panels of experts, symposia and seminars have been used as effective means of gaining an overview of the national and international state of the art in urban design and regeneration. The participation of local project and community groups has been encouraged, as a means of allowing people who live in the region to express their own ideas. These groups have enabled the existing population to keep abreast of the process of urban regeneration. From the very beginning of the project artists have been invited to participate in the process and summer schools have been used as a way of bringing about international exchange of experiences. A planning company was created, known as the "Emscher Park Planning Company Ltd", with the role of promotion, co-ordination, brainstorming, planning and presentation of the exposition. In announcing the project in 1988, the state government allocated DM 35 million to the IBA. Projects are financed jointly by the cities and private companies. In some cases, for example the Landscape Park, all costs are met by the public purse, but many also receive support from central government and EU sources. In the summer of 1993, total current expenditure on projects was DM 2.5 billion, with some DM 1.7 billion from public sources.


Progress on the Emscher IBA

The Emscher IBA includes sewerage conversion into sensitive systems; recreational renewal of green landscapes, creation of high quality industrial parks; finding new uses for old industrial monuments and construction and conversion of new and existing urban housing and garden city settlements.

The completed IBA Emscher Park projects comprise a number of distinctive themes: The Emscher Landscape Park includes major new 'green paths', a state garden exhibition in 1996 and regional 'green corridors'. The ecological restructuring of the Emscher river system, includes a new sewage treatment farm at Bottrop and Deininghauser Brook renovation. The theme of working in the park is well represented by new Science Centres, Business Parks and Future Technology Centres for Environmental Protection. New forms of living and housing have been developed with new residential projects, conversions of existing settlements and renovation of coal miner garden cities. The re-integration of the urban areas is being brought about by many public transportation projects including new stations, bridges and urban public spaces.


Working in the Park

A chain of new technology centres have now been completed, and these provide high quality sites for the location of businesses and industries which are playing a part in the economic and physical regeneration of the region. Start up centres for new businesses have been established and run initially with public funds. Their task is to bring together innovative activities, attract technologically advanced companies to the site and thus support technology transfer in the region, A particular feature of the technology centres is their ecological orientation. For example, 'Luntec', located on the site of the former Minister Achenbach IV Colliery, concentrates on packaging technology, and 'Eco-Textil', using the buildings of the former Holland Colliery in Bochum-Watterscheid, focuses on processing textiles using a minimum of chemicals. The Eco-Centre, which has been opened in Hamm, sees itself as providing a forum for the entire spectrum of ecologically conscious urban development and to provide help to those trying to achieve a more ecologically conscious design of the urban environment. The Rheinelbe Science Park in Gelsenkirchen, based on a former steelworks site and neighbouring the site of an old colliery, aims to provide a centre for innovative ideas in energy transfer, storage and logistics. The new building, designed by Professor Kiessler includes its own solar power station with the world's largest roof mounted solar collector.


Emscher Landscape Park

The scheme to create a landscape park provides the main unifying topic of the Emscher IBA. This is intended to provide the central core of the new infrastructure for the whole region. By connecting isolated open spaces, restoring the landscape, and upgrading the ecological and aesthetic quality of the desolated landscape, the idea is to achieve a lasting improvement of the living and working environment. The ambitious proposal is the further development of a plan to create seven regional green corridors which was first prepared in the 1920s by the 'Siediungsverband Ruhrkohlenbezirk' but was never properly realized, Taking up this earlier idea, the individual corridors are being expanded and linked to new corridors to form a complete park system of European significance. In Duisburg North a 200ha former industrial site, with a redundant steel works at its heart, is being converted into a new type of park. The planned green path from Oberhausen to Duisburg creates new links between cities using the routes of former industrial roads and railway lines. The transformation of Mechtenberg Hill, lying on the boundary of the cities of Essen and Gelsenkirken, draws together the ideas of artists, landscape architects and the local community in forming new ways of utilizing a natural landmark of the Emscher region.


Industrial monuments

It is particularly important for the new identity of the Emscher region that existing industrial plant, collieries, foundries, spoil heaps, transportation lines and warehouses should be preserved, as the only physical witness to the history of the former industrial landscape. Perhaps the most outstanding industrial monuments in the Ruhr are the pithead buildings of the former Zollverein colliery. The industrial plant has been called a 'Cathedral of Labour' of the 'Cologne Cathedral of the Ruhr". In its new role, the emphasis is on using the colliery site for art and culture. Restoration of the old buildings is being carried out in conjunction with a job creation scheme for the long term unemployed. Many new uses have been developed for existing industrial buildings and perhaps the most impressive is the conversion of the massive Oberhausen gasometer into a contemporary theatre. A new glass lift, inserted into the structure, takes visitors on the roof where panoramic views of the changing Ruhr landscape are revealed.


Housing Regeneration

The Emscher IBA includes some twenty five housing projects which have a central role in the process of urban regeneration.

Currently, there are 3,000 new houses at the design and construction stages and a further 3,000 existing houses to be refurbished. The involvement of national and international urban designers and architects in competitions and implementation has been an important factor in ensuring that abstract ideas of quality are actually translated into on-site reality. Many of the housing projects are reusing unused land within existing urban districts thereby giving new impetus to existing communities. There is a revival of the development of new housing 'settlements' of significant size, which have new infrastructure of shops, kindergartens and new public transportation links. The existing garden city residential villages, of which there are over 1,000, are being preserved. They represent a model of quality green living environments and with housing improvement they will continue to offer good quality housing well into the next century. Individual projects include housing designed and built by women in Bergkamen. Here, women architects took part in a nationwide competition which aimed to respond to a common criticism, that public housing has to adhere to over rigid standards. The competition offered the opportunity to experiment with new forms of design and planning which would take the needs of women fully into account, The first people moved into the new houses in the summer of 1993. At the Schungelberg estate in Gelsenkirchen, existing houses are being modernised and new ones built in a traditional miners' settlement. Some 300 historic houses are being renovated and a further 200 new houses are being built. The design and ecological specification for the houses were the result of a competition and in 1995 the families of Turkish coal miners were moving into their new homes.


Towards the 21st Century

The IBA is managed by a staff of about thirty people. It is their task to prepare and stage urban design and architectural competitions, implement the competition results in conjunction with the project organizers, act as an intermediary throughout the planning process, and supervise the final presentation of the building exhibition.

The IBA appears to be organised around concepts of social democracy and co-determination. The urban regeneration agenda includes many 'green' ideas of conversion, transference and ecological sensitivity. The current IBA refers back to the 19th century and the 1920s when the Settlement Association for the Ruhr Coal Area attempted to control urban growth and create open space.

Plan and view of former Industrial site at Duisburg North being converted into a new type of park
Oberhausen gasometer converted into a contemporary theatre

Zollverein colliery Pithead buildings

Bergkamen Housing Project competition design

They acknowledge the work of landscape architect Peter Lenne in Berlin, who worked with Friedrick Schinkel in preparing a non-building plan, with its centrally located Zoological Gardens. This has proved to be a very durable plan and with its green hub has provided parks, gardens, canals, promenades and avenues. In many ways the Emscher Park IBA presents responsive and alternative possibilities for the future of cities and as such, it fits into an alternative future which can be articulated as sane, humane and ecological. This scenario raises fundamental questions concerned with the relationship between the city and the countryside. The approach questions the historical dominance of the city over the countryside and suggests that such domination may come to an end as the conventional distinctions between city and country are increasingly blurred by the greening and re-villaging of the city.#



Couch, C. (1985), Housing Conditions in Britain and Germany, Anglo German Foundation.
Geddes, Robert (1982), 'The Forest Edge' Architectural Design, 52, 11-12, pp. 2-23. Girardet, Herbert (1992), The Gaia Atlas of Cities: new directions for sustainable urban living, Gaia Books Ltd, London.
IBA Emscher Park (1993), An Institution of the State of North-Rhine Westphalia, (ed.) Marion Zerressenabine Radowski.
MacDonald, Robert (1989), 'Impressions of Urban Design in Dortmund', Urban Design Quarterly, 30, April, pp. 18-20.
MacDonald, Robert (1989),'The European Healthy Cities Project; or towards a green and healthy urban design', Urban Design Quarterly, 30, April, pp. 4-7.
MacDonald, Robert (1995), "Urbane Gartenstadte", IBA Congress, Die Stadt an der Periperie, 23-25th March. Paper presented at Ruhr Technology Centre, Ruhr University, Bochum.
Robertson, James (1988), 'The future of cities; economic choices and possibilities', UK Health Cities Conference Papers, Liverpool.
Pepper, Simon (1978), 'The Garden City Idea, The German Connection', Architectural
Review, Vol. CLXIII, June, 976, pp. 333-334. Other useful reading is available from IBA, Gesellschaft Internationale Bauausstellung, Emscher Park, GmbH, Leithestr 37-39, D.4650, Gelsenkirchen.