The transformation of industrial heritage requires a rigorous investigation of a building’s history and its use, together with a map highlighting all of the valuable details. Without that, a great deal can be lost during redevelopment, concludes Kees Geevers in his doctoral research. He also calls for the establishment of new guidelines.

The main focus of Geevers’ research is Philips’ massive industrial complex in Eindhoven, known as Strijp S (covering 27 hectares). This is where the electronics manufacturer established its first light bulb factory a century ago. These abandoned buildings are now being given a new purpose, but some of the valuable historic detail is also being lost in the process. “Without a clear historical template, it is difficult for an architect attempting a transformation to identify what should and should not be preserved”, says Geevers. “For example, very little of the compartmentalised design of Strijp S has survived the transformation, which is a shame.” The redevelopment design for the Philips complex was drawn up before the study exploring the historic value of the group of buildings was completed. This whole process should be approached differently, as Geevers makes clear in one of the propositions in his dissertation entitled ‘Stedenbouwkundige Waardestelling van Industrieel Erfgoed’ (Assessing the value of industrial heritage in urban planning).
Strijp S is a typical example of an integrated industrial complex. It had its own glass factory, rolling mill and electricity generation and became a manufacturing site for countless electronic appliances. It was also what was known as a ‘company town’, with its own housing, educational and sports facilities.

Geevers focused on the history of Strijp S in conjunction with its architecture and urban design, which featured so-called daylight factories and was unique in the Netherlands. “The architecture was just as innovative as the philosophy of the company and this is reflected across the entire complex.”

There are similar examples in other parts of Europe, including the city of Zlín in the Czech Republic, where shoe manufacturer Thomas Bat’a built a complex that included a hundred daylight factories. In a comparative study of the two large-scale complexes, Geevers discovered numerous common features. Not only were both inspired by American examples, but in the 1920s, Bat’a also built a Dutch satellite in Best, close to Philips. These business families knew each other, which is why Geevers assumes that they had an influence on each other. He also noticed a connection in architectural history between Zlín and Tony Garnier’s plan in 1904 for a Cité Industrielle in Lyon that led him to the same conclusion. Bat’a made an almost exact copy of the concept in his home base in the Czech Republic, elements of which can also be seen in Strijp S.

Geevers used Zlín as a reference case for a value assessment of Strijp S and the development of a values map for urban designers. In his dissertation, he also describes new research methods for assessing the value of industrial heritage. If commissioned by the Government Buildings Agency (Rijksgebouwendienst), the next step will be to write a new set of guidelines. 

Published: August 2014

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