The Vertical Urban Factory

The Vertical Urban Factory, an independent project and exhibition curated by architectural historian and critic Nina Rappaport, is a traveling exhibition that has been displayed in New York, Toronto, Detroit, London, and Lausanne. Funded in part with a research grant from New York State Council on the Arts, the exhibit explores historic and contemporary concepts for the design, structure, mechanization, and economics of multi-storied factories, and their relationship to the urban environment. The exhibition features the innovative architecture of factories that are both urban -- located in cities or shaping cities -- and vertical -- integrated throughout a building or layered floor by floor. Included are significant examples of this architectural typology designed to house and support the production of things. Ultimately, this project focuses on the impact of global economies on the physical space of industries and aims to stimulate ideas for reintegrating the vertical factory and places of production into the urban fabric both programmatically and economically.

The exhibition demonstrates how architectural and urban design issues addressing manufacturing in cities present an exciting design challenge for integrated systems and programs. These same issues demand solutions that could garner environmental benefits and sustain job opportunities. While it is understood that some products will always be made more cheaply overseas in industrial manufacturing areas, because of low wages and tax free zones, others -- such as those that relate to local markets, including perishable food processing, elevator repair companies, high-tech, fashion, and furniture -- survive and thrive within cities. These staple industries, in fact, could serve to revive both communities and their factory infrastructures. If industrialists and urban planners reconsider the potential for building vertically in cities, this, in turn, would reinforce and reinvest in the cycles of making, consuming, and recycling as part of a natural feedback loop in a new sustainable urban spatial paradigm.

The Vertical Urban Factory poses questions, such as:

Can the factory as a place of work programmatically reassert its relevance in the urban fabric with the advent of free trade, globalization, and gentrification, making production more local?

Can urban factories make cities more self-sufficient?

What would this new urban landscape with vertical manufacturing look like urbanistically and architecturally?

How can people live with industry without incurring negative health effects?

How can we integrate sustainable industries into urban neighborhoods with potential for energy production -- not just consumption -- in a symbiotic relationship?

Architectural Highlights

Highland Park, Ford Motor, Albert Kahn, Detroit, 1913
This poured in place concrete structure for a six-story building, enabled longer spans with open floors. Manufacturing proceeded from top to bottom with gravity, chutes, and innovative mechanized assembly lines. Verticality, both organizational and physical, became a corporate mantra for process control -- from raw materials to final distribution, all accomplished on site.

Highland Park, Ford Factory, Albert Kahn Architect, Detroit, 1909. Courtesy of Albert Kahn Associates.

Fiat, Giacomo Matte-Trucco, Lingotto, Turin, 1926
Lingotto reversed Highland Park's top-to-bottom production, moving the automobile from the ground floor up to the final rooftop-testing track in a spectacle of production. Two central courtyard spaces provided light and air through the manufacturing floors, concrete spiral staircases led up to the roof after cars were completed.

Fiat Lingotto, Giacomo Matte-Trucco, Torino, 1923. Courtesy of the Fiat Company.

Toni Molkerei, Zurich, 1977
The milk and yogurt processing plant was the largest dairy in a city in Europe and included a spiral truck roadway for deliveries of milk products to be processed in the plant and then distributed.

Toni Molcherai, Zurich, 1974, section of processing.

Hong Kong, 1950-1987
Clusters of high-rise factories developed post World War II in the tight spaces of Hong Kong. It continues as a model for local controls and organization within the global market place and manufacturing base, as it expanded to the Pearl River Valley. Numerous vertical factories rise in close proximity to residential and commercial uses, but are gradually being transformed to other programs.

Hong Kong, sha tsui road, factory. Photograph by Kes Lei, 2010

VW, Gunter Henn, Dresden, 2006
Volkswagen's six-story assembly plant accommodated the city's infrastructure by incorporating the tram network for their distribution system. The glass facades make a visual spectacle of manufacturing to the consumer in a showcase design featuring assembly-line movement in an automated choreography.

VW Glaeserne Manufaktur, Dresden, 2004. Photograph by H.G. Esch, courtesy of Henn Architekten.

The exhibition was designed by Studio Tractor and MGMT. design and includes photographs, models, drawings, diagrams, graphics and film.

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