Buckminster Fuller, unbuilt automatic cotton mill, 1952 | Courtesy of North Carolina State University
Vertical Urban Factory, curated by New York-based architectural historian and critic Nina Rappaport, features the innovative architectural design, structural engineering, and processing methods of significant factory buildings in the early 20th century and today. A timely response to the ailing economies of post-industrial nations, the exhibit poses the question, can factories once again present sustainable solutions for future self-sufficient cities and how can we develop a city to include new factories now that production is clean and smaller scale? The exhibition began in New York City and has traveled to Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Toronto’s Design Exchange and then in a condensed form to London’s Architecture Museum in King’s Cross.
Factories, once a catalyst for the development of company towns and industrial cities of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are now associated with pollution and brownfields and have been largely ignored as an urban concept. The vertical urban factories featured in this exhibit, however, have pushed the boundaries of innovative design. A glance to the not-so-distant past recalls Ford’s Highland Park, which pioneered the 60-second Model T, and the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, a stunning complex of Modern architecture, as well as the Toni Molkerai in Zurich. These and other Modern factories around the world were once significant as agents of innovation and change. Though factories today may not be as celebrated, factory owners and their architects around the world are re-approaching factory design with growing interest.