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Cascade: No. 57, Spring 2005

Duisburg-Nord: From Rusted Ruins to Recreational Park

When landscape architect Peter Latz first looked at the rusting ruins of a century-old 570-acre coal, iron, and steel complex in Germany in 1991, he saw what most people saw: huge blast furnaces, iron-ore bunkers, swamps, and slag heaps. But, gradually, he began to see possibilities for re-using the existing structures within a recreational complex or park.

Today, mountain climbers scale high bunker walls and scuba divers swim in a 50-foot-deep converted gas tank. Visitors walk and ride bicycles on paths that have replaced railroad tracks and enjoy gardens built on several levels within former iron-ore bunkers. A promenade with a beautiful view has replaced high-level railroad tracks, and a new water park has been created.

Latz’s design team removed 49 seven-ton iron plates from the pig-iron casting works, cleaned them to reveal beautiful colors, and placed them in a blast-furnace area renamed Piazza Metallica. They also created a 500-seat Roman amphitheater for plays, converted a power station into a festival hall, and replaced waste-water in a canal with clear water fed mainly by rainwater collected in the overhead pipes of buildings, former cooling basins, and purification tanks.

Latz described his visionary work designing the Duisburg-Nord recreational landscape park at a conference on vacant property reclamation last December. He told the audience that it’s possible to bring about “a metamorphosis of existing industrial structures without destroying them.” The challenge, he said, “is to adapt and interpret anew, transforming the industrial structures without destroying them,” adding that ecology and technology should be combined to regenerate natural processes.

More than 500,000 people a year visit Duisburg-Nord, which is located in Germany ’s Ruhr district. The park, which has promenades leading into adjacent communities, has sparked a renaissance of neighboring moderate-income communities.

The project was developed in stages, which limited the amount of funding needed at any one time. Half the cost of maintaining buildings and the park is financed by rental fees paid by cultural and commercial groups that organize large rock or classical music concerts, plays, ballets, exhibitions, as well as by restaurants.

Latz, his wife Anneliese, and their son Tilman work together in a landscape architecture firm near Munich. Latz is a long-time professor of landscape architecture at the Technical University of Munich and has been a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. He has worked with American architectural students on, among other projects, abandoned mine and steel sites in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

In an interview at the conference, Latz said: “‘Landscape’ exists in one’s head. When people see a landscape, they give it meaning. People who have different education or countries of origin see the same thing differently.”

In order to think creatively about re-using a large deteriorated area, Latz recommends that many people familiar with a site “look at it over a long period of time, in different seasons and hours of the day. Ideas will come to them from their imagination, and they will interpret the site in a new way.”

The conference, Vacant Property in Pennsylvania Cities and Towns: Reinvestment Strategies, Successes, and Challenges, was organized primarily by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. An article on Duisburg-Nord appeared in The New York Times Magazine on May 16, 2004. For information, contact Anneliese Latz at a.latz@latzundpartner.de; www.latzundpartner.de.