From Rust Belt to preserved relics

Europeans turn old industrial buildings into apartments, retail space

We Americans think we're pretty hip for converting the occasional warehouse or factory into housing, but we can't hold a candle to Europe's clever new uses for old industrial relics. Whether ore bunkers or blast furnaces, the Europeans honor these structures as landmarks of a bygone era, rather than blowing them up as we do. The German city of Duisburg in the Ruhr Valley–the German equivalent to America's Rust Belt–offers a case in point. Duisburg's one-time industrial might can be judged from the fact that it was a pivotal target of Allied bombing raids during World War II. Its industrial prominence returned after the war, albeit directed toward more peaceful pursuits. During the last two decades, however, a changing world economy brought Duisburg's long steelmaking history to a close, leaving a landscape haunted by the abandoned relics of industry. When Duisburg's vast Thyssen steel works closed in 1985, the demolition of its towering furnaces and other structures se...