DETROIT — Shuttered auto plants have been a surprising beneficiary of the
gloomy economy, with developers buying as many closed plants over the last three
years as during the previous 26, according to the first comprehensive study of
plants closed by American automakers since 1979.
Helped by lower property values and a rash of closings that suddenly put many
more sites on the market, developers have bought 32 properties since 2008. Many
have welcomed smaller manufacturers as tenants, while some have been turned into
housing developments, offices and research centers. Eight are now schools or
colleges, the study found.
Over all, nearly half of the 263 plants that automakers have closed in the
United States have been revived in some form, according to the study, which was
commissioned by the Labor Department’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities
The new developments have helped communities regain considerable tax revenue
lost when the plants closed, but only a fraction of the jobs that were lost.
Almost three-quarters of the closed plants had been one of their county’s top
three employers, and nearly one-third had more than 2,000 workers. In contrast,
55 percent of the repurposed sites have or will have fewer than 100 employees,
and only 17 percent have or will have more than 800 employees.
“These communities are often defined by these facilities in terms of employment
and of their identity, and there’s an emotional and psychological benefit” to
the new developments, said Jay Williams, executive director of the office.
Mr. Williams said the study could help communities with vacant plants understand
which approaches had been successful as well as provide hope that more
prosperous times might still be ahead. But he cautioned that with so many
closures, bringing in new users was not always feasible and the best use for
some sites might ultimately be green space. The study found that 135 former
plants remain unused, including 24 that closed more than two decades ago.
“They’re not all going to be repurposed,” he said. “Not every community is going
to find a pot of gold at the end of this pathway.”
The study, conducted for the Labor Department by the Center for Automotive
Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., found a plant’s location and the local economy
significantly influenced its fate after being closed. Sites near the coasts and
in the South are cited as having been most successful. All 14 former plants in
California and Texas have been repurposed, but in Michigan, the state most
affected by closures, only 43 of 105 have been.
The study identified regional cooperation, government financing or incentives,
and close proximity to mass transit and other transportation infrastructure as
common factors in plants that were redeveloped.
Part of a transmission plant in Batavia, Ohio, that closed in 2008 as part of
the Ford Motor Company’s restructuring became a new satellite campus for the
University of Cincinnati last year. The college and two manufacturing tenants
employ nearly 150 people and occupy about one-quarter of the plant, which had
1,700 workers under Ford. But local officials are happy that the site is
creating some jobs rather than staying empty, and they say having multiple,
smaller tenants there helps diversify the economy.
“It’s so far succeeded better than we could have hoped for,” said Andy Kuchta,
the economic development director for Clermont County, where the plant is
located. “It would have been a true blight on the community if it would have sat
The Ohio plant’s new owner, the Industrial Realty Group, is a firm based in
California that specializes in redeveloping closed factories. It has purchased
numerous former auto plants, as so many were cast aside in recent years, and
found new, generally smaller tenants, including a beer distributor, a fireworks
company and green manufacturers.
“These things are so big that finding a user for the entire building is like
finding a needle in a haystack,” said Stuart Lichter, the company’s president.
In many cases, redevelopment has not occurred quickly or easily even with local
efforts to move it along. Fifteen years after General Motors closed its minivan
plant on the Hudson River in North Tarrytown, N.Y., the 99-acre site about 20
miles from Manhattan remains empty. The village, which even changed its name to
Sleepy Hollow to help fill the void left by G.M. with tourists, is hopeful that
work on a $1 billion housing and commercial development could begin next year,
after previous plans fell through.
“We’re starting to get back on our feet and not be dependent on General Motors
anymore, but our downtown still has a lot of vacant properties,” the village
administrator, Anthony Giaccio, said. “It’s been many years that the village has
suffered from that.”
The study recommends that the government focus its efforts on regions with
numerous closed plants because those regions have more difficulty finding new
users. Counties with only one or two closed plants were successful in reviving
them nearly twice as often as counties with at least 10 such sites.
In Flint, Mich., the study lists only three of 24 sites abandoned by G.M. since
1979 as having a new use. A specialty pharmacy last year brought hundreds of
jobs to the site of the former Fisher Body 1 plant, where workers staged a
famous sit-down strike in the 1930s. But across town, the 452-acre former home
of G.M.’s sprawling Buick City complex remains deserted.
The Buick City site is among more than 7,000 acres of property owned by the
Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, which a bankruptcy
court judge created in March to sell off former G.M. assets. The trust owns 66
buildings totaling 44 million square feet of space in 14 states. Its Web site,
racertrust.org, lists 14 properties as fully or partly sold and three others as
under contract with a buyer, though none are in Flint.
“The need in Flint is to have new jobs and employment opportunities, so that
industrial corridor is critical for our community’s future,” said the city’s
mayor, Dayne Walling, “but we can only do so much to drive investment.”
TOLEDO, Ohio — “Without a glass palace, life
becomes a burden,” the poet Paul Scheerbart wrote nearly a century ago. Standing
in front of the new Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, designed by the
Japanese team of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, can reawaken that belief in
the power of glass to enchant.
The pavilion, which houses the museum’s vast collection of glass artworks, is a
testament to an earlier era when American industrial production and cultural
growth were profoundly intertwined. Toledo was once a major center of glass
production; now most of its factories are closed and the glass workers gone. The
enormous sheets of glass needed for the pavilion were manufactured in Germany
and molded in China in preparation for the Aug. 27 opening.
Yet this wholly contemporary building conjures up potent memories of the city’s
history. Composed with exquisite delicacy, the pavilion’s elegant maze of curved
glass walls represents the latest monument to evolve in a chain extending back
to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Its understated elegance recalls a time
when investment in the public realm was still driven by civic pride rather than
a lust for tourist dollars. The Glass Pavilion is part of a loosely knit complex
that includes the Beaux-Arts-style art museum here and the University of
Toledo’s Center for the Visual Arts, designed by Frank Gehry. With its grand
staircase leading up to a row of Ionic columns, the original museum is both a
temple to art and a monument to the belief in high culture’s ability to uplift
the life of the worker.
The new structure’s low, horizontal form fits in this context with remarkable
delicacy, as if the architects hesitated to disturb the surroundings. Seen from
the museum steps, the pavilion’s reflective facade, surrounded by a soft carpet
of glass, is barely visible beneath the shadowy canopies of ancient oak trees.
Just beyond it is a row of stoic Victorian houses.
The closer you get, the more the building reveals. Its main entry is positioned
off center, to line up exactly with the art museum’s grand stairway across the
street. The pavilion’s cafe and a glass workshop extend out from there,
punctuated by the intense orange glow of the glass furnaces. All this glass
brings to mind Philip Johnson’s famous 1949 Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.
Both facades dissolve into a collage of reflected and transparent images. Both
structures rest on a thin base, firmly rooting them to the ground. In both cases
the roof is a thin slab, as if it exists only to frame the view of the interior.
But Johnson’s masterpiece is the work of an exhibitionist. The facade acts as a
picture frame, casting a visitor into the slightly creepy role of a peeping Tom.
The first time I saw it, nearly two decades ago, I found myself hesitating
uneasily as I approached the door. When Johnson’s hand gently pressed against my
back, pushing me through, I felt like Alice falling through the looking glass.
By contrast the Glass Pavilion’s design is a diaphanous maze. The interior is a
series of rounded glass rooms wrapped in a secondary glass skin, which creates a
remarkably layered visual experience. From the lobby, for example, fragments of
the landscaped lawn on the other side of the building are visible through a
series of glass-walled galleries. Three simple interior courtyards, the largest
with its windows hung in a gauzy curtain, separate these rooms, framing views of
the sky and allowing light to spill down into the interiors.
The effect is hypnotic. And it is reinforced by the sinuous pattern of lines
made by the walls meeting the ceiling, which draws you deeper into the spaces.
Once inside the galleries, the eye is constantly slipping around curved surfaces
before coming to rest on a particular view: a work of art, a tree in the
But it is the graceful interplay of human forms that gives the pavilion its
enigmatic, ghostly quality. The double layer of glass sets up a delicious
contrast between the stillness you experience inside the glass rooms and the
more fluid interstitial spaces that separate them. As passing figures drift
through these spaces, they seem to momentarily caress one another before pulling
apart again where the walls curve to envelop the galleries.
At times the movements look ceremonial. As you watch, you become keenly aware of
the different degrees of intimacy and isolation.
The art too looks good. Most in simple cabinets, the objects — elaborate
chandeliers, Roman vases, a cast and gilded-glass Louis XIV mirror — seem to
hover within the transparent spaces, allowing you to focus on individual pieces
or uncover unexpected relationships among objects that are physically segregated
in different galleries.
The architects, whose firm is known as Sanaa, designed two opaque galleries for
more light-sensitive works. These solid white forms also serve to anchor a
structure visually that might otherwise seem about to drift off into space.
That Sanaa could make all of this look so effortless is a sign of its mastery,
and an illusion of course. To keep the roof so thin, for example, all of the
major mechanical systems — heating, ventilation, plumbing — were buried in the
basement or hidden in a nearby building. Pipes, wiring and air ducts were woven
through the building’s structural beams as precisely as wires laid into a
computer board. A loading dock was buried underground so that it would not
detract from the purity of the facade.
The building hides a complex ecological organism, divided into three independent
climate zones. A radiant heating-and-cooling system inside the interstitial
cavities is used to control the climate in the public areas and to prevent
condensation on the glass. The “hot shop” — where visiting artists will hold
classes in glassmaking — provides heat for the hot-water systems. The climate in
the galleries, which requires more control, is regulated independently.
For me the meaning of Sanaa’s creation snapped into place when I arrived at an
empty room overlooking the back garden. Lined with a few simple benches, this
area was conceived as a contemplative space, a place to refuel mentally before
venturing back into the galleries. In an age when museums are packed with
bookstores, cafes and shops, persuading curators to keep this space empty must
have been a triumph.
But it also reveals the architects’ awareness of the delicacy of their own
creation. This is not a design that can easily sustain an endless crush of
tourist traffic. It recognizes that emptiness, in our world, is increasingly a
It is not architecture with a Big Message. It is about empathy for the human
condition. Once you drift outside again, the tree branches seem to sway more
gently, the light feels softer, the world more tender. Most important, you are
more attuned to the distances between people. There are few higher compliments
you could pay a building.
"Urbanscapes" plants a camera in
neighborhoods gone to seed, cultivating a bittersweet portrait of American ruin.
The filmmakers, Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo, grew up in Italy, and they
regard the dilapidations of their adopted superpower with a touch of the
tourist's sentimentalism. Wastes of Chicago, Detroit, the South Bronx and Newark
are reflected through measured montage and digital-video impressionism. A cello
suite by Bach is as prevalent as the trash.
As indicated by the title, this documentary tends toward the general, abstract
and vague, though some detail and much charm are achieved by the choice of
commentators. The photographer Camilo J. Vergara tracks the metamorphosis of
specific city blocks over decades, returning to update his extensive record of
demolition, gentrification, neglect or renewal.
General Gordon Baker, a Detroit autoworker, remembers better days. Marion, his
wife, who is a social worker, recalls the upheavals of urban renewal, a process
known in her circle as "Negro removal." Mel Rosenthal, a native of the South
Bronx, returns with memories good (then as now, a vibrant street life) and bad
(the "planned shrinkage" of the 1970's, whereby municipal services like garbage
collection and firefighting were deliberately cut back to encourage the exodus
of undesirable populations).
Things go bad for a reason, and in the United States they go very bad where poor
black people live. "Urbanscapes" doesn't neglect the politics of blight, but as
with every subject glanced at here — memory, architecture, city planning, racism
— the emphasis sticks on those poetically entropic facades.
Opens today in Manhattan
Directed by Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo; director of cinematography,
Wolfgang Held; edited by Ms. Luciano; produced by Mr. Piscopo; released by Film2
Productions. At the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue
A, East Village. Running time: 90 minutes. This film is not rated.
MINNEAPOLIS — For fans who prefer that their
heroes remain predictable, Jean Nouvel has been a bit of a puzzle lately.
Two decades ago he established his reputation with the Institute of the Arab
World in Paris, whose southern facade, an enormous grid of filigreed steel
apertures, suggested inscrutable camera lenses. In the ensuing years this
architect could generally be counted on for big, bold forms; a fetishistic
obsession with technology; and a magician's bag of optical tricks.
His most recent projects, however, like the phallic, candy-colored Agbar Tower
in Barcelona and the anarchic mix at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, have
drifted toward the wildly eccentric, as if Mr. Nouvel, now 60, were more
interested in letting his imagination roam unfettered than in impressing critics
The new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis should offer comfort to those who miss
the 1980's Nouvel. Rising at the edge of the Mississippi, its confident forms
are rooted in a vision of a muscular industrial America, and its structural
bravura will certainly please the techno-fetishists. As a thoughtful response to
the American city's evolving role as a haven for cultural tourism, it also
coaxes new meaning out of a haggard landscape.
The site is a Modernist heaven on a former industrial strip along the
riverfront. Just next to the complex is a grain elevator, similar to those that
Le Corbusier once lauded as the American equivalent of the Parthenon, the
"magnificent first fruits of a new age." An electric generating plant looms
across the river; to the north, water rushes through a series of locks beneath
an industrial bridge.
Like so many cities, of course, Minneapolis has gradually undergone an economic
transformation. Most of the city's old flour mills were shut down long ago. The
concrete grain elevator alongside the theater complex has been preserved as a
historic monument, and a nearby row of warehouses has been converted into
co-ops. Mr. Nouvel's design takes its initial cues from the city's early
history. The complex's scale fits nicely with the structure next door. The boxy,
piled-up forms echo the electric power plant across the street, anchoring the
theater in the city's early industrial ethos rather than in the shopping centers
and office towers downtown.
Yet that virile image of a landscape ruled by men and machines is tempered by
Mr. Nouvel's typical subversiveness. The metal cladding is coated in midnight
blue, a symbol of buttoned-down conservatism that suggests a killer in a pressed
suit. A small terrace in a bright police-tape yellow juts impudently from the
building's riverfront facade.
Enormous mirrored panels frame a restaurant terrace, snatching up refracted
images of the surrounding city. Orange-colored LED images climb two towers that
rise from the complex like high-tech smokestacks.
Mr. Nouvel's biggest gesture is a 175-foot-long cantilevered form that projects
toward the river, its end abruptly sliced off at a sharp angle. Viewed from
across the river, it looks like a bridge leading nowhere. Yet as you approach
the main entrance along Second Street, as most visitors will, the cantilever
reads as an extension of a walkway bridge that runs from the theater complex to
a parking structure on the other side, an echo of the skywalks found elsewhere
in downtown Minneapolis.
The cantilever houses a bar and an outdoor terrace. But its main role is
symbolic. In embarking on such a spectacular structural effort for what most
would consider a secondary space, Mr. Nouvel is upholding the value of the
tangential experiences that are often the most important in life.
Inside, the main 1,100-seat hall, a nod to the liberal Modernism of the 1960's,
pays homage to the underappreciated original Guthrie designed by Ralph Rapson
with a thrust stage that bridges the distance between the performers and the
audience. Seats spill down toward the stage from three sides. Above, a sweeping
balcony is set just off center, giving the room a wonderful edginess.
Mr. Nouvel has also designed a more conservative 700-seat proscenium theater —
albeit in an erotic lipstick red that plays off the stiff formality of the space
— and a 300-seat black box for experimental work.
But the true heart of the building is its connective tissue, like a two-tier
public foyer where theatergoers will mingle during intermission. A large window
at one end overlooks the area where workers assemble the stage sets; from the
other side, people can amble out to the cantilevered bar and terrace.
Here and there, the images of past performances, faint as shadows, are imprinted
on the foyer wall, ghosts from the Guthrie's past. But once you drift out to the
cantilevered bar, a sense of flux returns. The windows are framed in a mirrored
steel that blends city views with refracted images of nearby buildings. In warm
weather, a breeze wafts in through a large open window, carrying the scent of
Suddenly we're not altogether sure where we find ourselves, and that's part of
the point. The city, too, is a theater, a vast unstable laboratory that is
constantly being reshaped by economic, political and imaginative forces. Seldom
does that reality seem this seductive.
A new system of house construction was explained
to the Manchester Housing Committee yesterday when the members inspected the
model and plans of the "Ritonoff" permanent prefabricated house.
Designed in steel or aluminium alloy for an estimated "life" of fifty to sixty
years, a semi-detached pair, prefabricated and pre-assembled, can, it is
anticipated, be erected in six sections in one day by a gang of six men with the
assistance of a crane.
Such houses, being of dry construction, can be occupied the next day. It is
hoped the cost will not exceed £1,000. Councillor H. Bentley, chairman, said
yesterday that if the committee is in favour of the new type Rotinoff
Construction, Limited, will be asked to erect a prototype in Manchester for
inspection by people from the whole of the industrial North.
The architect is Mr. Richard Nickson, of London and Liverpool, who is associated
with Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie in a study of post-war town planning and
building development. "This particular house," said Mr. Nickson yesterday to a
"Manchester Guardian" reporter, "arose from my acquaintance with Mr George
Rotinoff, who had patented a system of whole-metal shipping construction which I
invited him to apply to housing to a certain lay-out of mine on the system of
transportable box sections."
Mr. Nickson is a nephew of Sir William Clare Lees, who introduced him to
Councillor Bentley with the result that a deputation from the committee first
saw the model in London. Plans seen yesterday provide for a house without home
laundry of 968 square feet floor space, or with it, 1,040 square feet. The
accommodation on the upper floor is for three bedrooms, (one small) bathroom and
separate W.C., while there are alternative layouts for the ground floor.
In one the large living-room opens into the kitchen, a sitting-room opening off
the hall. The kitchen comprises larder, refrigerator, washer, dry goods
cupboard, sink with double drainers, gas or electric or solid fuel cooker, china
cupboards. and a drop-flap table to enable "snack" meals to be served.
The connecting wall between the "semis" is a double one and completely
insulated: and all floors are carried on cork insulating pads. Rooms are eight
[ A 1944 act of parliament provided £150m nationally,