LA Study Tour with Jack
Emscher Park
by Ariel Dungca


Gasometer lighted at night.Source:Gopal, Kevin. German for Inspiration .
View from one of the towers in Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. Source:

In 1989, the Emscher Park opened showcasing the adaptive re-use of one of the largest post industrial landcapes in the world. The Ruhr area in Germany was a hotbed for coal mining and heavy industry for more than a century and this left the region as a serious ecological and social liability after the industrial decline in the 1980's.

The German state of North Rhine Westphalia came up with the idea of an International Building Exhibition (IBA) in 1989. It was described as a comprehensive regional planning scheme using a multi-stakeholder process in a design competition setting (EPA). It had to work at three different scales with varying opportunities and challenges. In the regional section, the IBA worked with 17 municipalities. In the programmatic level the IBA came up with a solution to reuse the massive industrial sites and wastelands into a network of regional open space recreational areas with a strong ecological focus. Private companies, local government officials, and the community were involved with IBA's effort of making over 100 projects work successfully.

Instead of trying to erase the past, the authorities used creativity and innovative architecture to transform the gasometers and chimneys into working industrial monuments. It was built with ecological principles as the driving force and the park responded with a good range of high quality recreation facilities for tourists and the local community (Gopal).

Guideline Projects

Emscher Park IBA gave a thematic definition for its project activities which was listed and explained by Philip Cooke in “The Rise of the Rustbelt”.

First: The Emscher Landscape Park overall goal was to gradually create a continuous green area and landscape park crossing the northern Ruhr Area from east to west. Nineteen projects are affiliated with this guideline.

Second: The ecological improvement of the Emscher River System. This targets the redevelopment of the river Emscher and its tributaries. The sewage system also falls under this stage which has become one of the major concerns in the project.

Third: New utilization of industrial buildings.

Fourth: Working in the Park. New housing, manufacturing and service industries were integrated with the former industrial sites.

Fifth: Housing and integrated development of municipal districts. The goal of this step is to rehabilitate old worker's housing estates in a way that better serves the new uses for the park. Most of these projects have innovative ecological thinking and design behind them.

Project Highlights

Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord.
One of Zollverein's impressive experiences, the canal running along the whole plant.

Emscher Landscape Park
The Emscher Coal Fields and stockpiles were “reinvented” to become a network of regional open space and recreational areas. Some of the many design elements are gardens, a water park from the old Emscher Canal system, and making railway lines into promenades that connect the park to neighboring cities.

Industrial Museums and Historical Preservation
One great example is the Oberhausen gasometer which was turned into a exhibition hall and theater.

Brownfields as housing

Duisborg Harbor
This harbor formerly an industrial and shipping center is now being redeveloped as mixed-used neighborhood with waterfront parks and promenades. In Kyle Halloran's report of the Duisborg Harbor, he describes that " the Duisburg Innenhaffen is located at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers , in Duisburg and is one of the largest in land ports in Europe . The revitalization of the harbor began in 1989 and has been happening ever since then continued since . The old harbor has been converted into an array of different urban uses and amenities. The site harbor is now home to offices, police headquarters, parks, and a multitude of multi-family housing. Water management and adaptive reuse of old industrial buildings can be found throughout the inner harbor".

Emscher Waterways
Much effort was given to revive the health of the Emscher River and its tributaries. Many of the concrete channels from the old industrial days were improved and treatment plants were built as part of the movement.

View from one of towers in Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord.
A contempletive space in the midst of structures that used to produce massive power and noise.



Germany is outlined in green, with the North Rhine-Westphalia region highlighted in green. Source:Microsoft Virtual Earth, edited in Photoshop
Emscher Park, its many municipalities and site attractions pointed out. Source; Reconstructing the Ruhrgebiet. Landscape Architecture Magazine April 2001 Edition p. 69

Emscher Park is unlike other parks in the sense that it is not one specific place but it is a region. It is found in the State of North Rhine Westphalia, including the cities of Duisburg, Essen, Gelsenchirchen and Dortmund. Some of the main attractions within the 17 involved municipalities are Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (Duisburg), Nordsternpark (Gelsenkirchen), Zollverein (Essen) and Stadtpark (West Bochum).


Flughafenstr. 120
40474 Düsseldorf , Germany

From this point, Germany's excellent public transportation should enable going to the different areas of Emscher Park a pleasant experience. It is very much a tourist attraction and its locals and resident businesses make an effort of providing directions and informations about the places.

Significance and Critique

Duisborg Harbor sunset.
Cafer in Zollverein that was located inside one of the factories. A gift shop was also found in the same space.

Emscher Park serves as a model for how to creatively turn negative spaces into positive and profitable spaces. The biggest benefit has been the revitalization of a whole region and giving a new cultural identity to its people. Emscher Park introduces and forces one to view these old and historic places in a new and different way.

In a blog by Judith Armitt, the Thames Gateway Chief Executive, she reflected her recent visit to Emscher Park. She came away from it fascinated and was inspired by some of the real visionary thinking. On her first evening she fondly explained how she spent her dinner in a converted electricity substation. The place she described to have a very interesting environment, full of liveliness and character. She also mentioned a blast furnace that was being made to be the center of a high technology business park, an old factory shed transformed into a concert hall, and an education academy where a colliery was the design influence.

Having recently visited places such as Landschaftspark Duisborg-Nord, and Zollverein I feel that I have found new appreciation for everything that has been done for the Ruhr region. However I feel that one of the reason this works is because of the pride the people feel about these places. I saw pictures, art, souvenirs not only in the visitor spots but in random bars, restaurants, and other places we visited in Duisborg. Old factories and mines turned into recreational and commercial venues might not be for everyone.


Emscher Park is a great example and symbol for innovation and seeing unique opportunities in a place full of challenges. With excellent planning and with a long term vision, Emscher Park not only benefits the people in its community now but for the future generation as well.


US Environmental Protection Agency. International Brownfields Case Study: Emscher Park Germany .
Almaas, Ingerid Helsing. Regenerating the Ruhr – IBA Emscher Park Project for the regeneration of Germany's Ruhr Region . Architectural Review. Feb 1999
Gopal, Kevin. German for Inspiration .
Cooke, Philip. The Rise of the Rustbelt. St. Martin 's Press New York . Pp.208-230. 1995
Labelle, Judith. Emscher Park Germany – Expanding the definition of a Park .
Armitt, Judith. If Germany can do this in Emscher Park , just think what we can do in the Gateway . . . Published 25 October 07 11:37 AM
Brown, Brenda. Reconstructing the Ruhrgebiet . Landscape Architecture Magazine April 2001 Edition
Halloran, Kyle. Duisburg Innenhafen M:\Student Projects\0!-LARP Study Tour\2008\khalloran\index.html. May 16, 2008