Monday, October 29, 2007
Pabst Brewery Demolition
Pabst Brewery from the east, October 2004.
I've seen it happen several times in St. Louis and Milwaukee: a massive complex of buildings, built up and added onto over many decades, is abandoned, decays for a while, becomes an urban explorer's paradise, finally gets bought up, is partially demolished, and winds up redeveloped.
It's that "partially demolished" bit that always brings me down.
Building 3 under demolition
I've never worked on the design of such a complex, so it's hard to say just what is and isn't always possible. Certainly there are times when one building needs to come out so that light can reach the windows of its neighbor. Sometimes remediation is simply prohibitively difficult. And of course decay takes a toll on abandoned structures, and not everything can be saved.
But it seems like, inevitably, the final result is to thin out and water down some of what makes such complexes so fascinating, which is their delightfully jumbled massing. A place like the Gallun Tannery or Pabst Brewery is a visual pile of buildings on top of buildings on top of still more buildings, scrambled up and accumulated piecemeal over a long and complex history. They have the density that cities need built right into their very structure. They are frantic masses of architecture, laden with secret corners and hidden delight.
But the first thing developers do is to come in and start knocking things down -- tearing away at the very thing that makes the complex so compelling.
Building 11 under demolition
There's a loss of history and architecture, too. Building 11 at the Pabst Brewery was of the same age and architectural style as the historic buildings that are to remain, and had nicer crenellation details than many of the survivors.
Purely functional accretions are frequently swept away, too, removing the gritty industrial nature of places like Pabst. Pipes, ducts, and non-architectural structures are removed as a standard part of sanitizing a complex, seemingly with no thought given to how they might be reused and incorporated into the renovation.
Jungle gym, vine-covered trellis, multi-colored sculpture, surreal pagoda, scenic overlook, straightforward monument to industrial history -- there are innumerable possibilities for such a construct, if one looks beyond the norm.
Power Plant under demolition
But we live in a culture that strives to sanitize, to the point that simply taking on the challenge of renovating a historic complex is already going far out on a limb. To leave it looking something like the aged industrial complex that it actually is? Outrageous! Out of the question!
However, much to the credit of the developers behind The Brewery, Building 20 will apparently retain its multi-story atrium and the enormous brew kettles within.
Even more impressive, the grain elevators -- described on the site as iconic -- will be retained, and are advertised as a potential location for an elevated restaurant or similar facility. That's exactly the sort of creative thinking needed for a site like this -- not just on a macro scale, but also carried down to the fine details.