Vertical Urban Factory at the Design Exchange


12 September 2012

An exhibition celebrating the modernist architecture of twentieth-century factories, Vertical Urban Factory arrives at the Design Exchange, Toronto having previously shown in New York and Detroit.

Vertical Urban Factory aims to elevate the status of factories as a form of architecture. An exhibition featuring photographs, models and films, it looks at ten historical examples of factory design, presenting them as the forerunners of modernist architecture.

The ten examples, selected by the show's curator Nina Rappaport, include Albert Khan's Packard Plant in Detroit, Johannes Brinkman's Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam and the Lingotto Fiat factory in Turin. These buildings, Rappaport argues, were more influential in the development of twentieth-century architecture than is normally accepted.

"We take the concrete construction of these factories for granted," she says. "The European modern architects were inspired by the simplicity of the American concrete grid constructions of Albert Khan and his contemporaries. The concepts of modernism already existed in terms of the simple concrete grid and open floor plans of the American factories."

The exhibition also explores a possible future for industry. As larger factories have been driven out of cities and onto purpose built industrial parks, Vertical Urban Future examines the smaller, multi-storey factories that have moved back into city centres and begun to create a new relationship between urban and industrial life.

"The contemporary factory is moving towards the smaller and craft side of things," says Rappaport. "Large factories have moved out of the city centres and away from the people and they've been replaced by smaller workshops. It's almost like cottage industry is coming back to cities.

"For example, companies in Detroit have just abandoned their factories. What's happening now is that smaller, local businesses are coming in to replace them. Everyone is into 'local' now, whether that's local breweries, distilleries or small craft makers. The do-it-yourself movement is very big and the idea of a self-sustaining city could become possible."

Following its spell in Toronto, Rappaport plans to move Vertical Urban Factory to San Francisco, Switzerland or London. The exhibition, she hopes, will encourage architects to reevaluate the form and status of the factory.

"They may be workplaces, but they are also spaces for architectural experimentation," she says. "When they were first created they were an exciting new form of architecture. We need to recreate that."