In many American cities, the urban landscape has become cracked and disjointed. Deindustrialization in conjunction with the rapid development of outlying suburbs has left existing dense city centers full of blight and abandoned spaces. In Birmingham these issues are exasperated by the decline of the steel industry that once spurred the city’s physical and economic development. Still, the cultural and historical importance of the city’s industrial past remains a prominent aspect of the physical landscape. By re imagining such areas of vacancy and physical waste, there is an opportunity to rethink the relationship between a city’s past and future needs. Rather than continuing to build on the periphery of the city’s existing development, the proposed intervention works as infill to reconnect the existing artifacts on the site to one another, as well as to the means of access that border it.
As it currently stands, the site lies abandoned and disconnected from the CSX Railway to the south and Robert Jemison Road to the north. The addition of parking and a new public entrance, visible from the street, grants visitors access to the site. Also, a new loading dock provides commercial access at the southern end of the building complex. As a result, raw materials can be unloaded from the connecting rail line for use in production. Public and commercial circulation merges in the central mass of the building. At this intersection, visitors are invited to engage in the process of production as they enter small artist work studios and production facilities that exist in this central corridor. Visitors then circulate back through the gift shop before exiting the site.
By filling the site’s existing programatic void with a new, boutique, manufacturing center, a new means of production is created which, contrary to past mining activities, is economically and environmentally sustainable. New glass structures weave through the existing concrete forms, fulfilling the needs of the new factory while leading visitors on a journey through time. The juxtaposition of new and old creates a dialogue between the object’s past industrial use and a more sustainable means of development for the future.