Three Creative Ways to Remake Old Car Plants

Why destroy decommissioned factories when their lurid remains can be put to good use for everything from crafts fairs to rock concerts?

Before a new American car industry can rise up, the vestiges of the old one must be buried. The two bankrupt companies, Chrysler and GM, closed assembly lines for much of May and June, and more than a dozen plants will likely be permanently shuttered as they continue to rejigger themselves for the future.

So what will happen to those hulking structures, with their cavernous hangers and assembly lines that spanned multiple city blocks? Many, unfortunately, will join Detroit's growing inventory of abandoned buildings. Some will be razed to make way for the new. But what about preservation and reuse? Wouldn't it make sense to preserve at least some of the plants as artifacts of an industry that helped build the American middle class? Can't we do something interesting with the dark grandeur of their rusting shells? Here are three ideas for adapting the plants to new uses:

gasworks park

1. Turn them into park monuments. These days, landscape architecture is less about beautifying places in the conventional sense and more about preserving industrial relics as monumental memories of the past. Witness Gas Works Park in Seattle (above), which uses a coal gasification plant as its centerpiece.

HD Buttercup

2. Convert them to indoor markets. Retail space may not be Michigan's top priority, but a farmer's market/crafts outlet configured from an industrial shell could be unusual enough to draw shoppers. The precedent that comes to mind is HD Buttercup (above), a furnishings outlet in the former Helms Bakery in the Culver City section of Los Angeles.

duisberg, germany

3. Replace the assembly line with a concert stage. Would you pay to see Wilco play in a former blast furnace? I would. A former Thyssen plant in Duisberg, Germany, is now home to concerts and theatre performances (above), staged in smelting works and other raw industrial spaces.

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  • Juan Appleseed

    I'm sorry, but I find these ideas silly. I'd rather these plants stay open to build wind turbines, water turbines, solar panels, public transportation, electric cars, etc. Addressing unemployment and climate change must be two of the world's top priorities. These facilities, the trained workforce, the transportation infrastructure etc. are all still completely viable. Besides, we (the taxpayers) own the GM & Chrysler facilities. We can't fix climate change with rock shows and art – but we can with a truly creative and dedicated new industrial policy to address the biggest challenges of our time.

  • Ray Stanczak

    Let's, for now, ignore the fact that the Packard Plant in Detroit (your thumbnail pix) catches fire roughly once a week these days. Informal though they were, enterprising Detroit-techno hipsters had been hosting electronic music / multi-media partaaay more than 10 years ago in abandoned industrial buildings. A prime example would be the annual Hawtin Syst3m parties at the Packard back in the day.
    Nothing new here under the sun.
    Want some Packard? go to:

  • Jim Meredith

    The abandoned plant is a great subject for alternative uses because of what seems to be its almost unlimiting breadth and volume, and for the post-industrial interest in some of their iconic equipment. There is, however, an awful lot of both industrial as well as other excess real estate out there, all looking, I expect, for some sort of successful re-use. The limiting factors may not be so much the potential in the typology, but simply the demand for space. I've speculated a bit on that here –

  • Freddy Nager

    Several communities have revitalized abandoned commercial areas and buildings by simply turning them over to artists. Peekskill, New York did this ( There was also a great article a few years back (which I can't find) about urban areas in North Dakota revitalized because of artists. The artists desperately need affordable living and work space. They in turn attract the cafe crowd.