1989 – 1999
IBA Emscher Park

A future for an industrial region

The Emscher Park International Building Exhibition started in 1989 aiming to fundamentally change the conceptual structure of the central Ruhrgebiet region, in response to its industrial decline. In the former industrial region, landscape planning and urban development projects covering over 800 square kilometres were implemented for ecological, economic and cultural renewal. Headed up by Prof. Karl Ganser, IBA Emscher Park was characterised by the establishment of new planning structures and a regional approach that went far above and beyond mere housing and urban living. For the first time in the history of the building exhibitions, landscape design and architecture came to the fore in particular to establish a regional identity.

17 cities, numerous initiatives and project partners jointly implemented 117 projects with the objective of future-proofing a traditional industrial region. This was about more than just clearing, refurbishment or repair. IBA made a special contribution to a focused restructuring of the region as part of a fundamental structural change by helping build an identity. The IBA projects were grouped in six central guiding topics: Working in the park, new buildings and modernising housing estates, ecological renewal of the Emscher system, promotion of urban development and social stimuli for urban development and the establishment of a regional park structure called the Emscher Landscape Park, where previously industrial usage had shaped the habitat of the central Ruhrgebiet region for 150 years. This was a period of upheaval for a conurbation with over 2.3 million inhabitants that took 10 years to implement.

The establishment and connection of the Emscher Landscape Park was an absolute novelty: Industrial wastelands were declared nature reserves, leftover industrial land was taken as an opportunity to create a new landscape, and dumps became landmarks. The result was an industrial landscape that called for new forms of landscape planning and landscape architecture. The goal was to promote a wholesale change in the approach to used space. Opening and using spaces positively created an industrial nature, and the industrial ensemble previously branded as structural emblems of industrial decline, became unique and identity-defining buildings that are now landmarks of the Ruhrgebiet urban landscape. 

Worldwide, IBA Emscher Park provided guidelines for a new approach to former industrial regions and sites. In North Rhine-Westphalia, it launched subsequent structural programmes and cultural projects, the “REGIONALS”, and the European Cultural Capital “RUHR.2010”. 

The State of North Rhine-Westphalia initiated the IBA Emscher Park. In addition to state funds, German Government and EU funds in particular provided financing. Overall, more than 40 existing subsidy programmes were regrouped purposefully to finance the projects of IBA Emscher Park. IBA moderated the development, but did not implement it.

Sample projects:

Emscher region

Sources and further information:
Internationale Bauausstellung Emscher Park (Hrsg.): Katalog der Projekte 1999, Gelsenkirchen 1999.
Fachgebiet Städtebau, Stadtgestaltung und Bauleitplanung, Fakultät Raumplanung (Hrsg.): Internationale Bauausstellung Emscher Park. Die Projekte 10 Jahre danach, Essen 2008.
M:AI Museum für Architektur und Ingenieurkunst NRW, IBA Hamburg (Hrsg.): IBA meets IBA. Eine Ausstellung zur 100jährigen Geschichte der Internationalen Bauausstellungen, (o.J.).