The Industrial Heritage of the Dynamitka Works Versus Traditional Heritage Conservation Cover Image
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Priemyselné dedičstvo Dynamitky verzus tradičná pamiatková ochrana
The Industrial Heritage of the Dynamitka Works Versus Traditional Heritage Conservation

Update the theoretical basis

Author(s): Nina Bartošová
Subject(s): Fine Arts / Performing Arts
Published by: Historický ústav SAV, v. v. i.
Keywords: industrial heritage; dynamite works; value-centered preservation; conservation; planning

Summary/Abstract: Conservation of industrial heritage is often confronted with issues which it is seemingly unable to solve in practice. In Bratislava, the premises of Istrochem – the former ‘Dynamitka’ dynamite factory – clearly highlight this situation. Due to the contrast between its current state and its attributed historical importance, the complex represents a good example for examining not only the tools of the current conservation profession, but also the adequacy of its existing theoretical background. An explanation for the greater importance of focusing on such a problematic example, instead of a successful project of restoration/re-use that leads to conservation of a specific industrial building or site, is that a negative example encourages the effort to understand the deeper context from which these problems arise. The issues of industrial heritage conservation are often simplified and reduced to two extremes: either through a positive example – the re-use of a specific industrial monument, in which attention is focused on the visual appeal of industrial architecture, or negatively as a conflict of interests among different stakeholders, whether owners, investors or preservationists. Questions of a deeper context regarding the importance and possibilities of industrial heritage conservation, or the immediate factors that affect its sustainability, remain hidden. Partially, this situation has emerged because the primary examples of successful conversions in Slovakia are small-scale works initiated by conscious individuals, and hence are not the results of systematic planning. In consequence, sufficient experience is lacking for replication and application in more complex situations. The series of unfortunate cases of demolition of industrial heritage that have occurred in Bratislava in recent years are the reason why it is especially important to uncover the roots of the problem, even if, in absolute terms, there are now many fewer industrial monuments left to protect. The following paper aims to point out that the issue is not simply the conservation and re-use of specific monuments – in this case the Dynamitka works – but the formulation of a theme that enables to think on a more general level about the importance for society at large of the built traces left by specific historic eras. Dynamitka, a factory established in 1873 by the famous Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, has undergone significant transformation since its creation, as the result of major historical events, including two world wars. Both the political and the economic changes highly influenced the factory’s production program, and as a consequence increased the diversity of the physical structures on the site. What was once a clearly outlined spatial plan became transformed into an illegible area, where the selected structures of different time periods are difficult to identify. Within the production site, there are no vestiges remaining of the oldest period; the only physical elements related to dynamite production – separate structures surrounded with typical blast wall systems – date back merely to World War II. At present, the dynamite works form a closed area situated within the premises, now fully planted with trees. Similar structures have been converted into open-air museums in the former dynamite factories in Avigliana and Paulilles. At the same time, there are a small number of architectural structures that are worth preservation, such as the two identical water towers from 1916. One of them has been already restored and converted into the office space of the architectural firm BKPŠ, while the other remains in the ownership of the current owner of the site (Istrochem, Duslo, a.s.) Although the towers are not unique from an architectural point of view – using very typical construction methods of that time – they have become a landmark of the area. Their iconic quality was used even in the past, such as the towers’ appearance several times on the cover of the factory’s magazine Závod in the 1940’s. Other buildings worth mentioning are situated in the area of the former sugar refinery built on the premises in 1924, as a way to mitigate the financial losses following the political decision from 1920 to discontinue the dynamite production. Although it operated just for four years, the refinery’s remains are still one of the impressive industrial monuments of the site, as it was later converted into a factory for the synthetic fibre Vistra. The first of the two buildings is the former sugar warehouse and the second, replacing the old boiler house of the sugar factory – is an electric plant built for Vistra in 1942,when Dynamitka belonged to the notorious German concern I. G. Farben. Similarly to the sugar warehouse and many other buildings on the site, it was built by the important Viennese construction company Pittel and Brausewetter. The most obvious problem blocking the protection of the most important buildings of Dynamitka is the lack of any interest from the owner in preserving the historical heritage of the factory. As a result, it is not possible to verify the structural soundness of the buildings, or to obtain information about possible chemical contamination which is necessary for making a decision for their appropriate usage. Still, it is important to note that there are also other aspects that have a great influence on heritage preservation, particularly public interest. Avigliana and Paulilles – the two previously mentioned former Nobel dynamite factories – were preserved and converted into museums mainly thanks to pressure from the public, as industry became an inseparable part of local identity – an aspect that is hardly present in Bratislava to a comparable extent. The situation occurring in Dynamitka reflects a series of problems on various levels, one of which is institutional. While, for instance, Great Britain is often given as an example in the context of preservation of industrial monuments, the greatest inspiration can be found in the processes that were initiated to support the protection, rather than in the implementation of a certain legal status in individual cases. It is crucial to mention that the creation of protected areas went hand in hand with development projects that tested – even if initially on only a small scale – the means of shared financing and public participation, as for example in the case of the organisation Civic Trust. Although the interest in industrial monuments in Slovakia dates back to the 1950s, i.e. to the same time when the field of industrial archaeology began to develop in Great Britain, the first mapping took part much later, in the 1970’s. The institution designated for monument protection is the Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic. However, industrial heritage is usually just a one-person assignment, and there is no public body that could serve as a platform for its research – in contrast, say, to the present Czech situation with the Research Centre for Industrial Heritage (VCPD), operating within the Faculty of Architecture of the Czech Technical University in Prague. VCPD works in partnership with the Czech National Heritage Institute and therefore increases the chance to protect selected monuments. Conservation professionals find the problem mainly to lie in the approach to urban planning that does not incorporate a need to deal with industrial heritage, and the overall stance of the state administration. In case a listing of a specific building or site is not possible, protection can be obtained also through conservation zones and reservation, however in many cases the industrial sites are built outside these areas, as it is the case of Dynamitka. In order to improve the situation, it is extremely important not only to improve general awareness and to promote cooperation between different expert institutions (for example the Slovak Academy of Sciences, the Faculty of Architecture at the Slovak Technical University, and the Monuments Board), but also to include specific education at universities, to ensure the training of professionals able to address the issues of industrial heritage conservation. The institutional level is not the only one that needs to be addressed when looking for a solution to the situation of industrial heritage. Countries that report greater success in its protection have already made a shift in their approach to heritage even on the theoretical level. For example, in the case of England reflected in the Conservation Principles for the Sustainable Management of the Historic Environment (English Heritage, 2008), it is stated that for the understanding of the place it is also important to consider “who values the place, and why they do so” and “how those values relate to its fabric”. This trend is starting to be recognizable as well in many other countries, thanks to a similar model of conservation as the one developed by the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles (GCI) for the research project Research on the Values of Heritage (1998 – 2005), according to which conservation is seen as a long-term planning process, which involves not only architects, planners, historians but also anthropologists, geographers, sociologists, economists and other experts, together with the owners and the public. Therefore the conservation process reflects a whole range of values, not exclusively the sense of understanding by a selected group of experts, in this case, preservationists. According to one expert from GCI, Randall Mason, the current predominant approach, rooted in traditional conservation (fabric-centered preservation), and recognizable also in Slovakia – has to be balanced with a more sustainable approach of value-centered preservation based on a less standard range of values, including economic ones. This idea, however, is not new, as even such a classic figure of heritage conservation as Alois Riegl himself refused to base conservation entirely on the limited intellectual, historic or aesthetic value of the monuments. Protection of industrial heritage is a complex process in which it is unrealistic to expect quick solutions. As shown in the case of Dynamitka, without the involvement of experts from different types of disciplines than merely those that are currently involved, we are unable to find an appropriate answer to the question, not only how to conserve, but also for whom and why it is necessary. Successful conservation need to reflect the legitimacy of every stakeholder involved in preferring their own set of values, and thus the necessity that the field of heritage conservation makes their statements and reasoning easier to understand, to increase the chance of conservation being successful.

  • Issue Year: 48/2014
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 214-235
  • Page Count: 22
  • Language: Slovak