Industrial Landscapes

Each morning I walk to work past a huge manufacturing plant; the horizon is completely filled with soaring chimneys, immense concrete silos and elaborate metal gantries. Perhaps there are rules about how to fully appreciate this scenery, much as William Gilpin (back in 1772) explained the picturesque delights of the English countryside.

He suggested ideal vantage points from which a viewer could enjoy a landscape containing a mixture of elements; the smooth and rugged (lakes, trees, fields) the natural and man-made (valleys, ruined abbeys), the bare hills and busy fields at harvest-time.

Sometimes the manufacturing site looks crisp and clear, for instance on a spring morning when the early sunshine picks out one side of every structure and makes the steelwork gleam. On autumn evenings, vast plumes of steam catch the setting sun, and at times it looks as though the whole world is ablaze. And now, as we change from British Summer Time, the sky is dark by six o’clock, and the factory is completely lit by small harsh spotlights.

When this factory was first designed and built, there were no laptop computers or cellphones. Copiers and printers were expensive and found only in the workplace, never in the home. The people who created this manufacturing plant had to predict future demand for their products; every pipe, and tank, and valve represents an intersection of choice. Numerous possibilities – material, capacity, location – had to be considered, balanced and rejected before finally arriving at the present functioning design. And when looking at the factory – through the mist, or on a summer night (the sky becomes a bronze-and-turquoise fantasy) our knowledge of these technical aspects can only enhance the splendid view ahead.

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