wastelands seen as parks in the rough
By Nancy Hurrelbrinck
tourists on a pristine ridge juxtaposed with an abandoned
factory framed by mountains were two of the slides shown at
a recent talk by Julie Bargmann, a U.Va. assistant professor
"How do we reconcile our idealized view of nature and
the industrialized landscape we've created?" she asked,
adding that we have a tendency to want to erase what doesn't
fit our ideal.
landscape is green and brown and gray and rusted,"
she said. "We need to embrace industrial sites as part
of our cultural [heritage]."
Bargmann is doing just that through her research, her teaching
and her landscape architecture practice, trying to create
a role for designers in a field heretofore occupied by "engineers
providing a quick fix."
Reclamation usually means remediation, the correcting of
a wrong, but Bargmann prefers the term "regeneration,"
which entails "creating something new, seeing the landscape
in a revolutionary way," she said.
architecture professor Julie Bargmann, center, takes U.Va.
students to reclaimed landfills and other waste sites in New
York and New Jersey, such as this one, the Roebling Steel
Cable Manufacturing Company. Today an EPA-designated Superfund
site, the factory provided steel for the building of the Brooklyn
Bridge, Bargmann noted.
"Only in the past decade have people come to see that sites
need more than an engineered solution," she said in a recent
talk that was part of the Architecture School's new lecture series,
"The Finding Eye of Ethics." "There's real cultural
value to many of them. That's something to build on, not to erase."
and her students are exploring reclamation options in a
studio this spring, focusing on the Avtex Fibers plant in
Front Royal, a 440-acre site on the Shenandoah River where
rayon and polyester were manufactured for 50 years.
Avtex is in the "heat of trying to get the community's
approval of their remediation and redevelopment plans,"
some of which efface parts of the company's past, she said
in an interview.
Bargmann's students visited an 80-year-old former plant
manager who is arguing for the preservation of the site
as it is, though his views aren't popular.
By examining actual sites, "students get exposed to
how complicated it is to deal with social and political
and economic issues," she said. "It's good for
them ... to see that designers don't just barrel on in and
In general, "regulations tend to be buried in bureaucratic
jargon, and the level of contamination is usually downplayed,"
Bargmann said, noting that acronyms like BAOC -- "back
to the approximate original contour" -- don't convey
how the "reclaimed" landscape might look.
architect Julie Bargmann admits that working on the reclamation
of polluted industrial sites is a tough assignment to give
students, as well as take on herself. "Imagine what the
place was, and what it could be. Understand the industrial
processes and then remediation technologies. Scale over bureaucratic
fences while fighting for design intentions. Invent a landscape
for which there are hardly any precedents. In short, take
a pile of contaminated dirt, figure it out, then make something
Her students have combed through reports, clarifying concepts
enmeshed in impenetrable language and illustrating them with drawings.
One of the two most prevalent approaches to remediation is "cap
and cover," where toxic materials are buried and covered
with grass -- "it's like putting lipstick on a pig" --
ignoring the hazard and leaving it for the next generation, she
said. The other is "hog and haul," where waste is excavated
and taken to another state (or country) and buried. "That's
heralded as the most economically feasible remedial action to
take," she said. "No one is saying, 'What if there were
nowhere to take it?' Virginia is saying, 'Bring your trash here.
We want it.'"
In her research and teaching, Bargmann is reviewing emerging technologies
to detoxify industrial sites, such as bioremediation (soil washing
and soil flushing) and phytoremediation (using plants that absorb
heavy metals from the soil).
This kind of approach "is not as proven as 'hog and haul',
and is more expensive, but more of a long-range solution,"
Bargmann's favorite example of a reclaimed industrial site is
Duisburg Nord, a vast new park in western Germany designed by
landscape architect Peter Latz. The Emscher River by which it
is situated has been cleaned, but the lichen-covered blast furnaces,
ore bunkers and elevated rails haven't been touched, she said.
She admires how the site "accepts the post-industrial landscape
as it is," she said.
There are few examples of such an approach in this country, but
Bargmann is excited about a project she's involved in to regenerate
Ford Motor Company's Rouge River Plant in Dearborn, Mich. Architecture
professor William A. McDonough has been commissioned to transform
the $2 billion, two-square-mile site into a model of sustainable
Closer to home, Bargmann taught a class on the Ivy Landfill last
year in which her students proposed a wide array of options for
the site's future, including a park for extreme sports, she said.
"There are so many sites that are invisible because they're
off the beaten track, like the Avon Street landfill in Charlottesville
that has [toxins] leaching into Moore's Creek," she said.
"We are surrounded by the wealth and devastation of progress.
... [We live in a time when] we're measured by what we've made,"
she said. "But what about the landscape left in the wake
of all this progress?"
"We don't greet 'growth' with open arms anymore. We ask what
the consequences will be and have them enter into the decision-making
takes on the challenge of brownfields
national movement is under way combining the best efforts
of communities, businesses and government to clean up and
reclaim the country's numerous pollution-scarred landscapes
known as "brownfields." These former industrial
sites, often in poor areas, offer complicated challenges,
and usually aren't toxic enough to receive adequate federal
A varied group of U.Va. faculty members, all affiliated with
the environmentally conscious School of Architecture, are
closely involved with this national effort. In addition to
landscape architect Julie Bargmann's work, the Institute for
Environmental Negotiation and the Institute for Sustainable
Design are also working on reclamation projects.
Each brownfield site has its own history, problems and solutions,
the faculty involved point out. But a new public-private partnership
is emerging, and today brownfields are even being looked at
as community resources, experts say. The sites can combine
the memory of the past and the dreams of the future of the
A closer look at the U.Va. institutes working on the issue:
for Environmental Negotiation: As an impartial mediator,
Frank Dukes, associate director of the institute, works
with communities in environmental dispute resolution.
The EPA recently awarded the institute one of nine national
pilot contracts to work with the Harrisonburg Community
Mediation Center. They are helping the town of Shenandoah
redevelop the Big Gem brownfield site, an iron furnace
in the center of the town that was in operation until
1910. Workshops, attended by 50 to 60 people, have been
held to generate ideas from community members, according
to Dukes. The next phase will concentrate on training
the people involved in conflict resolution and consensus
for Sustainable Design: Established by architecture professor
William McDonough, the institute is dedicated to creating
viable alternatives to conventional design and practices,
advocating innovative design approaches and restorative
action based on principles of sustainability that recognize
the interdependence of ecology, equity and economy.
institute is currently helping develop regulations for reclaiming
land destroyed by mountain-top mining in West Virginia. Diane
M. Dale, director of the institute, is working on the legal
issues with a team of soil scientists, geologists, hydrologists,
civil and mining engineers to see that new homesteading regulations
ensure that these sites are made suitable for people to live
on and to reestablish their ecological health and biodiversity.
"The value of applied academic research in moving the
state of brownfield issues forward is integral to the values
and goals of the institute," Dale said.