Revolution Refocused

You may have noticed that I have a strong interest in industrial development and decline, both in terms of its visual presence and its history. The whole interplay of growth, technology, urbanization, population and environment are so dramatic and engaging and not always in a positive way. The many different impacts on society have been remarkable and as we pass through new stages it’s easy to lose sense of that impact. 

 I had the chance last week to visit SteelStacks, the art and museum development at what was the main Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. What a joy! I was so excited to see it and although not in its operational glory it’s still a shockingly impressive sight! Five inactive blast furnaces loom over the landscape hinting at the history of thousands of lives lived, millions of days worked, unimaginable amounts of steel produced, and so much grime and smoke! There they stand, with their surrounding buildings, just awe-inspiring. 

 One of the most significant things about this site though, is the fact that it’s still there, having closed down in 1995 as a consequence of the decline of the US Steel and shipbuilding industries. Instead of it being demolished it was left and eventually recreated as an historic site with a related museum and arts centre, as well as a nearby casino and shopping. A hub of a different kind. The stacks are even lit up at night with some quite colourful lights, giving it a bit of an eerie feel. 

 There are not many of this kind of complex structure to be seen now, at least in "western" countries,  as they were demolished with the move away from many heavy industries. This means we see few glaring remnants of the industrial revolution, an era of such massive change and influence, I sometimes feel it's in danger of receding to the furthest reach of our collective memory. Retaining some sites, like this Bethlehem Steel site, helps us to keep that experience within reach.