PROJECT: Emscherpark


  • As a result of large-scale industrialization, the coal and steel industries along the Ruhrgebiet was the economical backbone of every city for decades. 
  • Due to the vast increases in the service economy and the global shift in production areas, the Ruhr-area faced big 
  • challenges to cope with these developments.
  • The monostructural economy and the lack of innovative activities for the labour force caused a high urgency for a spatial- economic transition of the area.
  • Industrial closures led to empty, unused brownfields, causing  huge fragmentation between certain parts of towns and the natural landscape.  
  • Decades of heavy industrial production and mining had caused severe ecological and geological problems in Emsher Park. 
  • The river Emscher was polluted when the mining companies used it as a dumping ground for sewerage. It then became a symbolic icon of the challenge to transform the area. 



  • Setting up an informal process based on a strong spatial idea and combining hundreds of projects into one new context.
  • All public community projects were established in co-operation with private investors, citizens, companies and initiative groups.
  • A ‘pool’ of brownfields was used to generate projects on common property. 
  • Strategic ‘flagship’ projects and icons were appointed for the transformation.
  • The terms ‘industrial heritage’ and ‘industrial culture’ was introduced to create a new identity referencing to roots in the past, using art and entertainment programs.
  • The park was structured into sub-units with different steering units.
  • Cheap dwelling units were developed and promoted in existing or new buildings.



  • Stabilize and foster the area by starting a transition process which creates opportunities and future perspectives for the people and companies in the area.
  • Develop an industrial region with a new spatial economic identity.
  • Attract new economic activities, companies and investments.
  • Stop and reverse the demographic development.
  • Create an ecological and socio-economical process of renewal for the Emscher region and the northern part of the river Ruhr.
  • Protect and conserve the old Industrial monuments as a landmark. 
  • There was a very high common sense of urgency by the various parties involved.
  • 457 sq. km of landscape in Emscher Park. 
  • A network of brownfields.
  • 20 municipalities inspired and inspiring people at the right moment such as Christoph Zopel and Karl Ganser.
  • Highly developed infrastructure and good connections to leading business cities in North Rhine-Westphalia.
  • Very cheap dwelling units compared to the other regions in the state. 
  • The heritage of a unique industrial infrastructure, embedded in the landscape of three river valleys.
  • Inspired by the IBA Berlin, Dr. Christoph Zopel, minister of Urban Development in the NRW, pushed the announcement of an IBA Emscher in 1988. The IBA and Masterplan created a network for 20 industrial municipalities along the Emscher Region, to support each other and using the concept to apply for EU- structural funds.
  • In December 1988, The IBA Emscher Park GmbH was founded.
  • The area was divided into several units; one east-west corridor and seven north-south corridors with their own priorities and committees. 
  • This was to achieve high quality projects and design competitions, these were held to attract investors for the future.
  • In 1996, the IBA was the German architectural contribution at the Venice Biennale.
  • The long-term unemployed were hired for casual work and to retrain their skills and mindset. 


  • The IBA and Masterplan are now internationally known references in the study of the transformation of a region.
  • During the 10 years of the IBA ,there was 120 projects developed. 25 of these projects created new living areas with 2500 dwelling units. 5000 dwelling units were designed and constructed in the existing buildings of the old mine.
  • The city of Essen was appointed as the European Capital of Culture in 2010 .
  • ‘Zeche Zollverein,’ an old coal mine in Essen, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • In spatial and cultural terms, the identity and quality of the area has improved enormously.
  • The socio-economic development of the area still remains a critical challenge.

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Project info




1989 - 2010


Transformation from an industrial to a cultural landscape, conserving and protecting industrial monuments and the revitalisation of the economy. Improved quality of life and infrastructure.




IBA Emcher Park Gmbh, The City municipal, independent organisations of the participating cities.