Designing Industrial Cities

In recent years we have seen the largest industrial estates in history developed in the Middle East and Asia, indeed the term has been not industrial estate but industrial city.

Some of these have been associated with special economic zones, especially in the MENA Region, taking advantage of tax free status, low labour costs, low energy costs etc. to be locations for entrepot and reexport of manufactured goods. In regions close to oil production there is also locational advantages to make use of downstream products, such as petrochemicals, and high energy manufacturing. It makes more sense for example to burn oil for an aluminum plant in the middle east than transport it half way around the world to power an aluminium plant elsewhere.

Indeed some countries can’t plan fast enough for the rate of interest by investors.

In the industrial rush many planning mistakes have been made. There has been a tendency to plan on a ‘big grid’ as below in Saudi and the UAE respectively. This might work for a process orientated city but where there are high employee densities the traffic problems at the non-grade separated junctions and the sheer difficulties of finding your way around make them impractical. Facilities involving large volumes of transport in of raw materials will clog up the roads for everything else. The big grid simply falls down over scales of several kilometres.

The inclusion of large amounts of worker housing creates its own issues. I have seen some appalling examples, of complexes in the desert with no water and electricity no bus services or facilities.

In China the issues are different. Large industrial town have grown up randomly and in an unplanned way, with company towns cheek by jowell with sprawling industrial areas and existing settlements. Not too unlike the 19th century development of Birmingham.

Large Industrial Cities need to be designed and planned like any large city, with a functioning road hierarchy and series of quarters, and services for those quarters, with structural landscapes to screen the most visually intrusive areas. Also there are many historical architectural examples of company towns, showing how the housing is these areas doesn’t have to be prison camp like

Pullman Illinois

Cresp d’Adda Lombardy

Cromford Derbyshire – A World Heritage Site

Autostadt Wolfsburg


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