Theses Master's

Industrial Decay: Environmental Value of Industrial Heritage Sites

Stricker, Gwen

Industrial heritage comes with a complex system of values, embodying historical, social, aesthetic, and economic narratives. Representative of a once booming economy, abandoned industrial sites now exemplify the negative consequences of material exploitation, environmental pollution, and deindustrialization. In recognizing these places as heritage, little attention is given to the significant mark made on urban and natural landscapes and environments.

This thesis argues that industrial heritage sites should be assessed for environmental value as an opportunity to recognize the environment as an interdependence between nature and culture. Ascribing environmental value at these sites involves not only an acknowledgment of the toxic environmental systems that emerged as part of industrial processes but also an analysis of the natural decay and growth of sites after abandonment. This argument will be explored through Chicago’s abandoned industrial heritage sites that are in a state of decay, specifically the Acme Coke Plant and U.S. Steel’s South Works. The history of Chicago’s growth was dominated by industry, specifically the steel industry, but the most influential and historically significant industrial sites are in a state of decay and are largely excluded from heritage recognition in the city.

Approaching the subject of industrial heritage through the assessment of environmental value acknowledges the fact that industrial heritage sites and the ecologies they disrupted have now become physically intertwined, an approach that considers decay as a defining characteristic of industrial heritage sites. Advocating for the natural environment captures a difficult history, but in doing so promotes a positive outcome for environmental health in the preservation process. This thesis explores the agency of nature to reuse abandoned industrial sites and the possibility to accommodate natural decay to represent the complicated historical narrative of the relationship between industrial culture and the natural environment.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Kose, Bilge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
August 10, 2020