Crespi Adda, Italy. Source: Simon Edelblutte

The factory town, from planned unplanned… or vice versa?

Author: Simon Edelblutte

The aim of this study is to define the notion of industrial town, in an attempt to specify its different forms, and ultimately to propose the use of a specific vocabulary for the different categories of worker settlement and industrial town.

Beyond a spatial model and notion that may seem straightforward (in other words, a town planned and built around a factory), there are many questions which can be posed. The question as to the creator (the state, a company, an industrialist?); the issue of the point of origin (in the countryside, near a pre-existing town?); the issue of size (where is the boundary between a workers’ settlement and an industrial town?); the issue of how the model evolves (with the factory town expanding beyond the original model) into a more diffuse urban form, from planned to unplanned status.

This then invites us to develop the issue of a category of industrial towns that are less well-known and less studied because they are less visible, less distinctive, and not symbolic of a paternalistic era. Such conglomerations combine various small factories, workshops, a number of workers’ homes alongside each factory, certain amenities, a few other homes (for the industrialists and for other workers). The city is unplanned, as one great spatial anarchy.

In general, these factory towns have proto-industrial origins and their evolution from proto-industry to industry is a slow one, albeit with a distinctly progressive genesis: without any outstanding buildings in this type of factory town, and without any utopian social theories behind them. Lastly, this type of factory town does not typically stand alone, but is grouped together with others. They need specific forms of regeneration, with more planning initiatives (for example the construction of an urban centre) and specific forms of inheritance, based on shared heritage comprising small-scale buildings which could be highlighted by means of low-key discovery trails.

The article presented at the International Congress on Workers’ Settlements and Factory Towns therefore sets out a proposal for a specific vocabulary based on the distinction between an industrial town (a town arising prior to industry, but with the development of industrial districts enclosed within the urban fabric), a planned industrial town (the familiar integrated paternalistic model) and an unplanned industrial town, a complex field of study to be developed.

Download the whole article here.

The presentation made at the International Congress on Worker Settlements and Factory Towns held in October 2018 may be found here