Anna Zań (Academie van Bouwkunst Amsterdam) pleads and designs for the transition of a cement based industry towards a raw earth industry for the ENCI factory in Maastricht. She designed four new buildings that integrate within the existing factory, with four different raw earth building techniques that demonstrate the versatile application of the product and mark the transition into this new and sustainable chapter for the ENCI factory.
Can you (briefly) explain your choice of subject?
Located almost at the border of the country, ENCI Maastricht is not very visible to the eyes of the public. My discovery of the site was preceded by an investigation of the Dutch soil and findings about loam and limestone resources of Limburg, the only place in the Netherlands with this sort of soil formation. ENCI factory was established almost 100 years ago in the area of Sint-Pietersberg hill, where limestone was located relatively shallow allowing for open mining extraction. The factory processed the raw resource (limestone) into cement which was a heavily polluting process, disturbing both people and the environment. The produced material, which due to its heavily processed nature, is hardly recyclable and has no relation with the landscape of its origin. In 2019 when I started working on the project the factory was still operating while the excavation of the quarry has already stopped a year before. It was becoming clear that the total closure of ENCI Maastricht will happen very soon.
The discussions about the future of the ENCI Maastricht after its closure was concentrated around its industrial heritage, its preservation and potential transformative reuse. Despite understanding the monumental value of the factory ensemble, for me, the end of the cement production in Maastricht was a pretext for rethinking the ways we are producing materials and a search for a new relationship with natural resources; a relationship where we can fulfil our needs without depleting what nature has created over millions of years.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly explain this?
My main inspiration was coming from the context I was working with. The landscape of the former industry was already highly saturated with stories; the story of its soil and its formation process, the development of the factory, the layout tailored to material production, pragmatic architecture of production, the building tradition of the region, the nature of local resources. There was already so much to start with. I was constantly asking myself if what I am proposing is not too much, not to overpower the existing factory. I tried to follow my own intuition. Although some thoughts were not easy to explain at first, I knew that they are rooted in what I have already thoroughly researched.
State and (briefly) describe the key moment in your graduation project
At the beginning of November 2019, I had a chance to enter the ENCI site and explore it from an eye-level, a perspective that is not accessible to the public. Only that experience gave me the total realization of the scale and uniqueness of the factory ensemble. The visit stayed with me during the whole process. 1:1 experience was also crucial for understanding the material I was working with; firstly I was learning from experts about working with raw earth as a building material (BC architects, Rokus Oskam), afterwards, I was experimenting with it by myself. The gathered experience of the site and material research became the key project guidelines.
The introduction of cement production in Maastricht in 1926 marks the moment when the unique raw resource of the Limburg’s landscape (mergel) became a generic, processed, non-renewable building material. Over 94 years The Eerste Nederlandse Cement Industrie Maastricht grew into a large-scale processing plant and vast quarry dedicated to cement production. While cement manufacturing served a national interest in the context of post-war reconstruction and the factory was one of the largest employers in Maastricht, it came at expense of the natural environment and the quality of life among local residents.
In August 2020 cement production in Maastricht finally came to an end; leaving almost 40 hectares of the unique industrial ensemble vacant and at risk of being erased.
As a response to the factory closure, we need to act immediately to ensure the preservation of its heritage, but also to seek new, local material supply to fill the void left by the departed industry. If cement production was fulfilling the needs of post-war reconstruction, what sort of material production corresponds to the needs of today? Can we find a way to produce building materials without depleting natural resources?
Earthworks stands for the total preservation of the industrial ensemble, taking care of all the buildings and the materials it is composed of, so they can await their moment of reuse. For the future of material production, Earthworks draws inspiration from the forgotten craft of building with raw earth (loam). In this craft, the local resource was used in its raw form and resource extraction, material production, and construction were not harmful to the environment. The raw earth construction at the end of its lifetime could have simply crumbled apart without leaving traces on the landscape.
How can we introduce a new material production based on the craft that disappeared long ago in a world that hasn’t stood still? How do we regain skilled workers, supporting regulations, and knowledge about material among architects, and more importantly; how do we ensure that this way of building, nowadays seen as a primitive, will regain appreciation and trust from the public?
The implementation of Earthworks (four new constructions made with raw earth) on the site of ENCI Maastricht is the first step in the transition of material production. Earthworks make the forgotten craft visible again, tell about the origin and beauty of the material, its strong and vulnerable properties and invite the public to experience the atmosphere and tactility of raw earth through physical contact. Earthworks offer space for experimentation, education and development of the craft, setting up knowledge for the transition of the manufacturing profile of the factory: from cement to loam.
Earthworks teaches us a premodern approach to the built environment; an attitude of acting with caution, where maintenance of the building is seen as an act of care, reuse is obvious and material decay is accepted. Earthworks allows us to slow down, gives us time to fathom materials, gives the loam opportunity to harden in the open air, encourages us to produce less with a greater sense of responsibility for materials from our earth.
What are you doing now?
At this moment I am working part-time at Werkstatt studio. Parallel to that, I have joined Building Talent Grant (Stimuleringsfonds), where together with studio Site Practice I am exploring the future of agricultural production of Twente countryside. In research by design, we are proposing a transition of the monocultural landscape dedicated to dairy production towards a diverse landscape of food and building material production. After graduation, I got an opportunity to become a guest teacher at the Academie van Bouwkunst Amsterdam, where together with students I have been experimenting with waste soil from Grondbank Amsterdam.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and /or the distant future?
I am not yet making far-reaching plans. Definitely, my graduation work helped me define my own work method and proof me again that I have an attraction to work between the scales; from small scale of an object to large scale landscape, I am always interested to find the links between those extremes.