Places of encounter and creative industrial wastelands in Luxembourg (I) Turning former factories into meeting places and sites for cultural (re)production

An industrial wasteland is a piece of land previously used for industrial purposes that has since been abandoned. The rehabilitation of these sites will enhance the heritage for both the region and the population. Today, industrial wastelands are often transformed by local authorities into places dedicated to creative projects and to promoting community life. In this way, culture is embedded in the region and they become important places of social and cultural cohesion. In this article, we present some examples from Luxembourg.

Schläifmillen in Luxembourg City

Nestled in the verdant Alzette valley between the districts of Bonnevoie and Hamm in Luxembourg City lies the site of a former textile factory, the Schläifmillen. It was once a flagship of Luxembourg's textile industry, thanks to the enterprising Godchaux brothers. The factory, founded in 1830, employed 800 people at its peak, and the industrial site was virtually a town in its own right, with housing, a school, a wash house and a grocery store. It closed after World War I when the German market was lost. The site was subsequently run by the Société d'études et de constructions d'appareils de levage et de traction, and since 1958 it has belonged to Luxembourg City Council.

Although some of the buildings were destroyed, what was left was redeveloped during the 1980s. The site now has housing, a training centre and an artists' centre and gallery. The artists' centre houses workshops for painters, sculptors, photographers and multimedia artists, and also serves as a communal space for interaction and dialogue. There are currently 15 artists and one artist-in-residence. The Schläifmillen non-profit association manages the site and is responsible for building maintenance.

You can meet the artists and visit the workshops during the annual open weekend.

Exterior view of the building
© Miika Heinonen
Interior view of a sculptor's studio
© Miika Heinonen

Sixthfloor in Koerich

The Sixthfloor art collective was set up in 2001 by six artist friends in a former sawmill in Koerich. They spent 18 months refurbishing the main hall to create artists' workshops and a shared exhibition space, the Piazza.

Neimillen (literally "new mill") is a locality in western Luxembourg, in the municipality of Koerich. Grain was ground here using the power of water from 1795 until the end of the First World War. Records of the sawmill date back to 1900. It was modernised over time and subsequently ran on electricity until it closed in 1991.

A group of seven artists now uses the old mill: Lukas Arons, Nadine Cloos, Tom Flick, Katarzyna Kot-Bach, Patrick Meyer, Joachim van der Vlugt and Wouter van der Vlugt. They use a wide range of techniques and materials including clay, wood, soft and hard stone, bronze, plaster, aluminium, acrylic and oil paints. They are known both as individual artists and also collectively as a group. Upcoming and established guest artists regularly exhibit in the Piazza and share their work with Sixthfloor's loyal audience. Sixthfloor is financially independent and self-supporting in all its activities.

Visitors can explore the site and meet the artists at regular art exhibitions, concerts and performances, as well as the three-yearly Muse Symposium dedicated to sculpture.

Tiers lieu and artists' studios in an old sawmill in Koerich
© Lépine Mars, Sixthfloor
Opening on the Piazza at Sixthfloor
© Lépine Mars, Sixthfloor

FerroForum in Esch-Schifflange

A centre for iron and steel expertise is housed in what was once the "Atelier Central" (central workshop) of the former Arbed Esch-Schifflange steelworks. FerroForum featured prominently in the programme of events for Esch2022 and is now a key stakeholder in the preservation and promotion of cultural, industrial and artisanal heritage, as well as know-how about iron and steel production.

FerroForum is a place for meeting, dialogue and discovery that is open to the general public. It is aimed at anyone interested in the iron and steel industry, from artists to former steel workers, historians to students and many others. The main activities are:

  • Documentation: compiling archives and conducting research about iron and steel production.
  • Training and creation: running creative workshops and innovative experimental laboratories.
  • Social cohesion: providing an opportunity for people of different ages and backgrounds to share food and experiences in the refectory.

The team, composed of around 20 people, meets two or three times a week to refurbish the site, prepare the programme of cultural events and workshops, and develop projects and collaboration with local, regional and international stakeholders.

If you have a keen interest in iron and steel, whether you have experiences or memories of the steel industry or simply want to find out more, feel free to come along to the events organised and (re)discover the Schmelz for yourself

Foundry workshop at FerroForum
© FerroForum / Romain Girtgen
Performance in the FerroForum bar
© FerroForum / Romain Girtgen

Bâtiment 4 in Esch-sur-Alzette

Bâtiment 4, which stands on ArcelorMittal Luxembourg's Schlassgoard site, once housed the management team for the steelworks. ArcelorMittal Luxembourg has made the building available for three years to the frEsch association, which is involved in the implementation of Esch-sur-Alzette's cultural strategy. The redevelopment of the building, located on the edge of the former Esch-Schifflange industrial site, is part of broader efforts to turn the site into a new district that is creative, family-friendly, dynamic and open.

The vast building, with a surface area of 3,000m2 and 5,000m2 of outside space, has become a cultural "third place" for the public. It is managed by an independent collective composed of the building's occupants and is based on interaction and cooperation between these associations and members (which include Hariko, CELL, ILL, Richtung22 and others) and the public, with a variety of activities and workshops organised and open to everyone. The values of Bâtiment 4, enshrined in a charter, combine research and sharing, participation and transmission, artistic creation and culture, and social innovation and the green transition.

The site's permanent residents develop long-term projects, and external project leaders are also regularly given the opportunity to make use of the creative spaces. Guest artists are invited for short-term residencies. A coordinating team reviews any applications to make sure that all occupants share the same values and aims. "Facilitators" help develop links between professional and amateur artists, collectives and individuals, and the public.

The site is open to visitors free of charge during normal opening times. Before going, make sure you check out the agenda to find out what events are coming up.

Exterior view of the building
© Linda Blaschette, Bâtiment 4
Interior view of a painter's studio
© Mike Zenari, Bâtiment 4

VEWA building in Dudelange

VEWA – the Vestiaires-Wagonnage (changing rooms/wagon maintenance) building when the steel industry was at its height in Dudelange – is a site that has been the focus of (re)building and renovation for many months by a whole host of volunteers and local associations: DKollektiv, Fotoclub Diddeleng, Foodsharing, VELO Diddeleng, CEPA, Urban Garden and Inter-Actions. These partners have now given VEWA a new lease of life, turning it into a creative space with activities and events that bring together artists, artisans and citizens.

The values and criteria upheld and promoted by those involved include knowledge sharing and transfer, interactions, experimentation, synergies, natural and human resources, industrial heritage, inclusion, a festive mindset, safety and vigilance, and political and ideological independence.

The site is home to a series of creative, dynamic spaces, including areas dedicated to graphic arts, photography, and wood and metal. It will be a key part of the new NeiSchmelz district.

If you are interested in joining the associations involved in or based at VEWA and making an active contribution to this third place dedicated to culture and experimentation, check out the upcoming events in the agenda.

Exterior view of the former cloakroom and waggonage hall in Dudelange
© VEWA, Serge Ecker, DKollektiv
Workshop and kitchen in the former cloakroom and waggon hall in Dudelange
© VEWA, Serge Ecker, DKollektiv

Schluechthaus in Hollerich

The former abattoir in Luxembourg City, which closed in 1997, is set on a 2.5-hectare site. It now houses a skatepark, the Ambulance Service and the Canine Service of the Luxembourg Red Cross and storage facilities. It also serves as a gallery for the local and international graffiti scene.

As part of the Porte de Hollerich redevelopment project, Luxembourg City Council is planning to repurpose the Schluechthaus as a social and cultural space. With its typical 1930s architecture, the building bears witness to Luxembourg's industrial history and is partly on the official list of buildings and objects considered part of the nation's cultural heritage

A first open day was held in 2019 to gather ideas from citizens. This led to a number of suggestions, followed by a phase of urban and architectural programming that gave rise to a master plan containing four categories, each with associated spaces:

  • Art, culture and education: artists' studios, artists' residencies, rehearsal spaces (music, performing arts), multi-purpose hall, fab-lab, etc.
  • Meeting place for the general public: co-working areas, meeting rooms, multi-purpose hall, etc.
  • Retail facilities: shops, bar and restaurant.
  • Areas for physical activity and sport: skateboard, inline skating, bmx, bolder, parkour, etc.

In 2023, following two reviews by the jury and a public consultation, the architectural consortium 2001 & CIVIC and Mersch Ingénieurs-Paysagistes win a European architectural competition for the conversion and development of the former slaughterhouse. You can find more information on the progress of the project on the City of Luxembourg website.

While waiting for the future site, sporting, cultural and intergenerational events are being organised at the Schluechthaus. This pre-works period is being used as a test phase, to check whether the concepts planned meet the needs of the public.

Exterior view of the former abattoir in Hollerich
© VDL, Patrick Mueller
Exterior view of the former abattoir in Hollerich
© VDL, Patrick Mueller

In a second article, we will present the National Centre for Industrial Culture (CNCI) and its Chair, Marlène Kreins. The CNCI's goals include developing and repurposing industrial wasteland sites and promoting creative initiatives to achieve this aim.