Recently, my friend Nick and I went to Bethlehem. This semester one of my research papers for an architecture class was about steel and its impact on modernism, and in my research I came across the name Bethlehem Steel a number of times. I started reading a bit more into the Bethlehem Steel Co.; how it formed, how it rose to prominence through the World Wars, how it built a large number of the most iconic modern American structures, including but not limited to the George Washington Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, and gradually I realized I needed to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to see the now adaptively reused Bethlehem Steel complex.
I was surprised with how well designed the area immediately surrounding the blast furnaces was. Although the outlet shopping mall was a bit more standard, the area around the blast furnaces kept a strong connection to the industrial heritage of the site. Benches took the form of steel I-beams, new buildings included corrugated metal, the fences had a heavy, metallic feeling and as a whole, the site did not feel like it had been ruined by homogenized, cheap architectural details.
From my brief observations, the Bethlehem Steel site was pretty successful (at least architecturally…I don’t really know how the casino and outlets are doing financially). It seemed that the site has been tastefully converted to 21st century, service-economy uses. And though I’d obviously love to see the mill actually functioning, it’s now a part of history and should be respected and preserved as an important piece of Bethlehem’s heritage. Luckily in this case, a casino was ready to step in, which helps preservation efforts in that it brings money for the maintenance of historic buildings that are often in poor condition. In many places money is not available and preservation is not possible, but when monumental structures like the ones at Bethlehem can be preserved, the results are powerful.
I plan on visiting Bethlehem again at some point to get some better pictures, because I’m not perfectly happy with the ones I got, but until then I’ll have some photos from Pittsburgh making their way on here in the next few days.