- GUEST BLOGGER JOSHUA ARGUELLO -

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the brownfield imperative

Today the term sustainability is as much a buzzword as it is an important environmental topic.  It has slowly crept its way into the lexicon of the business world, political campaigns and has been all but muddied by its overuse outside of environmental and AEC industries.  As architects, the responsibility of future ‘sustainable’ developments lies heavy in our hands.  After all, it is estimated that over 40% of all material and energy consumption is a result of building construction.  

One important architectural typology key to the topic of sustainability are brownfield developments. Ecologists argue that redeveloping such sites are imperative and more critical than developing on a pristine undeveloped land also known as greenfields.   In this way, builders can minimize the impact on the environment through adaptive reuse of land and existing structures.  Ultimately, redeveloping brownfield properties is a major environmentally restorative act by way of remediation.

remediation resources

The case for developing brownfields is often dependent upon the resources available to a site. Through the taxation of polluting industries the Environmental Protection Agency attributes a portion of funds received to a program known as the Superfund.  This program helps alleviates the financial burden often posed on sites that require remediation through policy and grants.  Such sites have unacceptable levels of contaminants in the ground which can affect local ecology and its inhabitants, as well as people in nearby communities.  Through monitoring and assessment of these sites, the EPA places those with heavy levels of pollution and/or the greatest effects on local ecology on the National Priorities List.  

 Map of Superfund sites as of October 2013. Red indicates currently on final National Priority List, yellow is proposed, green is deleted (usually meaning having been cleaned up).

Map of Superfund sites as of October 2013. Red indicates currently on final National Priority List, yellow is proposed, green is deleted (usually meaning having been cleaned up).

cause for action

In November of 2015 Kraft Heinz announced that it would be reducing its North American workforce by 14%.  This included the closing of the Davenport, IA Oscar Mayer plant located at 1337 W. 2nd Street.  This move was ushered in by a lucrative $15 million incentive package by the State of Iowa and City of Davenport which in turn was made possible by reducing the plant’s local workforce by over 60 percent!   Although the Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport has not been placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List, it will become one of the most important adaptive reuse sites for residents of the Quad City metro area..  This site occupies an 11.2 acre parcel including soon to be desolate parking lots on the northern side of 2nd Street.  Its proximity to the Mississippi riverfront and nearby residential areas make it a prime candidate for Superfund and a worthy site for vested developments.

 Kraft Food’s Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport, IA as seen from River Drive on its southern border.

Kraft Food’s Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport, IA as seen from River Drive on its southern border.

krafty solution

Does the imposed pollution tax mark the end of Kraft Heinz’ responsibility to the site and local community?  Or has the city, State or Kraft planned for the allocation of grants or funds received strictly to the cause of remediation and redevelopment?  If so, how have they addressed community awareness and what exactly do they propose for the site? The sheer scale of some of the structures on the Oscar Mayer site make for interesting and challenging adaptive reuse and design solutions, while its neighboring natural and civil resources are beacons of architectural inspiration.  Perhaps the vernacular of Hargreaves Associates landscape interventions at the neighboring Centennial Park can be used as a source of some of the site’s own language.  Could circulation be designed to reach across River Drive (its southern border) as a pedestrian bridge to the riverfront?  Preserving some of its brutal concrete structure as a stair, elevator and viewing tower for an adjacent mixed use edifice could serve the community well.  Why not reserve a portion of the site for landscaping and a small public park to serve as a takeoff hub for riverfront pedestrian and bicycle traffic?  In this way, the vacated Oscar Mayer site could become a continuation of Davenport’s own riverwalk corridor and eliminate the effects of an otherwise blighted parcel.

 Aerial of the Oscar Mayer site.  The plant is outlined in yellow and parking lots in orange.

Aerial of the Oscar Mayer site.  The plant is outlined in yellow and parking lots in orange.

At any rate, architects, engineers and the construction industry are at the forefront as stewards of change in the renewal of brownfield locales such as Oscar Mayer.  The possibilities of this site are dependent not only upon the local AEC industry, but on the City of Davenport, Kraft Heinz, and the community’s diligence and ‘sustained’ interests in its redevelopment.  A collective of these parties, community leaders, and vested developers could mean substantial incentives not only from the EPA and Superfund, but from valuable amenities this and other sites may offer to the city of Davenport and the Quad Cities as a whole.  

 Sketch illustrating a possible redevelopment of the site with pedestrian bridge and green flood wall.

Sketch illustrating a possible redevelopment of the site with pedestrian bridge and green flood wall.


- guest blogger -

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Josh is a graduate of Iowa State University’s Bachelors in Architecture program and recipient of the Charles F. Bowers Studies in Architecture & Culture Award.  There his focus was on Digital Media and Early Italian Renaissance Theory.  As a practitioner, projects include The University of Iowa Hospital & Clinic’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Labor & Delivery Unit, and Rivermont Collegiate’s future STEAM dorm & education facility.