Blog, Guest Experience

INDUSTRIAL TOURISM: Two Projects Celebrate the Machine Age

Apr 27, 2023

Please enjoy this excerpt from CSLA’s Landscape/Paysages EXPLORE issue. Read their Spring 2023 Edition Here 


Landscape Front Entry

INDUSTRIAL TOURISM IS one of the fastest growing segments of the international attraction market. Saturated with museums, zoos and traditional entertainment, many tourists are increasingly looking to delve deeper into tactile experiences that relate directly to their lives and interests. In 2021, despite COVID restrictions, the global Industrial Tourism market neared $1-billion and is expected to grow to $1.3 billion by 2028.1 Post-Industrial tourism feeds the global fascination with abandoned factories and industrial relics. Long the domain of “urban explorers” (a close-knit community of abandoned building enthusiasts willing to take questionable risks along with their stunning photos of looming factories), Instagram sites with millions of followers celebrate the beauty and mystery of industry and capture the imagination of a forgotten age.



The close of the 19th century was the dawn of the electric age. Electric light and power had the potential to revolutionize industry and daily life, but technology capable of powering a city eluded invention. In the 1890s, some of the world’s greatest minds competed to find a way to capture the power of Niagara Falls and transmit electric current to businesses and homes. Thomas Edison believed that his invention, direct current, would be the ideal solution. George Westinghouse joined with Nikola Tesla and purchased his patents for alternating current, which could transmit electricity over longer distances. Edison and Westinghouse/Tesla were engaged in a “current war” to decide the future of electric power generation. A recent movie of the same name tells part of this story, which has a chapter very close to home for Canadians.

In 1893, Westinghouse and Tesla beat out George Edison to build the world’s first hydroelectric plant to generate AC power commercially, near Buffalo, New York. In1904, The William Birch Rankine PowerStation above Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Park used the Westinghouse and Tesla technology to generate AC current for surrounding cities. It was one of the first major hydroelectric plants in Canada, generating power until it closed in 2006.

Render of Niagara Parks Power Station generators lit up with electricity steams

Because Niagara Falls was a well-established tourist destination, it was important that the plant not have any significant visual impact on the Falls. An innovative design brings the nearby Niagara River into a pool inside the building, where it then drops nine stories through massive pipes to spin a turbine deep below the surface. Each floor houses intricate and innovative machinery to turn the power of water into the power of civilization.

The exterior, interior and landscape were designed to a quality suitable for a world class tourist destination. In 2019, FORREC undertook an adaptive reuse plan to transform the power station into a visitor attraction, to tell the story of the important role Niagara Falls played in the development of electricity and the establishment of cities such as Hamilton and Toronto. Entering the plant on our first site visit was like taking a step back in time. A towering hall held a long row of cerulean blue generators, brass switches and regulators gleaming in rays of sunlight from towering pane glass windows. “Exciters “used to generate the initial spark to spin the turbines stood in rows, and a dusty control panel leaned against a wall. In awe, I remember telling the project team, “This is a cathedral to the golden age of power.”

Forrec Render Front Entry

Below the building, an arched brick tunnel released the water from the turbines to the base of the Falls. Clad in “Fall” gear, we made our initial descent on a cabled platform, traversing the tunnel through the darkness to discover a view of the Falls few had seen, perfectly framed by a massive granite archway.

Over the next year, we worked closely with the Niagara Parks team and a variety of stakeholders to develop our approach. Former employees told harrowing tales of logs and ice flows getting caught in the turbines. Directors from the Landscape of Nations 360 Initiative shared the importance of the Falls for the thousands of years the Haudenosaunee, Six Nations of the Grand River, and Mississauga’s of the Credit First Nations have lived in the Niagara region. The goal of the project was to use proper heritage conservation principles to minimize disturbance to the architecture and infrastructure, using interpretive features and interactive multimedia to take guests on a journey of discovery.

The Power Station is situated in Queen Victoria Park, a few hundred feet from the top of Horseshoe Falls. This cultural heritage landscape is iconic to the character of the destination and required careful balance of heritage design with the requirements for a visitor attraction to serve millions of guests. Over time, the graceful, looped drive and entrance paths revealed in historic photos had been replaced with an expanse of turf, presenting an opportunity to continue the story in the entrance plaza. The “Power Plaza” echoes the form of the heritage landscape, with native plantings in bold colors that reflect the cool blues and greens of the Niagara River and bold orange and yellow of sunlight and electricity. Industrial remnants from the Power Station grace the entrance area, with massive wood beams from the lower floors serving as long benches with a view of the mist rising from the Falls. Surrounding the plaza, gentle articulations to the landscape with limestone slabs create seating and natural play opportunities, connecting the Power Station back to Table Rock. Future phases of the FORREC landscape comprehensive plan imagine an overlook revealing other nearby tunnels, and a garden design based on the diagram of Nikola Tesla’s Patent for Alternating Current.

Interior Before

Kim Viney, former Director of Business Development at Niagara Parks, worked closely with the FORREC team on the development of the Niagara Falls PowerStation. An expert in guest experience, she shared that, “The power station has been game-changing for us. We’ve never, in the history of Niagara Parks, ever generated the type of media coverage that we have for that power station. In terms of guest awareness, it has been an incredible boost.

“Many people have said, ‘I’ve driven by that building my entire life and I’ve always wondered what was in it.’ So it was an opportunity for people to finally go behind the curtain and see what was in that building. And it was up to us working with partners like FORREC and +VG [Architects] to figure out how we make that an engaging experience, recognizing there is going to be a broad audience type,” Viney noted. “We’ve got the engineering and hydro ‘junkies’ that want to know every nut and bolt and technical aspect of the building. We have people who just love it for the architecture, and also tourists, who just want to experience it. Getting the tunnel attraction opened this past year was really, really important to us with that brand new viewing platform, and also working with Thinkwell of Montreal in ‘Currents’ [a sight and sound night show inside the heart of the plant]. That gives people a whole other way to discover the experience in the building and hopefully spark some imagination about what could be possible.”

Currents 3

The FORREC team included an attractions expert, interior designer, landscape architect and creative director with Lord Cultural Resources. We worked as a team on all aspects of the project from the interior to the interpretation and multimedia approach, to the landscape. Later stages of implementation were carried out by +VG Architects with Moriyama Teshima, and Thinkwell Media, from Montreal. The project has been featured in global news media including Smithsonian Magazine and CNN and has been honoured with the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation. More recently, it received the Grand Prize at the 2023 Niagara Biennial Design Awards.




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Just an hour to the north and west from Niagara, Hamilton is a proud waterside city forged in the fire of industry. For over two centuries, ships have docked in Hamilton Harbour to exchange raw materials for goods processed by Hamilton’s factories. After the construction of canals linked it to Lake Ontario, the harbour became an active shipping port, positioning the city as a booming centre of urban development. Decades of manufacturing and shipping eventually led to the degradation of the Harbour’s once pristine waterfront with toxic waters and degraded habitat. In the 1960s, citizen-led action resulted in an ambitious environmental remediation plan. With improved water quality and restoration of habitats, wildlife is returning to the area.

Today, the city is undertaking plans to transform the waterfront into a vibrant destination where nature, recreation and community coincide with heritage. In 2017, FORREC won a global design competition to create a Master Plan for Pier 8 Promenade, now known as Copps Pier.

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Copps Pier celebrates Hamilton’s industrial past, present and future. This revitalization of a decommissioned pier adopts forms from the city’s iconic industrial harbour and transforms them into scaffolding for public space in three unique ways. Along the Boatworks Promenade, giant steel boat hulls create parkettes along the north shore. In Hammer Harbour, a monumental Gantry Pavilion frames the skyline and forms a venue for diverse city scale events. At the Landing, the prowlike form of a ship creates a special place with views to Hamilton Harbour and the Niagara Escarpment. Punctuated with native trees, reconstructed wetlands and public art, Copps Pier adds over 1.4 ha of new park space with full public access to the waterfront and connections to the existing open space system. Steel, concrete and wood celebrate Hamilton’s proud industrial heritage, while new ecologies point to a more sustainable future.

Along Boatworks Promenade, visitors experience the form and scale of watercraft that have plied the harbour. Adjacent to the eight-metre-wide accessible walkway, ship-lapped, weathering steel retaining walls transition the grade change between the shore wall and street levels. These hull like forms provide sheltered enclosures for a sandy beach with lounge chairs, a children’s playground and a games area.

A monumental gantry frame at Hammer Harbour forms a waterfront stage with a pavilion and terraces for large community events. Fabricated from standard structural steel combined with salvaged historic signage from former buildings, it frames the iconic industrial skyline. Ladders, catwalks and framing allow rigging with lighting, props and canvas for shelter during special events.

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The Landing is the juncture between the two edges of the basin and the pier and a vantage point to contemplate the contrast between the industrial and natural skylines of Hamilton Harbour and the Niagara Escarpment. It is a place to celebrate the sunrise and for Hamiltonians to layer with ceremonial and spiritual ritual.

Public art features spark discussion over the harbour’s challenging history as a once protected natural resource exploited for industry. Two constructed wetlands planted with native grasses recirculate water from the lake, raising the issue of water quality and provide a setting for TH&B Collective’s work, “Filter”: a pair of sculptural works that reimagine remnants of urban infrastructure as catalysts for the remediation of water within the built environment. Integrated with the steel “hulls” is the artwork, “watershed” by Simon Frank, which names the 15 creeks and tributaries that flow into Hamilton Harbour. Delivering a park that maintained the key features of the original concept – which had been previously developed as part of the international design competition – required a complex multidisciplinary team of landscape architects, architects, graphic designers, visualization specialists, lighting designers, engineers, irrigation designers, cost consultants, public art consultants and artists. The multi-faceted development required intensive coordination between different design teams and the municipality: onsite shore wall construction; onsite pumphouse construction; and an adjacent subdivision servicing a streetscape development.

Revit 3D modelling software was used to manage costs, minimize errors and produce a fully coordinated set of working drawings. The complex geometry of the ship hull forms was modelled in the Grasshopper application and incorporated into a Building Information Model (BIM), generating a detailed 3D schedule of posts to aid the contractors in fabrication, pricing, and installation. Lumion and Oculus rendering programs facilitated virtual walk-throughs of the project for quality control during design development.

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Copps Pier adds new park space to the city and for the adjacent emerging mid-rise community. The wide promenade allows full public access to the water’s edge, connecting to the existing waterfront trail system and linking local attractions such as the HCMS Haida, Hamilton Waterfront Trolley, and Princess Point. Already a popular venue for family programming, pop-up markets, movie nights, and festivals, the rejuvenated Copps Pier turns a remnant of Hamilton’s industrial past into a gathering place for future generations.

Cindi Rowan headshot black and white

by Cindi Rowan

Studio Director – Landscape Architecture