THE ABANDONED FACTORY IN BELGIUM
‘Steenbakkerij Lauwers’ was the only brick producer in the region who survived the 1990s. When in the other factories extraction of clay and producing of bricks became mechanical, Lauwers still produced the old-fashioned manual way.
The history of the brick industry in this region go back to 1346. This factory started in the early 20th century under the name ‘Novobric’. The factory is taken over in 1981 by the Lauwers brothers. The clay was taken out of the pits along the banks of the Rupel. Working conditions were hard and there was much child labor. In the glory years, the bricks were even used in the facades of the New York skyscrapers.
Nowadays there are only 5 factories left from the 150 active brick factories near the river Rupel. Not only the production of new construction materials and the competition of the brickyards from other regions were to blame. The recession in the construction industry and the enormous increase of the energy prices since 1974 had ensured that between 1975 and 1985 many brickyards went bankrupt or simply stopped their activities.
When the buildings got a protected status, it was the beginning of the end. Environmental laws ordered the Lauwers brothers to build new high chimneys, but the monumental status doesn’t allow a rebuilding of the original buildings. In 2006 the last brick is produced. The monumental part became a museum, but closed due to lack of fundings. I visited ‘Steenbakkerij Lauwers’ in 2007. The roof collapsed several years later, the site is now a ruin and closed because of asbestos.