CENTRINNO: What’s going on at Europe’s multi-million industrial heritage project?

This big EU project promises a lot for the future, but what does it mean for heritage?


CENTRINNO is difficult to describe. It’s a massive project, involving 9 cities and 25 partner organisations across Europe. As part of Horizon 2020, it’s received over €8 million in funding from the EU. It promises to be “A new industrial revolution that puts citizens at the core of sustainable transformation“.

In each of the 9 cities (which range from Tallinn to Barcelona), hubs will be set up in former industrial areas. In Amsterdam, for example, the hub will centre around the NDSM neighbourhood, a former shipyard on the IJ waterfront.

So, what is CENTRINNO? The simple answer: it’s a research project that aims to use former industrial areas to improve urban sites. Adaptive reuse is a common theme for the project, but it’s also focused on using intangible heritage too. CENTRINNO aims to leverage all types of industrial heritage on large scale, across Europe.

The full story is more complicated. The project revolves around 5 core concepts, which are designed to create urban transformations (for the better):

Circular Economy

Social Inclusion


Vocational Training

Heritage (CENTRINNO Living Archive)

It’s a lot to take in, but each of these concepts is intended to improve urban society. In theory, they can make our cities more sustainable, more diverse and inclusive, and more prepared for the future.

However, they’re big concepts to grapple with, which is why the project is split across 25 partner organisations. CENTRINNO has developed a specific method for understanding and enacting each of these concepts. For example, the concept of heritage will be explored with the ‘living archive’ method.

Therefore, the partners each contribute by doing one of the methods in their city. The whole project is like a large machine spread across Europe, with the partner organisations acting as the cogs. They report to the pilot project leaders in their city, who then report further up, and so on.

To an outsider, the project seems almost impossible to manage. This organised chaos has a purpose though: it promises that CENTRINNO will have an impact locally.

Heritage as a catalyst

Since the project is based around reuse of former industrial spaces, industrial heritage is at the heart of the project. They see it as a catalyst for innovation and social inclusion, and urban sites often have large amounts of disused – but valuable – industrial spaces. CENTRINNO believes that our urban spaces need to change, so why waste these interesting places? Furthermore, if historic places are to be transformed, their history should be recorded for posterity and inspiration.

In places where historic crafts and skills are still being practised, there is an opportunity to use heritage to improve the lives of younger generations. For example, a historic shipbuilder can organise workshops for local children.

The main method which CENTRINNO is using to establish the heritage values of these places is through the Living Archive.

In essence, the living archive is just a fancy database. It’s a repository for stories – and CENTRINNO is keeping that definition loose. Archives, objects, or memories are just some of the possible ‘stories’. If it can be written about, it can be a story for the archive.

The first step of this is, of course, collecting the stories. In Amsterdam, the way that CENTRINNO is gathering the heritage is modelled on Imagine IC‘s work, and developed by researchers at the Reinwardt Academy. It’s highly participatory, and the heritage exhibitions that result from it are locally focused. Every story or object is given an identity and metadata, which is vital for the next step.

Early version of the Living Archive, with mock content for demonstration. © CENTRINNO Deliverable 2.3, pp.28

The living archive is then built upon these collected stories. Using the metadata, every story can be mapped out on a Kumu visualisation. This is the living archive: not a hidden database only accessible to trained archivists, but something inspiring and appealing. If someone finds an interesting story that’s relevant to their heritage, they will be able to use the archive to see what it links to. As such, it will organically represent the heritage of the industrial area. The archive is intended to be fun to play around with and look at.

Finally, this visualisation is useful to CENTRINNO from a research perspective. Trends can be identified easily which can be used to guide future projects. One of the goals in the future is to reflect upon the Living Archive, and see what messages people can take from it.

How will CENTRINNO succeed where others have failed?

Can such a large project ever change anything locally? Will it have a lasting impact? This is always a concern for multinational projects. Making sure that funding reaches the people that it is meant to help is not easy, especially when these projects are co-ordinated by outsiders to the community. The living archive won’t stay living unless people keep its heart beating.

However, when I spoke to people involved in CENTRINNO, there was a surprising sense of optimism. There are, as expected, some concerns. Terms like ‘sustainable’ and ‘circular economy’ are used so often that they start to lose their meaning. Gentrification is a definite risk, but it’s a risk that they’re planning around. With social inclusion at the core of the project, they know they have to be pro-active. Overall, I sensed that there is a genuine belief in the project.

Furthermore, everyone on the project knows that the EU funding they receive is linked to Key Performance Indicators. Stories have to be shared, jobs have to be made, archives have to be published, otherwise the funding will dry up.

Does this guarantee that CENTRINNO will do what it promises? At the time of writing, it’s hard to say – with three years to go, it’s still early days for the project. If done properly, CENTRINNO could become the gold standard for how to reuse our heritage for decades to come. For €8.5 million though, expectations are high.

Find out more about CENTRINNO and how to get involved at centrinno.eu.