Visiting Dresden's Transparent Factory

Visiting Dresden's Transparent Factory
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Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.
-Adolf Hitler


In the southeastern edge of Dresden’s city center lies the Transparent Factory (Gläserne Manufaktur), a sleek, modern facility that opened in 2002 to produce Volkswagen’s posh Phaeton sedan. The factory, which boasts a fully-automated assembly line controlled by magnets, closed in 2016 and recently reopened as a "showcase for electromobility." Currently, the Factory is undergoing changes so it can produce the next generation electric Phaeton and/or other electric models.

I visited the Transparent Factory out of curiosity to see the architecture and design behind this critically-acclaimed modern factory. Unfortunately, the gentleman at the front desk told me the facility was closed for the season (despite no evidence of this on their website) and he wouldn’t even let me walk beyond the desk to take photos in the lobby. According to the website, one is encouraged to book a tour in advance. (VW is probably weeding out curious tourists such as myself in favor of car-buying customers.) So, I walked the grounds instead and took some pictures of the meticulously-landscaped modern buildings against the clear blue sky. As you can see in my photos, the factory’s walls are made almost entirely of glass. And interestingly enough, according to the Factory’s website, “Birdsong is played from loudspeakers around the building to keep birds away from the glass facade, and special sodium vapour lamps illuminate the outdoor area in the yellow range of the spectrum so as not to affect the insects in the adjacent Botanical Gardens.”

It's interesting to read about the design features the factory touts, such as hardwood floors to reduce worker’s fatigue and skylights to provide natural, indirect light; as feel-good as these features are, they are no-brainers when it comes to manufacturing and standard issue in all factories built in the early 1900s or before. Wikipedia notes that at the Transparent Factory, “there are no smokestacks, no loud noises, and no toxic byproducts [and] Volkswagen planted 350 trees in the grounds.” Unfortunately, this observation irresponsibly fails to account for the energy and resources used to extract manufacturing materials, build the factory, maintain future roads and facilities for its cars, etc. (Looking at a product’s impacts beyond an isolated instance, such as the Transparent Factory producing cars, is called ‘life-cycle analysis’ and is defined by ISO as “consecutive and interlinked stages of a product or service system, from the extraction of natural resources to the final disposal.”)

But I found the most egregious, grossest, and patently false claim by VW’s Transparent Factory to be its bold assertion that their glass walls symbolize “transparency and authenticity.”  If this were the case, then the factory would explain that the energy used to fuel its cars comes primarily from coal, or address the correlation between cars and obesity, social isolation, deaths, wars in the Middle East, climate change, urban sprawl, loss of historic resources, financial burdens, and so on.  Frankly, I see the entire factory and concept of electric vehicles as a huge, glossy greenwashing campaign to maintain the status quo and sell cars.

So, there is a brief review of my quick visit to Dresden's Transparent Factory.  I must give credit to the facility for combining traditional factory-building practices with a modern twist as well as building in the city center.  I wish all factories built today would follow such principles, but without the greenwashing fluff and especially without cars as the final product.