After the discovery of coal in 1901 by André Dumont, seven concessions for mining were released in the province of Limburg, resulting in the creation of a total of seven coal mining sites, three of which were established in Genk: Zwartberg, Winterslag and Waterschei.
Genk is a relatively new city and most visitors are surprised by the various 'cores' which, although clustered, still form a unity. For several centuries, Genk was a small, insignificant hamlet called ‘de Kempen’ , which until the end of the 19th Century was inhabited by farmers who had to work hard to grow crops in the sandy, barren heathland. In the first half of the 20th Century, this small village rapidly expanded with the arrival of the three industrial sites, each of them creating an autonomous village entirely overseen by the local mine management. Genk grew into a four-part semi-urban structure - in the vernacular of the time, it was often scornfully referred to as a city with one official mayor and three real mayors, being the three directors of the mines.
Today, Genk has approximately 64,000 inhabitants. It is a multicultural city, and one of the most important industrial centres in Flanders, focused on knowledge and innovation. The garden suburbs of Zwartberg, Winterslag and Waterschei form a unique heritage zone inspired by, and resembling, a deluxe adaptation of the English model of the 19th Century garden city. The large detached houses, each set in its separate garden, were used to entice miners and engineers from all over the world.
The renovated venue in Waterschei, Genk, Limburg, can be seen as an industrial monument, exemplary for the redevelopment potential of the former mining region of ‘de Kempen’. Every mining region in Western Europe has looked for a way to deal with its ‘charcoal-past’. In the southern part of the Netherlands, the decision was taken to remove all traces of the coal-mining industry; in Wallonia they chose to give four mining sites (Bois du Luc, Bois du Cazier, Blégny and Grand-Hornu) a prominent place in their heritage policy. In Limburg, with the exception of Zwartberg, a number of architecturally important buildings at each mine site are being preserved; the entire mine of ‘Beringen’ was put forward for future development as the Flemish Mining Museum. The Winterslag mine is currently used as a cultural centre and education facility. After Manifesta 9, the remaining architectural elements of Waterschei have been included in the development of a master plan, Thor Park, which will focus on technological innovation and knowledge. In short, each mine has and still is looking for its own customised redesignation.