Shanghai (Finally) Embraces Adaptive Reuse

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

With our work extending globally, some of us recently traveled to China. What we found was fascinating: a fully-functioning identity crisis where thousands of years of tradition coexist with modern thought in a unique urban community that is evolving in fast-forward.

We spent the majority of our time in Shanghai, which, due to China’s recent economic boom, is developing at a dizzying rate. In the 1950’s, the urban area of Shanghai was 82.4 square kilometers; now, it is approximately 3924.24 square kilometers and growing. In 60 years, it has multiplied almost 50 times! This rapid development has often caused the city to cut corners, which has resulted in the demolition of many high-quality old buildings to make way for crudely constructed new ones. The city has been virtually scraped clean of any of its architectural history, but there are some notable exceptions.

An alternative trend is slowly emerging in Shanghai: the old slash-and-burn building philosophy is being replaced with values we share. The resounding success of the following developments is encouraging investors and inspiring a cultural shift toward the idea of adaptive reuse.

1. Xin Tian DiThis development bridges the old and new in a very exciting way, and it’s the first of its kind in China. Located between Shanghai’s ancient walled city and its lively downtown, Xin Tian Di is a unique development that will ultimately accommodate 1.6 million square meters of retail, housing, office, and hotels. In terms of retail planning, it breaks the convention of indoor shops and restaurants by creating a compact metropolitan center with pedestrian shopping and open-air dining. The restoration of the traditional Shikumen combined with modern architecture creates a dynamic mix that reflects the local history and culture.

Near Xin Tian Di is Liuli China Museum. An ordinary retail building made extraordinary, it is crowned with two large peonies that are crafted from over 5,000 handmade stainless steel petals. At night, the building glows with multi-colored LED lights to create a striking visual experience.

2. Tian Zi FangOnce a residential neighborhood, the mixed-use Tian Zi Fang has an authentic Shanghai style that you don’t see very often anymore. Unlike Xin Tian Di, Tian Zi Fang’s buildings have been virtually unchanged; in fact, some of the houses are still occupied by their original residents. With elements like original brick walls interwoven with elaborately paved pedestrian roads, as well as several art galleries and studios, Tian Zi Fang is distinctive and offers a true glimpse into the unique lifestyle, culture, and philosophy of China.

3. M50Located on the edge of Suzhou Creek, M50 clearly reflects Shanghai’s industrial past and is a great example of an adaptive reuse project. Suzhou Creek was once heavily polluted because of utilization by factories, warehouses, and wharves along its bank but, as Shanghai has evolved, more factories have moved out of the downtown area and the creek has been cleaned up. The area is now a celebrated center for Chinese art, with galleries like ShanghART and Eastlink adding to the charm and mystique of the rejuvenated space. A once dreary landscape has been revitalized while still keeping the integrity and character of the past, which is something that would have been nearly impossible in China just a few years ago.

4. 1933 ShanghaiPerhaps the best example of successful adaptive reuse, a once fully-operational slaughterhouse is now the epitome of glamour and luxury in Shanghai. Designated a “Shanghai Municipal Historically Preserved Building”, 1933 Shanghai features a full range of event, conference, exhibition, banquet, and office spaces in a building that has been painstakingly restored. The two buildings – a circular inner building surrounded by a square perimeter building – coincide with the traditional geomancy concept of “circular heaven and square earth” and were once a series of ramps leading cattle to its demise. A 600 square-meter circular glass floor (dubbed the “Sky Theater”) creates an exciting and ethereal centerpiece on the uppermost level, but was originally designed as a functional element that enabled slaughterhouse staff to witness the happenings on the killing floor below. Lattice windows, spiral staircases, and flowering columns – all designed strictly for practicality – now create an intimidating yet beautiful maze of a structure with an eerie past that is unique to 1930’s-era China. The success of 1933 Shanghai is a testament to the fact that there is economic value in historic structures.

The developments highlighted above are establishing a unique sense of place within Shanghai by integrating China’s history with a modern sense of today’s optimism. The result is complex, economically vibrant, unique places, and we hope to see this trend continue.

We leave you now with our overall impression of China, encapsulated perfectly by a photo we snapped in Beijing:Old Meets New


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