Magazine Contact #22 - Magazine - About us - Concept Wiesner-Hager
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Factory of spatial experiments.

Magazine Contact #22

For almost 20 years the former Honghua textile dyeing plant in the back country of the megametropolis of Shenzhen stood empty. The Chinese architectural firm O-Office has now constructed offices and workshops in the unoccupied buildings. A revitalisation done with respect and goosebump effect.

At first sight one thinks of Hollywood and its blockbusters – Armageddon, 28 Days Later or Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic 2012. The scene is apocalyptic, desolate, reclaimed from nature right down to the last detail. The windows are shot to pieces, the floor has holes, the concrete displays a fair amount of spalling, here and there the corroded reinforcement peeps out of the massive ceilings, and everywhere are trees, bushes, grass. It is little short of a miracle that these buildings are still standing, and an even greater wonder that the investor MJH Group did not simply tear down the ruins and replace them with new structures. Instead, they used precisely this setting to realise their vision of a place of work. “The famous Honghua textile dyeing plant used to be here,” relates architect Ying Jiang, who together with her partner Jianxiang He has operated the Chinese architectural firm OOffice since 2007. “The factory was built in 1978, but operations were abandoned and the area was vacated after only ten years. Since then, the buildings out here in the hills have been empty.” Out here in the hills – this is in Guangdong Province, some 90 minutes’ drive from the mega-metropolis of Shenzhen which, together with Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Macau, forms a special economic zone and ranks among the most densely populated and fastest growing conurbations in the world. In Shenzhen alone the population has grown from 30,000 in 1980 to more than ten million inhabitants.   “Shenzhen has developed so rapidly that you can scarcely recognise the city from one day to the next,” says Jiang. “ Progress, constant transformation and renewal reign supreme. Everything is new and in a permanent state of flux. Our project in the hills behind Shenzhen is something of an island where time has stood still, like a window into history. It respects the status quo which obviously has quite a tale to tell. And we listen. In a way, our intervention is a type of loudspeaker from the past.” While most investors would surely have attacked the building with wrecking ball and digger, or at least with crowbars and grinders, the MJH Group asked the architects for care in the entire planning and construction process. The result is a building within a building which can be described best as a spatial implant, regarding the design concept. Apparently not even the smallest change was made to the existing concrete shell of the abandoned factory. Instead, autonomous boxes which give the impression of randomly arranged pieces of furniture were placed in the empty central area of the long and narrow structural shell.

One would almost be inclined to lend a hand to set the geometric boxes straight and place them in rank and file. Within the long, black-clad steel structure are a meeting hall, co-working space and a café. The back-lit, translucent shelf unit behind the bar turns the bottles placed there into a light source, sometimes colourless, sometimes light blue, sometimes amber-coloured. An attractive, appetising sight. The double bend in the structural shell subdivides the space into a variety of zones with different environmental qualities. Exhibitions and small conferences take place here regularly, says Ying Jiang.   The seven white boxes adjacent to the dark communal space house individual offices and workshops which are rented out to artists and creative professionals. The rooms are kept simple and prosaic, but boast all the amenities indispensable to office life: white walls, ceiling-high windows, air conditioning, LED lighting and electrification, all with the most up-to-date technology. The rooms are built in light-weight design with a steel structure, steel panels on the exterior and wooden planking on the interior. Because of their slightly elevated position and the concealed yellow light strip in the base, the office boxes look as if they are floating about the hall floor, even in the dark. “Most of the offices have an inner and an outer room,” says Aki Lee who has provided the project with planning and media support in the two years since building work commenced. “But there is also this magical intermediate space which at the same time is inside and outside and really has no specific function – except the interpretation and mental reflection on space and time. It is as if you were proceeding to the office through an artificial landscape.” The priority, according to Lee, is not the perfectly aestheticized architecture, but the experimental interaction with the possible. In the meantime, demand for various function rooms on the grounds of the former Honghua textile dyeing plant is so great that the MJH Group in collaboration with O-Office have already erected a museum, a student residence and a youth hostel in   other vacant halls. The whole complex is now known by the name of iD Town. The architects are currently working on an office building and on an International High School which will open in September. With these projects, O-Office demonstrates how revitalisation can look when implemented with respect and goosebump effect, thus creating a new, hitherto scarcely known image of Chinese construction. Worthy of emulation!

Wojciech Czaja

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