Factory of spatial experiments.
Magazine Contact #22
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.