The most impressive space of the Tate Modern Art Gallery is certainly the former Turbine Hall, which once housed the electricity generators of the power plant. The hall is five stories tall and has an open floor area of 3400 square meters, probably the most spacious exhibition room in the world. The hall has set the scene to some of the most impressive modern art installations in the past years. From October 2002 to April 2003 Anish Kapoor displayed his monumental Marsyas project in the hall. One year later Ólafur Elíassonn installed his famed Weather Project, an artificial sun that submerged the hall in a warm and sublime light. These highly popular installations were tailor made for the dimensions of the hall and they wouldn’t have existed were it not for the spacial lavishness of the former turbine hall. It is very unlikely that any architect would propose such a space in any newly built art gallery today, which pinpoints a quality of adaptive reuse projects. Adaptive reuse leads often to interesting and rather surprising results, as the example of Tate Modern shows.
Architects follow – if they know it or not – the rationale of their time. Design proposals must be feasible and compelling. This limits the design of buildings significantly and ties them to the economical conditions of their time. Yet a different rationale is entering the design
process when old structures are reutilized. The architecture of adaptive reuse is the art of connecting the old and the new, the past and the present. The worst examples of adaptive reuse are those where this dialog fails and the old and the new don’t connect; the best examples are those where it leads to new and unexpected results. In this respect, adaptive reuse can be looked at as the entry point of a unique form of architecture into the urban sphere.
Zeche Zollverein became a national heritage site immediately after it was closed in 1986, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. Today Zeche Zollverein is a multifunctional culture park with museums, event halls, restaurants, schools, offices, open air fairs, sport facilities, galleries, exhibition areas, and so on. Famous architecture studios, like Foster & Partners and Sanaa contributed to the adaptive reuse design of the site. The design has been done with much respect for the industrial heritage, but also features a strong contrast of old and new, the typical element of adaptive reuse. The school of management for example, designed by Sanaa, is a postmodern white concrete cube with an irregular window pattern, a stark contrast to the dark brick walls of the industrial buildings. The site of Zeche Zollverein is today among the most popular places in the Ruhr area and attracts millions of visitors every year.
Zeche Zollverein was not just an isolated reutilization project, but had significance for the whole region. Here was a monument of the past, a reminder and icon of the industrial culture of the whole region, which was reutilized to become a symbol of the post-industrial era. The diverse mix of functions is not only a feasible solution for this site, but shows the new economic direction for the whole region. The Ruhr area is now developing in the direction of innovation, education and culture. It is noteworthy, that such integration of the past into the present with a signal effect for a whole region can only be achieved by revitalizing old buildings.
The project was the first of what turned out to become the first phase of reutilized industrial buildings in Shanghai. By 2002, 30 old warehouses at the banks of Suzhou Creek were reused by over 100 art studios, galleries, design offices and workshops. This first phase could have become an early cluster for the creative industry in Shanghai, but the development was not supported by the municipality yet, and for the urban planning bureaus old buildings had no value back then. They were looked at as a burden, hence many of the industrial buildings that gave space to the early creative industries were demolished in order to make place for modern residential compounds.
M50, the now internationally know art district at Moganshan Road 50, was one of the early reused industrial parks. The project was as well for many years threatened by demolition. M50 is in many ways representative for the first phase of adaptive reuse in Shanghai. The reutilization happened step by step as more artists and gallery owners moved into the the former textile factory, situated at a peninsula of Suzhou Creek. The first tenant who moved here was the artist Xue Song in 1999, others followed soon. M50 was not developed by an investor and no architecture firm was commissioned with the reutilization concept, which is why the site has until today no unified design. The raw industrial feel of the art district is the result of this organic development. M50 is an outstanding example for adaptive reuse, a showcase for the power and the value of grassroots movements. Cities should foster such developments; they are rare phenomenons and can bring great fortune.
A good example for the diversification of adaptive reuse projects in Shanghai is the development of Tianzifang. Tianzifang was founded back in 1998, when the famous painter Chen Yifei opened his studio in a former candy factory on Lane 210 at Taikang Road. The factory was located in the middle of an old Shikumen neighborhood, a traditional living quarter of Shanghai. Other artists followed soon and Tianzifang became a typical adaptive reuse project of the first phase, providing affordable space for creative people. The small lane on Taikang Road transformed however over the years. It became a showcase for creative parks during the second phase of adaptive reuse in Shanghai and attracted a lot of attention from government officials and researchers. Gradually small restaurants and shops opened, first along Lane 210, but eventually spreading into the adjoining Shikumen neighborhood. Finally there were more shops and restaurants than creative offices. Today Tianzifang is an art and entertainment district, a lifestyle park akin to Xintiandi, a place for creatives, nostalgics and tourists, an urban hot spot attracting thousands of visitors each weekend.
Surpass Court on Yongfu Road is another great example for the new trend in old building reutilization in the last years in Shanghai. Located in the buildings of a former aviation research institute in the former French Concession, the project was positioned as a lifestyle park with galleries, restaurants, and bars. The characteristic feature of the site is a fully enclosed courtyard, protected from the street. The courtyard offers place for outdoor seating and outdoor activities. Surpass Court opened in 2010 and was completely rented out on the first day. The project became an instant success, attracting many customers on evenings and weekends. The success of the project triggered new business in the immediate surroundings.
The transformation of Tianzifang and the success of Surpass Court reflects the need of the people in Shanghai for new urban spaces. Shanghai is a city in transformation and this means that the lifestyle and the needs of the population change as fast as the city does. Especially the young generation has a need for a new kind of places, places where they can go during their leisure time and on weekends, where they can meet friends, stroll around, express themselves, find new models of identity, and most important: watch other people. Such places are sometimes referred to as third places, places besides home ( which is the first place) and work (which is the second place). A number of reutilization projects became third places in the last years, like Tianzifang, or were developed as such from the start, like Surpass Court.
At this point we should take a step back and reflect on the development of adaptive reuse in Shanghai from a broader perspective. Why is there a sudden need for third places Shanghai? The need for new urban places is the result of the changing city dynamics. Shanghai used to be an industrial city, but transformed into a post-industrial city in the last decade. This means that the third industrial sector is now the dominating economic force in Shanghai. This has far-reaching consequences for the general dynamics of the city. Industrial cities depend on the availability of cheap labour, resources and the access to transportation systems. The rise of Shanghai as an industrial city in the last century was based on the location of the city at the mouth of the Yangtze River, which connected China’s mainland with the world. Post-industrial cities however depend on the availability of skilled human resources. We mentioned above that creative companies depend on the creativity of their employees. Shanghai has a great need for talent today, as the development of the creative industry in Shanghai has lead to a rising demand for creative people.
The ability of the city to attract creative talent is essential in this situation. Shanghai is now competing with global centers like Hong Kong, London, and New York for creative talents. The economic development of the city depends on its ability to attract creative people. In order to do so, Shanghai has to become an attractive city, a city where people want to live. The livability of a city becomes an crucial factor in an economy based on knowledge and innovation. There are many factors that make cities attractive, but the one we want to discuss here – because it is directly connected to the sustainability of reutilized industrial buildings – is urban culture.
Urban culture is in traditional urban theory tied to cultural buildings, like theaters, operas, museums, and so on. Many cities aiming to upgrade their cultural level built therefore such buildings. But this centralized understanding of culture is outdated and does not fulfill the requirements of a modern creative city. Urban culture is rather tied to creative people, engaging in the creation of culture, and places where these creative people can engage in urban culture. Urban culture today is less linked to cultural events as to lifestyle. This means cities that have a rich urban culture, will be able to attract even more creative people; while cities without a vital urban culture, and will struggle to attract creative people in the first place. Cities like New York, Berlin, or London, which already are bustling cultural centers, attract creative people much easier, because they allow them to live the lifestyle they want to have. This is why these creative cities have the most agile creative economies.
The significance of Shanghai’s creative parks becomes evident at this point. Shanghai can clearly not compete with cities like London or New York in terms of urban culture at this point in time. Shanghai is in this regard still a developing city. The creative parks are a tool to boost this development. They are the infrastructure that is required for the development of a creative class and a lively urban culture. They are the centers, where creative people can meet and can engage in the creation of culture. They are the incubators for the emerging urban culture of Shanghai. The typical combination of workplace and third places is in this regard highly effective, as it allows creative talents to engage into an overall creative lifestyle. The architecture of adaptive reuse also helps in the development of an urban culture, as this style is attractive to creative talents.