How designers turned an abandoned factory in Shenzhen into an exhibition venue

Shenzhen – It was three months before the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture’s (UABB) opening day when Atelier XI got the call. Could they convert an abandoned 10,000-sq-m air-conditioner factory in Shenzhen into an exhibition venue? And construct it in a month’s time? They could – and of course they would.

Shenzhen is a city subject to a gentrification, similar to many metropoles: as industrial land prices rise, manufacturers eventually abandon their factories, moving to areas where land and labour costs match their costs of production. Left behind are massive factories, bereft of use. Artistic institutions are among the actors who then repurpose these abandoned buildings into cultural venues. The UABB purposefully picked the site for the 2019 event because of its context: the subject of the biennale was the urban history of the area in which the factory stands.

Impressed with the factory’s rigid grid and truss systems, Atelier XI pursued an intervention that would complement, not detract, from the building’s industrial beauty. What resulted was a 250-m long ‘light wall’: a bright double-layer structure that contrasted with the factory’s existing heavy framework. In response to the immense scale of the exhibition – coupled with the UABB’s limited construction time and restrained budget – the architects chose to build the installation primarily out of translucent membrane. It zig-zagged throughout the factory, leading visitors through a sequence of 20 exhibition spaces. Guests were guided up and down ramps and through exit points, whose doorways were cut in intervals throughout the structure.

‘The rigidly ordered industrial space experienced a subtle glitch by the folded light of line,’ explains a representative of Atelier XI, ‘which effectively disturbed the passing of time and arouses the dormant relics of history.’

Read about more show projects here.

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