The sensitive revitalization of an industrial building uncovers a new surface treatment

Shangwei – ‘If it is broke, then fix it’ feels like an appropriate phrase for Studio 10’s Inlay Workshop, the primary exhibition venue for the 2017 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB) in Shenzen, China. Handed the theme of Urban Villages, and an abandoned electronics factory as a site, the designers at Studio 10 studiously contemplated their roles as urban revitalizers.

With nothing of explicit beauty or note – crumbling mosaic walls, corrugated-metal panels and an industrial roll-up door formed part of a materials palette synonymous with obsolete factories in China’s urban hamlets – the building, like others of its kind, almost begged to be demolished. The existing elements that Studio 10 encountered are ‘often seen to be cheap, temporary and dated,’ says the firm’s founder, Shi Zhou, ‘and are some of the first to be removed.’ Instead, the team considered the factory as a ‘prototype for the hundreds of thousands of similar small-scale factories, workshops and industrial buildings commonly seen in such villages. ‘We studied smart, practical regeneration strategies that could be applied to the typology at large.’

Studio 10’s system involved ‘recording, extracting and reconstructing before restoring and recycling.’ The project marries past, present and future by ‘bringing out the contemporary and nostalgic sides of existing materials and elements, while providing a practical architectural solution for the exhibition venue and future Minzhi School [a community-building platform created by Future+ Academy, the curatorial team behind UABB].’

Rather than fight the original corrugated metal, for instance, Studio 10 introduced more of it in the form of kiosks. Each ‘box’ in the L1 central passageway can be sealed with a roller door, allowing the open space around them to remain open continuously. And instead of chipping away at the broken mosaic walls, the designers explored methods for restoring them. Using a technique reminiscent of the Japanese art of kintsugi, which sees shards of broken ceramics repaired with gold-tinted lacquer, the designers celebrated the building’s scars. Cavities exposed by missing tiles were filled with coloured putty, leaving no two walls the same.

You can also read this article in Frame 123 (p 104-107).

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