Shaoxing Chaichangnong Refurbishment & Urban Redevelopment project is located in the historical old town of Shaoxing, comprising various buildings of several distinctive eras and styles. The renovation aims to pursue the complexity of the site by blending different eras with cutting edge, new buildings and to reinvent the site by organizing visual and physical experiences in a lively context. Sometimes the existing space becomes an element of the new, changing the spatial definition. Rebirth of the old and coexistence with the new are key features of the site. The site, being narrow, compact and chaotic, grew organically without any planning in the modern sense for hundreds of years. The first major challenge of such a project is to convert an area of domestic living to public use without losing the historic density. This kind of density, in terms of site coverage, is widely lost among new developments in surrounding areas, because of fire regulations, or a ‘Ville Radieuse’ building methodology, etc. With regular site inspections, the architects started to realize the existing buildings have to be read as equivalent-substitution for bare ground rather than as buildings on the site in a typical figure-background relationship. After selective demolition has taken away rundown buildings that block key circulation patterns, and the removal of unnecessary barriers, networks of paths have come into being around the site. The historical importance of these buildings gives “conservation buildings” protective bubbles that cannot be dramatically altered. They are carefully restored by expert professional teams. The Dazhou atelier was a warehouse built in the 1990’s and then converted into a painting studio. Its roof has been completely stripped down with bare battens left on the concrete frame. The new design simply returns the roof to the original design, and extends them into flat steps. It has a roof plaza that overlooks the site. With its steps, it turns into an outdoor theater with a balcony facing the roof-top stage on the opposite building. Xingyu (Star Observation Building) is the major part of the new build. Its platforms wind up all the way to the top floor, creating multiple layers of sites of extensive social spaces with views of varying heights. Its form is seeking to express the forces generated by such stacking, instead of a continuous ramp. Architects worked together with structural engineers to develop a very straightforward structural system which follows the architectonic of each piece of the stacking grounds, yet composed together form a standing structure in a frank, sometimes brutal way. The hotel is a collection of buildings at the south west corner of the site. It includes social housing blocks from the 80’s and a bunch of small, self-built, pitched roof buildings. The carefully demolished site allows for a new steel lobby to stand in front of a residential block. The lobby connects the residential blocks and the pitched-roof covered small buildings in front of it. When hotel guests check in through one of these small buildings, they then move into the belly of the 11 meter high lobby; the glass-bottomed roof top swimming pool is above their heads when they step out of the small brick building. After enjoying the lounge bar and restaurant in the steel lobby, they are ready to sleep in the guest rooms that have been converted from social housing flats. A raised walk way connects most of roof spaces together across the site. It is a pedestrian high way and gives the best view points over the conservation courtyard. More importantly, it is a space shuttle travelling through the past, present and future of Chaichangnong district. The Chaichangnong project displays an alternative methodology of mass regeneration in Chinese cities with areas with general historical remains. Such urban areas have been overlooked in the past. Having no significant historical buildings, Chaichangnong represents the more generic neighborhoods found in many old quarters in Chinese cities. The design respects the traces of life more than historical importance, and respects all the buildings from differing eras on the site equally. A series of special treatments have been tested here. And that may enhance understanding of the mega urbanization China is confronting and help people to rethink how to deal with the existing built environment in the face of rapid social and economic transition. The site does not have a ground area; it has multiple-levels of areas. Part of the buildings can be left out of the plan to be included into a larger site system. Sometimes the ruins of the buildings turn their insides out and sometimes they join with the new. The new buildings are not just determined to be themselves, but amplifiers and sense making devices for the site. Both new and old will therefore lose their associated meanings of time and style, they will purely inter-communicate through their form and spatial configurations, bringing new meaning through users’ human perceptions and physical experiences. Some of the building designs here are trying to regain architectural autonomy through comprehension rather than ignorance. This includes inputs from principles from outside architecture, such as structural, pragmatic, social values, which are trying to reduce architectural autonomy, and betrays each other by cracking and plugging their own principle into others. The building form, not pure, but conclusive, can regain autonomy through the discrepancy between those principles. The Xingyu ramp is a clear example of that. It directly overlays the requirements of public circulation, structural logic, site ambience, and forms a spiral walk way and a structure that has never been seen before. The building vanishes, the SITE emerges. Such vivid composite sites interplay and connect with people. That is the future of cities.
SpActrum is an award-winning architectural design practice. It was founded in London in 2012, and opened the Beijing office in 2016, the Shanghai Design Center in 2021. Under the leadership of three company partners, Yan Pan, Zhen Li, and Yimeng Tang, SpActrum has stepped into the core area of China’s contemporary social changes and drastic urbanization process. SpActrum closely collaborates with clients who are the leading pioneer figures in tourism & hospitality, business, culture, fashion, contemporary art, and many other fields, with projects encompassing different scales and types, from urban regeneration to interior design, from sports parks to art installations.