Preserving culture and traces of time in Shajing Village Hall
January 19, 2022
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This village hall in Shenzen began its life as Gangtou Diesel Power Plant, built in the 1980s, adjacent to the Shajing Ancient Fair within proximity to the Maozhou River. Being part of the village industrial area of Shajing Gangtou, the power plant supplied electricity to neighbouring urban villages as well. When Shenzhen’s electricity supply became fully covered by the national grid over a decade ago, the plant became abandoned and, along with surrounding buildings, had been scheduled for demolition by October 2019 to be repurposed as Bao’an Oyster Township Lake Park.
When the architects discovered the ruins of this power plant, they were impressed by how it showed the traces of time and wanted to rejuvenate it. They proposed a sustainable approach to preserve and revitalise the industrial heritage as Shajing Village Hall, giving the remnants new value—both spiritually and materially.
Spiritual rejuvenation: from an old plant to a new ‘shrine’ for the public
Shenzhen is a special economic zone and the fastest growing metropolis in China, where a large number of urban and ancient villages alike still exist in its suburbs. Affected by rapid development, many public spaces in traditional communities have been damaged, especially places of spiritual significance such as ancestral halls, traditional study halls and temples. They are either in a state of decay due to age or have been converted to other uses. On the other hand, there are many vacant or under-utilised commercial buildings, such as old factories and shopping malls. In this context, the architects felt that as people’s daily lives improve, their spiritual lives tend to be left behind—they wanted to utilise this building from the industrial era with new public attributes in order to gain a spiritual quality, like those ancestral halls of old.
The main idea for Shajing Village Hall is to become an intermediary design between a factory and an ancestral hall by absorbing local characteristics. A traditional ancestral hall in the Guangdong region consists of seven spatial elements: shadow wall (a wall that blocks the line of sight to an entrance); gatehouse; front yard; main hall; backyard garden; rooms; and verandas. These are applied to the renovation of the power plant, subtly derived and transformed in three dimensions to hold activities to attract people of all generations.
Moon Gate Hall
The main hall serves as the primary activity area and also the spiritual ‘heart’ of the building. As this space soars up to 17 metres tall in the power plant, it is balanced by a 9-metre-wide circular gate that brings light and outdoor views into the space. This ‘moon gate’ is one of the most recognisable architectural elements in Guangdong, commonly used in everyday spaces such as houses and gardens—enlarged in this hall to bring a strong sense of identity.
As the old east and west brick walls of the building had been removed, the architects wanted to restore the original intent in the new design. Working with a metal fabricator in the village, they created a laser-cut brick wall pattern upon black perforated aluminium modules. Light that passes through the cut-outs would create a dappled effect, as if being in a ‘spirit world’. The industrial style is further reflected in the newly added mechanical and electrical system—the architects worked with plumbing engineers to create an array of red exposed fire sprinkler pipes. On either side, the I-beam columns form parallel colonnades, creating a sense of ceremony similar to traditional halls.
The architects envisioned a three-dimensional wandering promenade up, down and around the entire building. Some parts are indoors and some are outdoors; it is analogous to a pathway in a garden that constantly diverges, inviting people to explore every corner of the building. One can sometimes see the whole picture, sometimes only microscopic details or a moving cross-section of the building. The variety of small-scale spaces reinforces the different physical experiences within the ruins and give the building a labyrinthine quality despite its central open hall.
Adaptation to local climate
Shenzhen’s subtropical climate is hot, humid and rainy all year round. To improve the microclimate and regulate the temperature of Shajing Village Hall, the architects designed a set of landscape pools that surround the perimeter of the building. As well as providing an outdoor place for people to enjoy the water features, the reflecting pools soften the heavy character of the ruins and make the whole space relaxing and enjoyable.
Another climate-responsive strategy is the addition of openings in the ruin block, including internal balconies, viewing windows, outdoor terraces and semi-outdoor wrap-around corridors. These gaps introduce natural ventilation and reduces the duration and intensity of air-conditioning use, thus reducing the building’s energy consumption.
Material rejuvenation: a reverence of ruins
As an early industrial remnant of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, the power plant was a typical informal construction with no drawing files. The architects needed to revise the design in real time by taking into account the construction conditions—all within a timeframe of less than six months. This is handled through the strategy of ‘patchwork’, as explained by the architects: “In its entirety, we understand new buildings as the inverse result of ruins, which is essentially a process of local decay that evolves over time. A new design based on ruins should therefore also embrace localised additive and subtractive growth. It is ambiguous, unexpected, multi-possible and unrefined.”
The patchwork strategy preserves the old ruins to the greatest extent possible by reinforcing and recycling the existing concrete structure, including the foundations, beams and columns. New blocks are wrapped around the old ruins, akin to an old tree sprouting new shoots. To minimise damage, steel materials and glass curtain walls have been lifted and inserted into the ruins, mainly by means of lifting. In contrast, the surfaces of some concrete beams and columns are made to showcase the bumps and dips of construction—the architects encouraged workers to chisel the surface, imparting a sense of craftsmanship.
Considering the ruined parts of the building as the most aesthetic objects of interest, the architects reserved the rear courtyard as a ‘ruin garden’, with partially destroyed walls and beams preserved on all sides. To balance the lateral thrust of the roof trusses and enhance structural stability, a system of steel beams was installed above this garden, similar to pierced beams in traditional Chinese buildings. Discarded stones and bricks found around the building were packed as gabion walls that served as sculptural pieces, bordered by wolf’s bane and creeper plants to give a sense of nostalgia.
Shajing Village Hall
Oyster Township Lake Park, Bao’an District, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Gross Floor Area
2,500 square metres
Shenzhen Baoan District Shajing Street Office; China Resources Land Group
Zhang Yuxing; Han Jing
China Resources Land Group
Beijing Zhenghe Hengji Waterfront Ecological Environment Management Co; Shanghai Urban Construction Design and Research Institute (Group); Elandscript
Reasonable Fantasy Group Inc
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