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Dahua 1935 Cotton Mill refurbishment


This sensitive refurbishment of an abandoned factory located in the heart of China’s ancient capital aims to keep the soul of the place.

 

Client: Xi’an Qujiang Daming Palace Investment Group

Designer: China Architecture Design Group Land-based Rationalism D.R.C

Photographer: Zhang Guang Yuan / Wang ke Yao / Aurelien Chen


Dahua Cotton mill used to be the most important factory in the city of Xi’an. Its construction began in 1935 and the production activity stopped in 2008. The factory went through most of the biggest historical events of Chinese history during the twentieth century and its walls are traces and witnesses of the past.


The mill is located in the heart of Chinese ancient capital, a few kilometers away from the ancient city walls and the old railway station. It faces the “Daming Palace Park”, which used to be the Imperial Palace; it has since then become a central urban park.



Keeping historical traces as key elements of the new urban structure


After decades of intensive urban development in China and massive destruction strategies, this project challenges our responsibility as architects. Our renovation strategy is to emphasize historical traces by making them the key elements of the project. They will not only become urban landmarks, but also give an identity to the newly created spaces while preserving “the soul of the place”. Before starting the design process, we undertook a long and sensitive study of the site in order to feel “the soul of the place”.


This approach challenges the popular vision that considers that “old buildings” represent an era of underdevelopment and should thus be destroyed and replaced by “new buildings”, more representative of economic growth.

This project is our proposal for a sustainable development of the Chinese City. By eliminating urban boundaries, entrance gates and fences which are commonly used in Chinese cities, people are invited to walk through the site as an urban public space. The site becomes porous, it becomes part of the city. New axis, streets, and nodes were created and designed in order to fully and delicately integrate the project in the city’s urban structure. A wide variety of appropriable public spaces were created: public squares from various typologies and scales, covered galleries, hidden yards, etc.


These new public spaces were created by demolishing existing technical buildings; therefore, the existing inner walls become the new facades, giving public space a peculiar identity. The renovation strategy consists in using the most particular historical elements as the basis of the urban structure. New public spaces are created along these historical traces, which become urban landmarks. Old dilapidated walls remind of the past and give people a sensitive and poetic way of experiencing their city.


New public circulations are emphasized by a continuous brown aluminum pattern on the roof. This pattern serves as sunscreen, where original tiles have been replaced by either glass or polycarbonate in order to bring natural light into the underneath spaces.



Sustainability - Adapting to new uses


Our proposal focuses on the necessity for the city to regenerate and adapt itself to new uses, while keeping its soul. The city becomes multifunctional: new functions include small and large-scale retails and restaurants, theaters, museums, exhibition spaces, hotel.


Landscape design


Landscape design uses the existing elements of the original industrial site, so that visitors can imagine the former circulations patterns within the factory (both human and material) : chimneys, concrete slopes, concrete structure become that become landscape frames, former water tanks that become ponds, etc.


Materials from demolished buildings were used as landscape elements (former wood structures are integrated in the pavements, bricks from demolition are used for pavements, etc.). Landscape elements also refer to the audacious work of former workers of the factory, who were able to create amazing pieces of furniture using the simple tools of the factory (benches made of fabric shuttles)


Generally, the landscape design is a continuity and extension of the architectural design; it refers to the shed-shape architectural language of the existing warehouses. The materials are mainly grey stones, red and grey bricks, concrete, wood, in order to fit with the colors and materials of the facades.


Technical challenges


The main constraints consist on finding cheap, low-tech and elegant ways to reinforce existing structure. The old structure does not fit to contemporary structural regulations, which are very strict and need oversized structural elements. These heavy structural elements could easily break the harmony and the lightness of the original warehouses’ structures. The question of renovation in China is very particular because the cost of renovation can easily be higher than the cost of demolition and reconstruction. It is therefore necessary to find low cost structural solutions that must also be low-tech, so that unskilled workers could be able to build and assemble directly on site with basic tools and materials.

At the main entrance building, the big canopy that is literally positioned above the existing building, becomes a floating contemporary shade roof, as an urban landmark visible from far away. Under this big roof, the original floors and roofs have been completely removed in order to create a central atrium, revealing the geometry of the original structure.


The structure of the new roof is assembled on the existing columns, which was a real structural challenge. The construction process has been, as well, a big challenge: it was extremely difficult to put in place the heavy prefabricated steel beams (the span of the beam is considerable) in a tight space without damaging the original building and structures.


Summary


This sensitive refurbishment of an abandoned factory located in the heart of China’s ancient capital aims to keep the soul of the place.


Xi’an Dahua Cotton Mill is located in the heart of the Chinese ancient capital, a few kilometers away from the ancient city walls and the old railway station, and it is facing the “Daming” Palace Park, which used to be the Imperial Palace and is now a central urban park in Xi’an.


Dahua Cotton mill used to be the most important factory in the city. Its construction began in 1935 and the production activity definitely stopped in 2008. The factory went through most of the biggest historical events of the Chinese history of the twentieth century and its walls are traces and witnesses of the past.


After decades of intensive urban development in China and massive destruction strategies, this project challenges our responsibility as architects. Our renovation strategy is to emphasize historical traces by making them the key elements of the project. They will not only become urban landmarks, but also give an identity to the newly created spaces while preserving the soul of the place. We undertook a long and sensitive study of the site before starting the design process in order to feel “the soul of the place”.


This approach challenges the popular vision that considers that “old buildings” represent an era of underdevelopment and should thus be destroyed and replaced by “new buildings”, more representative of economic growth.


This project is our proposal for a sustainable development of the Chinese City. By eliminating urban boundaries and creating a wide variety of appropriable public spaces, the site becomes porous and is part of the city. It regenerates and adapts itself to new uses and becomes multifunctional (new functions include small & large scale retails, theaters, museum, hotel). Its dilapidated walls remind of the past and give the people a new sensitive and poetic way of experiencing their city.


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