An urban renewal project in the dense area of a post- industrial city
The Kunming Rubber Factory occupies a hectare site area in the central Xishan District of Kunming, the capital city of the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan. The factory was founded in 1956, at a time when the city’s modern light industry was flourishing and it continued to expand reaching its peak economic output in the 1980’s and counted 2000 employees. However as China began embarking on its economic reforms in the mid 1990’s the factory began to experience serious economic difficulties and stopped production and fell into bankruptcy around the turn of the century; and was eventually taken over by the Realtop Real Estate Group with the target of undertaking an innovative urban renewal commercial development.
When Kokaistudios was invited by the client at 2011, Kunming' s city appearance was undergoing radical changes; the original urban texture was constantly being erased and replaced by gigantic mixed-use projects. The end result was that the integrity of the city was broken by constructions of various scales; and the city was rapidly losing its urban texture and elements that had long made it one of China’s most livable and charming cities.
The factory was surrounded by 5 to 6-storey brick and cement facade residence buildings, schools and other supporting facilities. The whole area is dense, vibrant and has a rich cultural heritage including the Qing dynasty East Temple Tower. Within the factory itself, we discovered in our analysis a rich texture of buildings, structures, and materials from different historical eras thus creating the basis for an innovative intervention. For instance, we found black bricks from 1950-60s, red bricks from 1970-80s and cement facade from the 1990s; the materials expressed the evolution of the history of the complex.
Kokaistudios came up with a scheme that emphasized retaining the history of the site while re-qualifying its dynamic and functions. We kept as much of its originality as a way to protect the history of the site. With a comprehensive approach, looking at the environmental, socio-economic and cultural contexts, we aimed to breathe new life into this post-industrial site by reinstating public vibrancy and efficiency.
First of all, we demolished the warehouse workshop which had little historical heritage nor re-use value to make way for public open spaces and new architectural structures; a process that was undertaken after deep study and coordination with the local authorities.
Secondly, we adaptively reused 5 old factory buildings and kept the signature smokestack which is the highest structure in the area. We retained as much of the original facade as possible, and then strenghthen it with steel, metal and glass to create a strong contrast. Restored areas includes the atrium of the new mixing building, the glass hall of the old mixing building roof, the outdoor terrace and the staircase; the connecting building bridge; the metal roof of the boiler room and the outdoor stairsetc. These new contemporary structures and components stand in clear contrast to the heritage portions of the project; thus valorizing both the old and new.
Then, two new curved glass bodies are embedded in the site with soft shape and appropriate scale. These new architectures are sitting on columns to invite circulation and add openness to the community and act to create framed views of the historical buildings. The combination of the buildings allows for blurred boundaries between the development and the city thus inviting the community to make the space its own.
Finally this enclosed site are openned up: visitors can enter the public space from either Shulin Street or Tiepi Ally. A brand new lifestyle hub is in front of people: the old mixing building has became a creative loft; the former workshop building has became a lifestyle center accomendates retail, cafes, restaurants and gym facilities; the machine parts workshop has transformed into a brewery; the boiler room is a club now and the tape workshop has evovled into a retail and office space.
Cities are ever-evolving systems, requiring updates and renewals to accommodate changing demands, habits and expectations. Kokaistudios believes strongly in designing for urban integrity. For the Kunming project, old industrial heritage and new contemporay architecture are woven together with considerations of social values and community benefits and the project is bringing new energy into the city.