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Born-again buildings
31/1/2005 7:38

Shanghai Daily news

A lifestyle redevelopment of an industrial site, converting it into a complex housing professionals working in various creative fields, shows the way Shanghai can preserve its past instead of demolishing it, writes Zhao Feifei.
Passers-by on Jianguo Road M., near the elevated highway, have been startled to see the transformation of several rows of abandoned automobile repair shops into a sleek and sophisticated building complex, although the massive brick walls, pipes and stained floors of the original workshops still remind people of the site's industrial past. A sculpture, ``Green Door,'' created by the renowned French artist Fabrice Hybert, stands tall at the entrance emblazoned with a sign reading, ``Bridge 8.''
Shanghai's massive redevelopment boom over the past two decades has seen glass-and-steel skyscrapers sprouting up everywhere. However, with fears that the city's identity is being erased, architects are now seeking to preserve and restore old buildings rather than demolish them. And they're picking up on trends that have taken hold in London, New York and other cities around the world where old buildings are being converted into fashionable loft-style apartments or offices.
Bridge 8 is intended to be a new landmark and a center of creative style for Shanghai -- a 7,000-square-meter site comprising seven buildings. It is a lifestyle development that integrates offices, showrooms, shops, eateries and a leisure area. It also promises to be an invigorating venue for all kinds of exhibitions and events.
Near Xintiandi and Taikang Road, Bridge 8 has attracted many professionals working in design, architecture, advertising and image consulting. More than 10 well-known international companies, including S.O.M. -- the designers of the Jin Mao Tower -- and veteran Hong Kong movie director Ng See-Yuen's film studio plus Emotion French, have opened offices here.
However, unlike Taikang Road, an art street, or the art galleries in converted Suzhou Creek warehouses, Bridge 8 aims at attracting high-end, well-established tenants.
Tony H.W. Wong, a former general manager of Xintiandi and president of Lifestyle Consulting (Shanghai) Ltd, which initiated the Bridge 8 project last April, says his company has rejected companies whose work is not related to design or art when selecting tenants.
The rental charges hold some advantage against other first-rate office buildings in the downtown area. Wong says the rents are nearly 40 percent below those in Plaza 66 on Nanjing Road W. (which are about US$1 per day per square meter) while offering services that are worth far more than what is being paid. ``
Our air-conditioning can be different from room to room so that tenants can adjust the temperature to suit their own comfort,'' Wong says. ``Unlike most office buildings, we provide air-con 24 hours a day and people can have access to their offices at any time in case a designer or architect needs to work overnight. You know, for these people, inspiration can come at any time. As well, we have a cafe, a French restaurant, Japanese food and even a foot massage parlor downstairs where people can hang out and relax.''
Tenants in Bridge 8 fall into five categories: architecture consultancies, public relations and advertising, graphic and product design, film studios and shops.
Wong believes that the cluster of different types of artists will spark more creativity. ``They may get to know each other through a chat over a cup of coffee downstairs. Or designers can interact and brainstorm ideas with one another,'' he says.
Japanese company HMA Architects & Designers carried out the main design work for Bridge 8.
Kenji Mantani, design director of HMA, says the vision was to set up a model example of how to convert old factories into productive commercial facilities.
``There are two kinds of old buildings in Shanghai in need of renovation,'' Mantani says. ``One involves old residential houses and Xintiandi has done a good job in this. The other involves deserted factories, so Bridge 8 has the potential to become a creative center.
``There are many brand-new buildings out there in the city and they're well-equipped. But that's not what many overseas designers are looking for when they come here to develop a business. They'd like to see something that's especially local, even though it's old and not well-appointed.''
Willie Chan has opened POP Shanghai in Bridge 8, a shop that celebrates original designs in homeware. Many of the products come from famous overseas designers such as Eero Aarnio, Yoshitomo Nara and Michael Young.
He says the location of the shop may not have the convenient traffic of Nanjing Road or Huaihai Road, but customers who come to buy are quite selective -- they're not average look-and-see people and they appreciate original designs.
Chan also believes the creative environment at Bridge 8 will stimulate his business because many designers and others working in the advertising and architecture fields are interested in his shop's products.
Alan Sze, owner of the chic home furnishings shop, LifeZtore, agrees. ``I've already opened a large shop in Xintiandi. This one in Bridge 8 will be small and cozy but the products are well-selected,'' he says.
Director Ng has set up a post-production film studio in the complex. He also owns the state-of-the-art UME International Cineplex in Xintiandi. The new studio covers up to 400 square meters for a minimum investment of HK$7 million (US$897,700).
``Bridge 8 has a strategic location. It's in the bustling downtown area and it provides spacious working space for artists,'' says Ng.
Bridge 8 is just a beginning in the exploration and development of buildings with artistic value in Luwan District, according to Zhang Zaiyang, the district governor.
Now that the concept has been well-accepted, Wong is starting on the second phase of the project. He has bought a dilapidated factory opposite Bridge 8 and intends to turn it into another design center. It covers 6,000 square meters and will be completed by the end of the year.
``China is now regarded as the world's factory. It's seen as a country with a stunning manufacturing capability but with not enough creativity,'' says Wong. ``Today, it is becoming urgent for the country to have more designing talents to reverse this perception. And these people need an encouraging and nourishing working environment and that's what we are endeavoring to accomplish.''