Developer: Shenzhen Yinno Land Co. Ltd.
* Cube Architects
* Ido Design
Location: Nanshan District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China
By Colin Galloway
In cities through China, there are probably hundreds of poorly-designed business parks located in out-of-the-way districts that offer facilities which are bland, out of date, and devoid of eating, shopping, or entertainment venues. While those working at such places must often suffer in silence, however, there are occasions when a minimum of investment and a large dose of collective willpower can transform them into showcases of vitality.
The Block Sixteen project, located in a technology park in the Nansha district in the west of Shenzhen, is one such place. Conceived as a prototype by staff from Shanghai’s Tongji University College of Design and innovation, the brief was to breath life into a single block (#16) of the park by transforming it into a forum for a range of different activities, including a market, music events, and exhibition and lecture venues.
With minimal access to funding, the team focused on reviving the collection of mostly dilapidated properties scattered around the block rather than on building new ones. This meant that much of the work consisted of first cleaning up and painting exterior aspects, and then creating graphic signage, way finding, and street art. In addition, open street spaces were created to encourage pedestrian circulation and provide places where young people would like to gather. Retail and F&B providers then quickly moved in.
As for the buildings themselves, two poorly performing office blocks on the site were cleaned up, while at street level a couple of new venues were created. The first involved transforming a rundown warehouse into a “Needs Lab” to be run by the university as a co-working space and events venue to promote innovation through lectures and exhibitions. The second, larger, venue, is another warehouse-type building to be again for events but also offering space for shops, restaurants and a market.
While the project benefitted from having a captive audience given the lack of competition in the park, there was a need not only to create the venues where things could happen, but also to offer events that would draw a crowd. As one juror said: “The idea I like is that the university has a small outpost where they saw an opportunity to embrace young people’s enthusiasm and partner with tech companies in the immediate vicinity. So they proactively programmed the space, holding different events both indoor and outdoor, and without very much investment have created a grassroots place for people to come together and share ideas.”
The result, apart from providing a soul to a formerly lifeless locality, has been to revitalise it economically too. Rents in nearby buildings have increased dramatically, providing excellent returns on what was only a small initial outlay.
While the types of improvements required to make this project a success were not in themselves difficult to implement, either practically or financially, the fact that such transformative results could be achieved with so little investment—apart from the imagination and dedication of its sponsors—is what makes the approach replicable. Given the number of similar locations across the country that could benefit in the same way, the model created by Block Sixteen creates a future ripe with opportunity.