Design the Last Factory Block in Beijing’s CBD
As urbanization advances at an unprecedented pace in China, major metropolitan districts are becoming increasingly commercialized – in a process that we term “CBD-ization” – examples of which can be found in other parts of the world including New York’s Manhattan, Roppongi of Tokyo, and La Défense of Paris. Our observation of the development of urban centers in other countries shows that this commercialization can lead to a wide range of outcomes, some successful and some not. On one extreme is a CBD that is both dense and diverse, creating a rich urban fabric which supports a multitude of public activities throughout the day and night. This type of CBD reaches a delicate equilibrium between commercial and cultural, business and entertainment, main stream and special interests, and progress and pleasure. Overall, it is a heterogeneous urban landscape that attracts tourists, fosters public activities, and sustains long-term growth. At the other extreme is a CBD that e
xhibits a syndrome of homogeneity – during business hours, people come to work, and in the hours after, there is nothing left except monolithic office towers staring blankly into each other’s glass façades. Deserted in the evening, the streets become hazard ground for public safety. This kind of downtown invalidates the original purpose to which it was assigned: instead of attracting citizens and give them a pleasing urban experience, it becomes an area of desolation.
Beijing’s CBD bears the Chinese name Guo-Mao, originating from the International Trading Center (Guo-ji Mao-yi Zhong-xin) first constructed here in 1984. Centered on the Guo-Mao Bridge at the junction of the East Third Ring Road and the Chang’an Avenue, the Guo-Mao area hosts office spaces for international and indigenous enterprises numbered in the thousands, as well as apartments, retail malls, and hotels. A number of landmark structures have risen over the past few years, including the third phase of the International Trading Center, Yin Tai Center, and the new headquarters building of CCTV.
Among the glittering towers that rise to the sky in the Guo-Mao District, Cable 8 – a smaller scaled group of low rises – is an antithesis to the Guo-Mao paradigm. Originally built during the industrialization era of the People’s Republic, Cable 8 was a factory complex producing electrical cables, and has recently evolved into a re-vitalized incubator for art and design. Eight of its existing buildings have been converted from manufacturing floors to loft space, hosting designers and artists of various disciplines. The low rise Cable 8 buildings, with their ivy-covered brick walls, form a sharp contrast to the high rise structures that have sprung up around it. The visitors to Cable 8 can enjoy a visit to a photography exhibition, the opening of a new studio, or a discussion session on contemporary art at one of the galleries. Cable 8 not only supplies a contrasting architecture to the CBD area, but also ushers in a cultural impetus to the otherwise homogeneous socio-
cultural scene of Guo-Mao. The district has become fragmented from the holistic planning that has standardized the majority of the CBD, but the fragmentation shows a beauty in itself; Cable 8 has become a cultural carrier that has its roots in the historic past, but has regained its value with an investment in the future. Cable 8 has brought cultural infusion to Guo-Mao.
By physically modifying the urban fabric, cultural infusion introduces new elements that enrich the cultural spectrum of the area. This can be done either by architectural intervention that includes renovation, reconstruction, and addition of new buildings, or intervention on urban scale that involves the use of installations, devices, and apparatus. In the case of Cable 8, reuse of old buildings is an economical and sustainable method of development. On the other hand, the traditional Chinese attitude toward old buildings is that cultural messages are carried through time by constantly evolving architectural physicality. The contradiction between these arguments provides designers the opportunities to make breakthrough designs.
Participants are asked to come up with strategies and mechanisms that will improve Cable 8, making it more susceptible to the rapidly changing urban landscape, and perform better as a cultural carrier that helps to diversify the otherwise homogeneous nature of the CBD area.