• Future Perfect

    28 February 2019

    Crafting the right blend is the secret to successful mixed-use developments. The mainland Chinese conglomerate Fosun hopes to combine old and new, consistent and uneven, commercial and cultural on an epic scale at a restored industrial site in Xi’an.

    The rough-hewn concrete of the Dahua 1935 development speaks to another era, one long since passed. This rehabilitated, mixed-use site on the edge of the ancient heart of Xi’an could be interpreted as another layer in the historic fabric of mainland China’s oldest capital city, but Dahua is about to become a celebration of the future – the development is on track to become one of China’s most important cultural destinations.

    Dahua 1935 is the remaining infrastructure on the former site of the biggest cotton mill in Shaanxi province. This was first and foremost the former workplace of more than 3,000 staff during one of China’s first attempts at modern manufacturing in the early 20th century. After its ruin in 1939 during the second Sino-Japanese War – a conflict that was macabrely absorbed into the Second World War – the Dahua textile mill underwent several iterations before a 2014-revitalisation by the Land-based Rationalism Development Research Centre of the China Architecture Design and Research Group.


    Common Culture

    One of the government’s experimental centres for design and research, the China Architecture Group took the 65,000-square-metre industrial site and refashioned it as a mixed-use programme with museum, theatre, hotel and retail elements.

    The state-run design group sought to emphasise Dahua’s location, near the Daming Palace – the royal residence during the Tang Dynasty – in creating what it called a “culture park”. The palace is a national heritage site that draws tourists by the score. That presents both a lucrative commercial opportunity, but also a need to preserve the site’s more modern character.


    Experimental Overhaul

    To link together the decades-old, saw-toothed, linear buildings, a strategy of “positive subtraction” saw the removal of the physical boundaries that isolated the site from the city, the buildings from each other and the spaces within each building.

    And through a process of careful addition, architects injected smallscale elements in wood, steel and more concrete to break up the space. The result was the foundation of a porous and public space in a wonderfully rich downtown environment. Within the long, straight factory buildings, streets and plazas have displaced ancillary rooms. The result is a connected pedestrian system that invites citizens to enter the culture park.

    The project was led by Cui Kai, a leading figure in mainland architectural circles with dozens of commissions for civic buildings from the late 1980s onwards. He and his team claimed awards for the redevelopment, including a silver award in the Reuse and Adaptation, Renovation, Restoration, Regeneration category from Iranian magazine A2 in 2016.


    New Direction

    With the development now in the hands of the Fosun Group – the conglomerate led by Guo Guangchang that, among other businesses, owns the Club Med resort network and the Folli Follie jewellery house – Dahua 1935 is doubling down on the retail and entertainment offering.

    It has engaged Woods Bagot to craft an “entertainment destination with a strong retail offering”. The Australian architectural and consulting practice has until next year to complete the transformation of the 83-year-old historic textile mill into the mainland’s next retail and entertainment district.

    “When it’s complete, Dahua 1935 will set the bar for retail-led historic renovation projects in China and create a world-class retail and entertainment destination for this vibrant city,” Woods Bagot principal Ian Png told the Arch Daily website earlier this year.


    Regular Revamp

    The Woods Bagot concept for Dahua 1935 is apparently based around the idea of “Line” which suggests the uniformity of fabrics and the machines that make them; the progressive evolution of the site and the people of Xi’an; and the regularity of the site’s grid layout. The project seeks to revitalise the buildings, recognising the need to drive profit and also to inject value for consumers through the provision of experiences. The mass of the factory buildings will be
    further broken down into six themed spaces, called workshops.

    The Dream Workshop is home to inspiration and creativity. Likewise, an amusement zone will feature entertainment from the dream-like Cirque du Soleil, of which Fosun chairman Guo has been a part owner since 2015. The market and power sections will sell fresh local produce and sportswear, with the final two areas used to promote education and the arts.

    The new programme should see a retail offering supported by global and Chinese fashion brands, theatres, and new food and beverage offerings. An arts centre, museum and hotel will be highlighted by designed spaces. A new metro stop on Xi’an’s under-construction Line 4 subway will draw consumers to Dahua.


    Art and Activity

    The Woods Bagot design concept is meant to revitalise the site’s current retail offering, delivering a modern and creative environment that preserves the imperial and industrial past. “These historic buildings already have their own story to tell. We want to let them speak for themselves and then build on that story by writing the next chapter,” Png told Arch Daily.

    Public art will be exhibited across the site, with exhibits of geometric works and sculpture attracting the community and tourists to a site that meshes the future with the ancient. 

    “Our design binds together old and new and turns conflict into dialogue, creating vitality from contrast. When it’s complete, Dahua 1935 will set the bar for retail-led historic renovation projects in China and create a world-class retail and entertainment destination for this vibrant city.”





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