Ruins make us think of the past that could have been and the future that never took place, tantalizing us with utopian dreams of escaping the irreversibility of time…. Ruins give us a shock of vanishing materiality… Contemporary ruinophilia relates to the prospective dimension of nostalgia, the type of nostalgia that is reflective rather than restorative and dreams of potential futures rather than imaginary pasts.
—Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia
Nostalgia tends to be taken dismissively or negatively in both architecture and general culture, as Charles Maier aptly states: “Nostalgia is to longing as kitsch is to art.” This studio is based on the premise that nostalgia, rather than being reductive, offers a productive means to engage with issues of heritage, collective memory, displacement, and urban renewal. This concept was brought forth by Svetlana Boym, who coined the terms Restorative Nostalgia vs. Reflective Nostalgia. Whereas restorative nostalgia “attempts a trans-historical reconstruction of the lost home,” reflective nostalgia “dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from the contradictions of modernity.” It is through the concept of reflective nostalgia that the studio aims to derive a way of thinking about designing within the complexities of modern urban environments.
Rediscovered, off-modern ruins are not only symptoms but also sites for a new exploration and production of meanings.
—Svetlana Boym, Ruinophilia: Appreciation of Ruins
The studio will explore how reflective nostalgia may offer a new model for adaptive reuse in the context of China where the erosion of cultural identity and local heritage have come as a consequence of rapid urbanization. China’s growth is unprecedented; it holds the record for the fastest growing economy in history, and the race towards urbanization is resulting in a vast landscape of anonymous cities. Urban transformations happen quickly and entire neighborhoods and streetscapes are altered seemingly overnight either due to private developer enterprises or top-down government directives. There are certainly iconic monuments that have been preserved, namely those that feature on tourist destination lists, but the commercialization of these relics renders them incapable of representing the depth of the city’s culture, both modern and historic. Remnants of historic urban fabric are constantly under threat—from the hutongs of Beijing to the nong tangs (alleyway homes) of Shanghai. Aside from these often romanticized urban typologies, as the world’s largest manufacturing economy, China has also amassed a large stock of industrial buildings—a typology often excluded from the official narratives of preservation due to its ubiquity and banality. Our test case for the studio will be looking specifically at Shanghai and the remnants of its tumultuous industrial heritage.
Students will explore tectonics, materiality and how to translate concepts into built, tangible form across various scales. The studio is interested in articulating methods and techniques of adapting an existing collection of buildings, interior spaces and urban voids to create meaningful dialogue between old and new. Some of the strategies to be explored (but not limited to): Insertion, Extension, Inlay, Deletion, Carve, Grafting, Layering, Framing, Excavation, Infill, Assemblage.
Experimentation with representation will be another emphasis of the studio. Students will exploit and challenge conventional and hybrid representational mediums through drawings and physical models. Narrative, fiction, and branding will also be explored as a medium of expression. How can we expand the limitations of architectural representation to capture notions of old vs. new, time, decay, memory, materiality and human inhabitation?
After opening its port in 1843 post-Opium War, Shanghai quickly developed into a prominent industrial center by adopting technologies and management systems from the West leading to a boom in industries. After WWII the city entered a stage of planned development and continued to evolve into a large-scale industrial base and economic center. By the late 1990s, however, Shanghai shifted its strategic focus from manufacturing to service industry-centered, moving industries and production lines from the city center to the suburbs and leaving old plants, offices, and warehouses vacant. Over time residential districts replaced the industrial zones. Consequently, industrial buildings became part of the collective memories of local residents, whose dense residences are wedged among the industrial remains, creating an eclectic mixed pattern of urban spaces, architectural styles and building functions.
The site for the studio is located in Shanghai’s Jing’an district, comprised of 10 industrial buildings—former window hook factory, Shanghai aviation equipment factory, metal working factory, and Shanghai No. 9 Machinery Factory—constructed in the mid-1970 to 80s. Currently the buildings are used by a DHL sorting facility, small startup offices and galleries.
In1977 the central government took an ideological departure from the Cultural Revolution’s dismissal of science and expertise by promoting science and engineering as a means to improve economic development. Under the leadership of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, industry was named as one of the Four Modernizations. From 1977-84 there was a massive state policy to rehabilitate scientists and experts through educational reform and the importing of foreign technology. The major tenant of the original buildings was Shanghai Aviation and Shanghai No. 9 Machinery Factory, which were one of the first state owned enterprises to pass the official rehabilitation inspection. So while these buildings may appear quite mundane and unremarkable in present day, uniquely situated with close adjacency to dense residential fabric, they are indeed industrial relics from a time in history that marked an important shift for China’s economic development.
The project will be the design of a hotel integrated with hybrid programs to be developed by each student. Students will research the hotel typology and make bold propositions for alternative models for the hospitality industry. The first half of the semester will be focused on re-conceptualizing the traditional hotel program and exploring how introducing hybrid programs may create experiences that deviate from the formulaic offerings of typical hotels. While the tourist is satisfied to record the image of a place by standing on the outside looking in, the traveler seeks out an authentic immersion into the locale. The hotel to be developed should cater to the notion of a traveler that demands an original experience and encounter that is in dialogue with the surrounding community and the unique history of the site.
In addition to the final project, students will be given design exercises to guide their process:
Assignment 1: Fictive Spaces
Assignment 2: Functional Interface
Assignment 3: Object of Encounter
Assignment 4: Brand Narrative
Students will travel to Shanghai and visit the site and various developments in the city that have implemented adaptive re-use to house arts and cultural functions, creative hubs, retail, event spaces and hospitality.