The city of Nanjing is undertaking a $2 billion project to rebuild a three-kilometre stretch of riverfront which has long been home to an array of decaying factories and workshops, into a new urban district providing homes, workplaces and centres for shopping and entertainment.
At the core of this 236-hectare urban renewal effort is Nanjing Zhongye MCC World, a project led by UK design firm Benoy to convert a set of 1915-vintage ice storage warehouses into a new community hub providing stores, cultural spots and entertainment facilities.
The regeneration project will repurpose the riverfront workshops which had fallen into disuse after refrigerators replaced iceboxes several decades ago, and provides new insights into how heritage facilities can serve contemporary communities in one of the world’s fastest changing built environments.
Reshaping Old Workshops into a Community Hub
Rather than tear down the century-old factories in the shadow of the city’s historic Yangtze River Bridge, Beijing-based developer MCC Real Estate has decided to leverage the existing industrial heritage of the district to create a new social hub for the rapidly developing city of more than 8 million people.
For the Nanjing Zhongye MCC World project, Benoy, which has already made its mark on China’s retail scene with such projects as Shanghai’s IFC Mall and the award-winning Parc Central in Guangzhou, redesigned the industrial site into a cultural plaza ringed by historical factories, retaining the original form of the heritage buildings while adding new modern blocks. Due to start construction this year, the project will also offer landscaped gathering areas at the edge of the Yangtze River, next to Da Qiao Park and the 1908 vintage Nanjing West Railway station which is set to become a railway museum.
Paying homage to the function of the former warehouse, outer street-side facades that recall the area’s industrial past alternate with playful modern structures resembling ice cubes. The design for the 114,000 square metre project is careful to place the additional new buildings in a way that visually promotes the historic structures.
“In essence, the design turns the previous internal building use into a series of external building cubes, which – in dialogue with the existing warehouses – creates a strong contrast and iconic language,” said Yejia Zhu, an associate director at Benoy.
To create an engaging experience for the public, the UK firm’s design also calls for the use of cutting-edge digital technology to allow video artists to project their work on the facades of the century-old buildings.
Luring Nanjing Residents Away from Taobao
With Chinese consumers increasingly reliant on e-commerce for daily necessities, designing a mainland shopping centre as a social hub is a challenge facing retail developers globally, but Benoy’s team, which also designed the iAPM mall in Shanghai doesn’t see physical retail as competing directly with online shopping platforms.
“A shopping centre is more like a multifunctional community centre offering a space where people can connect, this kind of face to face interaction is something that ecommerce can never replace,” Zhu points out.
To pull in shoppers who now buy toothpaste and soap via their mobile phones to Nanjing Zhongye MCC World, Benoy aimed to create a multifunctional community centre offering a space where people can connect – a destination for social gatherings, tourism, weekend relaxation and cultural displays.
“When considering the arrangement of spaces, we looked to create a continuous retail loop, connecting all buildings and facing inwards, celebrating the central public space and supporting performance, commercial events and exhibitions,” said Qin Pang, a Benoy director and head of the company’s Shanghai studio. “Through this concept, the central space is like a sponge to attract and enrich the flow of people.”
Bringing the Centre of Town Back to the Riverfront
Beyond revitalising the former ice factories, the retail and cultural hub also promises to reincarnate a riverfront that was the hub of this city of more than eight million people when it was still China’s capital.
With trucks and airplanes now supplying the city with most of the goods that once arrived by boat, the city’s riverfront had become a place that people drove by while crossing the historic Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge which overlooks the Benoy project.
“Through our design, a set of isolated historic factories are transformed into a destination for social gatherings, tourism, weekend relaxation and cultural events that give visitors a reason to come back to the riverfront area on a daily basis,” Benoy’s Zhu points out. “Facing the Yangtze River, next to the park and the old train station, the complex now becomes a landmark that is visible to train passengers passing over the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge.”
Making a Riverfront Urban Destination
The project gives Nanjing, the second-largest city in eastern China after Shanghai, an opportunity to outdo its better-known downstream neighbour in creating a vital riverfront shopping destination.
While retail projects along Shanghai’s Bund have yet to become a significant part of the city’s retail culture, Benoy’s Nanjing scheme sits at the core of a broader masterplan for the regeneration of the Yangtze River Bridge area in the city’s Gulou district. Ongoing since 2011, the plan to redevelop the long-neglected zone between the river levee and the historic city wall aims to create five new mixed-use neighbourhoods fully integrated with the rest of the city.
To Benoy’s designers, who also proposed a more public-facing harbourfront in Hong Kong’s Central, bringing visitors back to the historic waterfronts of their cities, whether in Nanjing or elsewhere, is all about the basics.
Zhu notes that, “It’s all about designing for people, and the fundamentals, such as creating great public spaces, celebrating and preserving moments from history can and should part of any urban regeneration plan.”
Benoy’s Vision of Nanjing Zhongye MCC World
This sponsored feature was contributed by Benoy.