The Chongqing Industrial Museum project is an adaptive reuse proposal that looks at ways of retrofitting the abandoned blast furnace of the former Chongqing Iron and Steel mill in Chongqing, China for the purpose of creating an integrated urban eco-village. According to David Harvey, Chongqing is the fastest growing city in the world that faces challenges of overcrowding, rapid urbanization, displacement of rural population through migration into city, and pollution related to construction sector. In developing this site, Anze Zadel and I aimed to design a project using a holistic and integrated approach in order to not only create a distinct sense of place, but to also use the project as an opportunity to help Chongqing face some of these existing problems.
A Holistic Approach
A holistic approach to design must include several areas of integrated research. We first got a sense of the issues facing Chongqing, at a macro scale and make connections between several urban ecologies—social, economic, environmental and political processes—downward in scale until we reached the project level. These processes are extremely dependent on people and place, and thus the bulk of our research dealt with examining the people of both urban and rural Chongqing and their connections to those localities. Additionally, we began our research looking specifically at blast furnaces and steel mills from all over the world, targeted for historic preservation and adaptive reuse, green production and sustainable industry. These precedents offered insights into ways of preserving cultural heritage, while at the same time providing a self-sufficient space that continues to contribute to the local economy. Thus, spatial analysis of the local furnace site reveals the possibility of connection and integration of the overall redevelopment of the Chongqing industrial site with the city of Chongqing as a whole.
This integrated research then leads naturally into a creating an integrated design proposal that sought to address our major findings. With that in mind, we developed a hybrid model that offers sustainable solutions to the current critical urban conditions by making connections between people and place, developing technologies for healthy and sustainable living, while cultivating social relationships and skills for stewardship of this system and proliferation of its effects.
Macro- and Micro-analysis: The “Chongqing” Model, the Industrial Museum and Everything in Between
Analysis of the very large site as well making a proposal for the reuse of areas outside of the project scope had already been conducted by Chinese-based design firm. Their proposal included provisions for residential and commercial spaces with a goal of the Chongqing Industrial Museum becoming a beacon of tourism and a culturally and historically significant space. Our goal was to build on that work and propose alternatives that focused on social, economic and environmental sustainability. We asked ourselves several questions that shaped the trajectory of our work. Questions included, “Who are the people the will living in these newly constructed housing developments? Where are they coming from? What are their situated experiences? What will they be doing when they get here? What the problems that they face?”
On the macro-level, the answer lied in several social, economic and political policies, initiated by former Chongqing mayor Bo Xilai, and collectively known as the “Chongqing” model. Specifically, these policies include moving people from the rural areas of greater Chongqing into the urban center by making it easier for them to achieve urban status in the Hukou registration system, a strong crackdown on organized crime and corruption, the development of affordable housing apartments for migrant workers, recent college graduates, and other low-income populations, and a “Red Culture” campaign—consisting of Maoist propaganda reaching all of the city’s residents. Economic policies included in this model are the pursuit of foreign investment to boost the city’s economy, increased government spending on infrastructure projects to inflate employment, the encouragement of personal spending on consumption items, and, most importantly, the notion of “dividing the cake evenly” and “growing it second.” This is particularly important because it reveals a sentiment of cooperation and equality among the people of the city.
In recent years, however, the city has begun to move away from this model (particularly after the term of Xilai), with policies more closely aligned with the “Guangdong” model, which emphasizes a decreased role of the government and neoliberal fiscal policy. This has been done in response to criticism that the Chongqing model is unsustainable, due heavy reliance on government subsidy and the displacement of people from their situated localities. Of course neither is perfect as these new policies lead to an increasing wealth disparity and sense of moral decline. Thus, our challenge on the macro front is finding a way of bridging both ideologies by designing a project that seeks to maintain culture and history, but also offer a way to promoting self-sufficiency and economic projection.
The effects of these policies can easily be seen on the micro, or local level. In terms of production, farmers in the rurals areas are increasingly finding themselves dependent on working with NGOs that have developed in response to the changing culture of China. As policies and culture changes, we see a decreased sense of cooperation among the farming community as the NGOs primarily focus on the individual farmer rather than the industry. Cultural shifts can also be seen in the migration of workers from the rural areas to the urban. For example, in rural areas, homes are constructed with inner courtyards and public spaces that function to promote a greater sense of family and community. Workers are also used to working on their family farms, and their relocation results in tremendous “root shock” as living conditions in the city are not the same. Additionally, the greater population density of the urban area had led to a disconnect between the people and natural resources.
We examined several examples of steel mill preservation projects, which are prime examples of different components of integrated design. The former Bethlehem Steel mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania served as an example of reactivation of space for the use of production. The site has been transformed into a casino, venue and resort and now attracts visitors from all over the region. Many of the former steel workers, who were left without jobs when the mill closed, were hired as employees of the casino, and the site is once again the lifeblood for the Bethlehem community. Zollverein in Germany is an example of a simple industrial museum where visitors are taken through an educational experience of the process of steelmaking. The US Steel Southworks site in Chicago was cited as an example of large-scale redevelopment, similar to what is proposed for the Chongqing site. The master plan consists of mixed-use spaces, combining residential, commercial/retail and park spaces. The Steel Museum in Monterrey, Mexico is an example of putting the site to use for passive recreation, where the large blast furnace has been converted into an observatory. Lastly, the Steel Museum in Zhang Zhidong, China is an example of turning the site into a landmark using ‘star-chitecture’ to capture an audience and tie into the history and tradition of steelmaking in China.
These precedents are important because they take advantage of the unique situations each of their respective sites. The goal is not simply to replicate the success of each, but take their underlying concepts and mold them to fit the culture, history and conditions of Chongqing.
Project Design: Anatomy of an Eco-Village
This integrated research naturally leads into a creating an integrated design proposal that seeks to address our major findings. With that in mind, we developed a hybrid model that offers sustainable solutions to the current critical urban conditions by making connections between people and place, developing technologies for healthy and sustainable living, while cultivating social relationships and skills for stewardship of this system and proliferation of its effects.
Our proposal calls for the development of an “eco-village” that contains several integrated and overlapping nodes. The area around the museum site can be one of these nodes and serve as a proof of concept.
By using a model of an eco-village we can integrate housing and production, history and culture as well as tying the environment into the urban fabric.
The integrated urban plan consists of treating the development site as a small scale node, blending residential and commercial space, utilizing the museum as a production space that supports the population of the node. The concept aims for self-sufficiency and is complete integrated into the urban scale of Chongqing through transport linkages such as roads, bikeways, and pedestrian walkways.
The local program of the museum site combines housing, farming/production, market/production, technology and exhibition space.
We also proposed mixed use, residential and farming buildings that exist on tiered levels to take advantage of the steep slope of the site. The outer “shell” can include housing units intertwined with farming plots, while the inner shell can be used for production space—indoor farming, educational area, or marketplace. These buildings would be very unique and specific to Chongqing and therefore have the potential to become landmarks, encouraging tourism.
Design elements of the project are meant to preserve traditional cultural elements. Localized resources, such as the proximity of farming plots allows for creating a culture of greater self-sufficiency, while the inclusion of inner courtyards and other public spaces, speaks to strong family units of traditional Chongqing culture.
Using new technology and urban farming techniques, we can transform the space into a self-sufficient production space that can support the local population and the preserve the culture and history through museum exhibitions. Clean water technology from the site can support plant growth and a marketplace can be used to sell output.
As part of an environmental remediation process, using new clean technologies and the recycling of water from the the Yangtze River is a great way of providing necessary nutrients for plant growth. The technology use can be part of the museum’s exhibitions, and the entire process can become a “best of case” model.
The main tower of the site could become the site of the exhibits. Enclosing the structure in a glass casing, creates a building with a building, and allows people to see the processes inside—from the outside—at the same time creating a beacon and an icon for Chongqing. Additionally, a traffic flow can start from the top of the building,using the the shaft as an entry, mimicking the process of steel production.