Repurposing buildings the way to go
Beijing has changed a lot, not only the hutong of hundreds of years dating back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties but also the grayish-black brick and mortar blocks of more recent memory. Gone are some of the industrial complexes built to host local production facilities during the early days of the People’s Republic of China.
The many industrial complexes located just outside of the Second Ring Road with their draconian, simplistic and sometimes grotesque looks hark back to the days before the reform and opening-up process. Just as those days are gone, the industrial complexes are disappearing or changing in a dramatic but not altogether bad way.
Early changes took place simply because the city needed more land for development. However, it is becoming more difficult to demolish huge constructions and reclaim land in Beijing nowadays.
Rather than erasing the industrial structures, repurposing them has proven to be more practical.
The 798 Art District represents one of most famous repurposed industrial complexes. The former production facilities have been repurposed to be used by some of the city’s pioneering artists as creative studios. The artistic charm attracts the city’s increasingly sophisticated and aesthetically evolving population. Now, the 798 Art District
is an iconic artistic destination that attracts many tourists. The transformation of the 798 Art District and similar projects close to the Central Business District is largely experimental and done on a case-by-case basis. The city is launching its first-ever overall policy to encourage the repurposing of old industrial complexes into cultural spaces in a more systematic way and drive urban space innovation. As announced in early April, just to show the seriousness of the repurposing drive, the city will identify remaining industrial complexes for overall assessment and planning.
A major innovative policy measure is the five-year transitional period that provides exemptions to allow certain types of repurposing to happen without turning repurposed land into commercial or residential development projects.
In a city burdened by a large population and constant traffic congestion, the city managers are walking a delicate line as they craft a desired renaissance of industrial land to avoid over development in an already crowded city space.
Therefore, throughout this process, balance must be the keyword. The envisaged transformation will provide innovative businesses with enough room while drawing a red line to deny any activities outside of the scope of the cultural space concept.
Keen observers will watch closely to see how “cultural space” is defined, designed, and implemented.
The 798 Art District is a success story, but this time, the city is aiming to scale up with citywide collaboration and coordination.
I understand that the whole process takes some time, but I, like other Beijing citizens, look to innovators to seize the policy opportunities and carry out the repurposing work soon and with a broad scope. After all, who doesn’t want to explore and discover more fun spots the city is yet to offer?