For the Shenzhen Hong Kong Urbanism and Architecture Biennale, Ole Bouman and his team transformed an abandoned glass factory into a spectacular new cultural hotspot.

The speed of progress is staggering in the heart of Shekou, Shenzhen, in the Pearl River Delta in southern China. Just 30 years ago Shenzhen was a provincial town of only 15,000 people. Today its population reaches nearly 12 million. The subway is only 10 years old and already has 5 lines and over 100 stations (underground, mind you), with another 200 planned in the next few years.

The industrial area of Shekou lies in the eastern part of the city, around the harbour. Endless lines of trucks carry stone, iron, glass and other freight to and from the rest of the Chinese mainland. But as the city grows rapidly, Shekou is undergoing a drastic transformation: out with heavy industry, and in with tech, culture, housing and leisure.

Curator Ole Bouman and his team have transformed an old abandoned glass factory into a new cultural hotspot for the 5th Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Urbanism/Architecture Biennale.  Reflecting on this year’s theme of ‘Urban Border’ Bouman chose not to put together a traditional biennale with national pavilions. After all, such flashy, over-designed structures usually end up in landfills anyway once the Biennale circus has left town. And, as is the nature of architecture biennales, these exhibitions tend to stay safely on side of theory, discussion and discourse.

Here, however, Bouman and co. managed to actually build something of value on the urban border. And they call it the Value Factory.

In just 10 months, a group of international architects redefined the old factory with its vast spaces and iconic chimney. The interventions were mostly modest and simple, but effective. For the most part it took a lot of cleaning. And by doing so, they created a series of spaces that are spectacular in their own right.

And for the biennale, Bouman invited a host of celebrated cultural institutions to fill the spaces with activities. Among the contributors are the Victoria & Albert Museum, MAXXI, OMA, Droog Design, International Architecture Biennale of São Paulo, MIT, MoMA New York, Berlage Center and several local Shenzhen organizations.

What’s more, the Value Factory now houses its very academy, which offers post-graduate courses, a research studio and an experimental farm.


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