Reuse of a bubble
Reuse of a bubble
20. June 2016
Text by Eduard Kögel
The city of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, is located about 700 kilometres south of Beijing. The municipal urban area expended dramatically in recent years, and today has a population of more than eight million.
In 2003, the city commissioned Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa to prepare the master plan based on his Metabolism ideas for the Zhengdong New Town of 1.5 million inhabitants. To the southeast, halfway between the New Town and a new railway station, the city also built a new business centre, adjacent to a canal– but separated from it by a huge four-lane road. Completed ten years ago in the context of rapid development and real estate speculation, the business centre comprising three strange drum-like buildings was subsequently never occupied. On one side, three to four storey buildings and green open space surround, on the other side the new city fabric continues with more offices and housing compounds.
The architects of Crossboundaries received the commission to reoccupy one of the drum-like business buildings with a program for children’s education and play; the Soyoo Joyful Growth Centre. The client, dedicated to new approaches in pedagogy, asked for an innovative approach and together they developed a strategy for space allocation, building infrastructure and the overall image, for the rather humble shell of the existing building. The education program is based on role-playing, and on children being free to explore their own approach to the world. The spatial solution for Soyoo resonates with international advisor Sir Ken Robinson’s philosophy on education. That it should be personalized, and that children should be exposed to an environment where they appreciate learning and discover passions.
A percentage of the building's original facade was required by the municipality to remain visible so as to preserve affinity to the two other two buildings in the immediate neighbourhood. However, the original cladding of stone and aluminium did not reflect the building's new function as a children centre. Thus, to appropriately present the new function and to diminish the business character of the existing shell, the architects used a double layer of lightweight ropes, spanned diagonally, changing colour with distance from the solid façade. The strong colour palette used for these ropes is also used inside for new tubes that bridge across the open lobby and for diverse built-in components.
A large public space in front of the building opens up to the road intersection, easily accessible from all sides of the site. Benches and planting provide a pleasant environment beyond the building. This plaza is not only intended as a place for children to play, but also for the city dwellers to relax and gather. Its intriguing educational program and public space attracts a flow of people and businesses, with neighbouring retail spaces opening soon after construction began. As a whole, the building creates coherence and connections within the community, adding vitality to a long disengaged residential neighbourhood.
International media dubbed the urban development in Zhengzhou as the largest “ghost district” in China. But it is also true that the fast speculative urban development built in Chinese cities sometimes only needs some further adjustment for it to be inhabited. With a sensitive adaptive-approach, the reuse of a given situation can add urban complexity to an otherwise dull setting. In the case of the Soyoo Joyful Growth Centre, Crossboundaries architects implemented an attractive new program that radiates positive energy into its surroundings and activates urban life beyond the perimeter of the building.