Excerpt: Renovation of Shenyang Dongmaoku Warehouses led to development of public spaces designed by the architectural firm URBANUS. Due to the history of formulating the current heritage conservation codes is oriented more toward preservation rather than utilization. Such an orientation would limit the creative and effective reuse of the current buildings. Therefore, the Dongmaoku project provides not only the architects but also the heritage preservation researchers an opportunity to make a change. In terms of architecture, the 30-meter-wide pediment of the warehouse is extracted as the basic motif. The morphology of this motif generates different massings to fit into different programs. This is a proper way to achieve unity between the new and the old in building massing.
[Text as submitted by Architect] Dongmaoku, a former warehouse campus in Shenyang, is the first-generation warehouse park of the PRC, which has been in use since 1951. With over 30 individual warehouses, Dongmaoku has significant value for studying the logistics building typology in modern China. Although Dongmaoku was listed as a ‘valuable historical building in Shenyang’ in 2019, it became a real estate development project in 2020.
After the Spring Festival of 2020, the government decided to preserve 7 warehouses in Dongmaoku. URBANUS was invited to give a master plan for the non-housing part of this project. With the completion of the first phase of the Dongmaoku renovation, a new energetic scenario has shown in the community. This achievement confirms the importance of five critical paths within a concise decision-making period during the design process.
Critical Path I: Amplify Historical Heritage by Integrating all Resources
Began after the spring festival in 2020, the Dongmaoku project has suffered a problematic initial stage under the difficult pandemic situation. The design team could only get information through photos. Under this condition, the first schematic version of the exhibition center didn’t include the warehouse. After the lockdown lifted, following a quick field trip, the design team was shocked by three impressions of Dongmaoku.
Impression 1: the sense of the whole — the power of the integrity.
Impression 2: the sense of the volume — the power of the 30m by 90m building scale.
Impression 3: the sense of the interior — the power of the natural light from clerestory windows.
After the field trip, the existing warehouses are reconsidered to house new public functions. Since this proposal is the reuse of the existing buildings and could save a lot of paperwork and construction time, the client finally agreed to make this change. Based on this plan, other surrounding public spaces could be seen as the context of the historical buildings. Due to the limited number of preserved warehouses, it makes less sense to only zoom into the single value of each building. Our choice is to go evolution and look into the real value.
Thus, the core of the design shifted from the individual exhibition center to a larger-scale urban renewal program. This could not have been achieved without the support of the client, who initially did not intend to commission all designs to a singular firm.
In terms of architecture, the 30-meter-wide pediment of the warehouse is extracted as the basic motif. The morphology of this motif generates different massings to fit into different programs. This is a proper way to achieve unity between the new and the old in building massing.
At the urban design level, it’s essential to reshape the old linear industrial pattern to the new netlike one to fulfill the residential community’s needs. Making the #2 and #4 warehouses as the backdrops, two parks with their characteristics are planned on both south and north side.
Critical Path II: the Procedural Justice of the Conservation of Historical Buildings
Due to the history of formulating the current heritage conservation codes is oriented more toward preservation rather than utilization. Such an orientation would limit the creative and effective reuse of the current buildings. Therefore, the Dongmaoku project provides not only the architects but also the heritage preservation researchers an opportunity to make a change. We share a parallel study timeline with the heritage conservation guideline team led by the processor Chen Bochao from Shenyang Jianzhu University. With a common window period, the architects and the researcher could share the information and map the re-utilization design inside the frame of the new version codes.
Critical Path III: the Rebirth of the Existing Wooden Structure
One of the main technical difficulties for the renovation is the dilemma between reusing the existing timber structure and the current codes. The Soviet experts originally designed the wood truss system in #2 and #4 warehouses with impressive structural beauty. However, suppose this warehouse will be transformed into a public gathering space. In that case, this wood system no longer meets the structural codes. If replaced with more significant elements, the outlook of the structure would be different. After a concerted effort from the architect and structural engineer, the solution is to implant new steel trusses with similar shapes into the existed wood system. The wood elements are all unloaded and do not bear the roof weight anymore. Thus, the wooden trusses become pure decorative elements rather than structural components, making sense of the structure codes.
Critical Path IV: Greenhouse for Community making
The first phase of the renovation project includes the #2 and #4 warehouses, composed of three 30m*30m units. The architect could only do little change due to the heritage preservation guideline. The skylight is a good solution for daylighting and ventilation for the building with a large depth and small window opening. So, why not make it into a greenhouse garden? Thus, a new typology appears: both warehouses have a spatial sequence with a garden at the beginning. This welcoming green scene would be a good gift for visitors in cold northern regions.
#2 Warehouse is renovated into a community library. In an era of online reading, the only way to rescue physical reading is to create an attractive physical atmosphere. The existing space provides a sacred aura for a reading hall. The greenhouse introduces the garden model into the conventional library typology.
#4 Warehouse is renovated into a sales office. The entrance is named ‘the garden of Eden,’ a chatting area surrounded by tropical plants and water features. However, this space is not reached immediately, as one has to go through a gallery exhibiting the Dongmaoku history into the heart of the central hall and then relax in this space.
Critical Path V: the Spatial Justice of the Urban Renewal
Two renovated warehouses are linked together and are turned into a community center. The joint massing continues the geometry abstract of the old roof frame system. It defines a romantic entrance like a wedding hall, which sets off the rustic old warehouses.
As an urban manifesto, the ‘spatial justice’ fights for equal rights for less-powered groups to use urban public space. Narrowly speaking, spatial justice is trying to overcome the discrimination between dwellers in the same residential areas. We take advantage of a high-end development to benefit local residents. By altering this industrial heritage into an urban public resource, different social groups could find their identification here: nostalgia for the elderly, fashion for the youth, friendly for the low-income, appropriate for the high class, etc. This development could be an opportunity to use the new cultural landscape to alleviate social differences to achieve an ‘imaginary community.’
Launched during a severe pandemic period with no access to the site and completed within an intensive time frame, the Dongmaoku project forces us to go back to the fundamental logic and work under the guideline of current heritage preservation codes straightforwardly. This requires logical reasoning to achieve the objectives by identifying the essential critical paths.
Now, the rest parts of the Dongmaoku rehabilitation is still undergoing. Two renovated warehouses have helped to strengthen the public confidence in the project. The old wooden trusses demolished from other warehouses would be placed on the rooftop of the new primary school. As an example of the systematic recycling of ancient history, this design gesture is one of the witnesses of the rebirth of Dongmaoku.