Old steel mill renewed

By Zhang Qian
Updated: 2007-07-31 11:48

Redtown is known for its red-brick Shanghai Sculpture Space, big exhibitions and events, but it is getting livelier with new artists' and designers' studios, restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs.


The Shanghai No. 10 Steel Factory was once the industrial pride of the city, and now its red-brick No. 7 workshop is the Redtown cultural center, a magnet for those interested in art, entertainment, dining, clubbing or a cup of tea.


Redtown is known for its permanent Sculpture Space, which opened in November 2005. And numerous art and fashion exhibitions and celebrations, and it is getting livelier, more personal and welcoming. It's not just a place for big events, but it's getting to be a creative hub in the former French Concession area.


Shanghai has around 70 such creative spaces, most in old industrial areas, but Redtown is one of the largest and the best designed.


"Culture is important to a city, and its industrial legacy is also part of the culture," says Zheng Peiguang, CEO of Redtown Culture Development Co, the man who saved and developed Redtown. He has been devoted to protecting historical buildings since 2000.


"My goal is to build an international culture community, not simply a sculpture space," says Zheng, "and this community should be characterized as cultural and open, not only cherished by artists, but also appreciated by common people."


Zheng has rented other factory buildings nearby to complete his dream community, Redtown. Now more than 45 companies have rented space, including bars, tea houses, restaurants, design and artistic/creation offices.


"All the design and creation groups here are the best in their fields, says Zheng. "I want to help them to succeed. I even offer zero-rent initially to struggling companies with potential."


One of those talented newcomers is designer Yang Mingjie, who undertakes projects for Zheng and Redtown in exchange for space.


"This was the romantic French Concession area in the early 20th century, the energetic steel works in mid-20th century, and now it is the fashionable modern art center," says Yang. "The streets haven't changed much, but dwellers changed greatly. Sometimes I can't help imaging the steel workers doing their jobs energetically just where I sit."


Other design studios include Leissie Design Studio from Italy, Da She Architecture, which was honored for best building by the American magazine Business Week, and Jamy Yang Associates Design, which cooperated with Siemens, and Shanghai Expo in products design.


Restaurants include BECA that serves French cuisine; tea houses include Jing Ran Xuan Tea House; bars include the Swiss-run Fan Town bar.


The two nightclubs are CICI Club, spinning house, hip-hop, breaks, chill out, and lounge, and Children's Club.


Redtown goes back to 1956, founding of the Shanghai No. 10 Steel Factory, which produced 400,000 tons of cold- and hot-rolled steel strips annually. But in 1989 the city ordered factories to move out of the downtown so that the area could be modernized and developed more fashionably.


Converting unused factories into creative space is not unusual. Take a look at Soho in New York, the South Bank of the Thames in London, Grange Island in Vancouver. All of them used to be industrial areas, now they are art centers, like Redtown, which is just beginning.


Zheng was concerned about the old steel works and other buildings years ago, but the policies and regulations at the time made it impossible for him to develop them. He watched as many buildings were pulled down and replaced by construction materials markets, then a garbage dump.


"I was startled when I saw the private museums and creative communities in Melbourne and Sydney in 2005, they were so beautiful," says Zheng. "I told myself I have to go back and do something with the Shanghai No. 10 Steel Factory."


Zheng revisited the steel mill when he returned but was again shocked to see that only the No. 7 workshop remained. There was only a huge garbage dump in the front.


Yet again, Zheng was not allowed to rent the workshop as he was told that the government already had plans for the structure.


"How did I finally get the building?" asks Zheng. "I think it was fate that brought us together."


Two days after Zheng was rejected, he met an official of the Bureau of Urban Planning of Changning District. He asked Zheng whether he was interested in building a sculpture center - exactly on the site of the No. 7 workshop of the Shanghai No. 10 Steel Factory.


"You can imagine how I felt at that moment," says Zheng. "Though there were already seven companies bidding for the project, I applied for it, too. I was confident about myself and my group. I was sure I would get it."


After six months' evaluation and revision, Zheng's plan was selected. It only took four months to complete the project.


Shanghai Sculpture Space opened on November 11, 2005, with the "Sculpture of a Century" Exhibition, which was widely praised.


Address: 570 Huaihai Xilu


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