Obsolescence and Pathways to Redevelopment: The Shekou Industrial District in Shenzhen, China

A striking aspect of China’s recent modernization and urbanization has been a relatively high rate of obsolescence, variously pegged at around 30 years for many built structures. Consequently, as China moves forward, redevelopment and renewal will become an increasingly large part of its developmental agenda. As one of the earliest excursions into modern industrial and urban development since China’s historic opening up in 1978, the Shekou Industrial District in Shenzhen, dating from 1979, now confronts areas of moribund and obsolete development at the same time that it is part of the newly developing economic zone of Qinhai. The issue to be confronted in the studio is how should the industrial district comport itself and be reconfigured to best leverage the obsolescence of the plant and other facilities and ongoing new development. To date, when considering redevelopment, those in China have pursued several strategies, including: outright conservation and re-use, demolition with or without selective renewal, deployment of so-called ‘creative districts’, retrofitting for re-use, and new building but re-interpreted according to some version of past practice. More specifically, the study area comprises much of the Shekou District of Shenzhen and is located on the western end of the east-west alignment of the city’s development, roughly parallel to the border with Hong Kong. Development there was initially on approximately 11 square kilometers of land. Over time, this area expanded, largely through land reclamation to a size of about 25 square kilometers or more. Today, Shekou houses a population of some 300,000 inhabitants, but in the studio study area is also made up of extensive corporate and industrial land holdings of varying vintage and degrees of obsolescence, including a large glass factory, now being partially re-used as an exhibition space. In scope, the studio will include overall planning proposals for all or part of the study area, more specific urban design proposals for particular redevelopment opportunities within the area, and urban-architectural proposals for specific building scale projects, including incorporation of the re-use of older, disused facilities. A field trip to Shenzhen is tentatively planned for the fifth week of term (nominally Feb 22 to Mar 1, 2014).