Chongqing’s new Industrial Museum bridges the Chinese city’s past and future

Chongqing’s new Industrial Museum bridges the Chinese city’s past and future

Emerging architecture practice WallaceLiu has completed its latest project, the Chongqing Industrial Museum, which comprises the transformation of an abandoned factory in China into a cultural landmark for the growing city

When the Chongqing Iron and Steel plant was inaugurated in the Chinese city in 1938, it represented an important highlight in both local pride and country-wide industrial strength (so much so, that it was visited and celebrated by Chairman Mao in the 1950s). However, as times changed and the city grew, the large scale site became defunct and abandoned, leaving a considerable chunk of town in neglect, as the complex, which originally was in the city’s outskirts, now slowly became a central part of town as Chongqing’s sprawl expanded in the 21st century. So, the city soon started looking into ideas to redevelop the site, while somehow maintaining its historical significance. 

Enter emerging architecture practice WallaceLiu, headed by Jee Liu and Jamie Wallace, who were based in China at the time and now have relocated to London. The firm were appointed to transform the important industrial site into a new 7,500 sq m museum that highlights the steelworks’ cultural, social and industrial history and is part of a larger redevelopment of the old factory campus. The project’s scale was considerable, but the young studio responded with flair by taking the plunge and researching the city’s heritage while exploring efficient ways to approach both materials and building techniques. 

‘By working with adaptive re-use our design is about rearranging and reframing what is there, and in the case of the museum, accentuating the visual and spatial experience to purposefully make it more dramatic and more complex,’ says Wallace. ‘Breaking down the exhibition journey into a series of spaces that travel through the existing structures and around the open public foundation hall invites visitors to explore and observe the existing features whilst completing their composed exhibition narrative.’

Chongqing Industrial Museum facade

The result is a striking complex where old parts have been maintained, lovingly restored and highlighted, yet sit comfortably and in harmony with new elements that bring the museum to the 21st century. The architects kept the scale and grandeur of the original structures, while clearing it from hazardous parts and polishing the interior to make it suitable for display purposes. 

The new structure creates a flowing indoors/outdoors relationship, while the new exhibition halls are lifted up and a trajectory is created through different halls and bridges across the site. A permeable, lightweight steel structure in carefully selected hues wraps around the building, uniting the whole. Inside, a central atrium hall, including cloakrooms, toilet facilities, bookshop and a projection room, becomes the heart of the visitor experience.

‘The materials and colours we chose, and the aesthetics of the large perforated metal curtains supported by tall truss-like structures, come from observations on site, and our intentional compositions with the ruin like post-industrial context,’ says Liu. ‘We wanted to create a dynamic composition, layered edges, and the possibility of wandering. This allows the existing features of the old factory to play a foreground.’ §

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