Ironing moulds in all different shapes and sizes

16.01.11 | preparations – blog by ivar & alex

We were invited 6 months ago by Lucy Bullivant to take part in her thematic pavilion invited by the Chief Curators of the Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture 2015 (UABB). Her exhibition, ‘Remake – We make’, for the main venue, a converted flour factory at the Biennale site was to feature five young architectural firms from UK and Norway in the form of a film compilation made by director Paul McHale. These practices were: us (WSa), Assemble, Studio Weave + 00 Architecture & Carl Turner Architects. The question was whether it could be possible to create something further of a site-specific nature in the space that would emerge during the Biennale, on display until 28 February 2016.

Paul McHale’s film about each of these firms was put on show in the pavilion from the date of the opening of the Biennale on 5 December 2015. Alexander and Ivar from WSa expressed their interest to Lucy in participating in the exhibition through a design-build workshop, creating exhibits that could add to the display. This would use our collaborative design process to make something unique and of cultural value in the exhibition space. But as with many of our projects we needed a local partner. Lucy teamed us up with Xin Guo and Yan Gao, co-founders of dot Architecture. They also respectively teach at Shenzhen University and Hong Kong University in their Departments of Architecture.

In advance of the workshop, Alex, Xin, Ivar and Xiaoming, one of Xin’s students, spent months trying to identify local partners within an urban village of Shenzhen called Baishizhou. Many of these urban villages are dense conglomerates of different people from all over china. Slightly more informal than the more recently developed parts of the city, many of these areas are rich with different activities and cultures. Several of these areas in China are experiencing gentrification, as the urban villages are often considered dangerous and illegal, but mostly because they are located quite centrally and have a high land value. Baishizhou is now pending for demolition, and a new tower will be built within its footprint. This urban situation is typical in the context of the rapid urbanization of Shenzhen, and we became interested to learn more.

Living quarters of Baishizhou industrial area

We had no budget, so for at least a month Xin, Xiaoming and Dongming an (employee at dotA) looked for leftover materials within the urban villages that we could use in our exhibition. The aim was to tell the story of the urban village through these materials. One of the most interesting elements they found was the leftover tread cones used by the knitting factories. Xiaoming found out that we could get loads of them from the many knitting factories located within the industrial area of Baishizhou. The larger factories within the area had already relocated to Philippines and Vietnam, partly due to cheaper labour prices within these countries, but also because their facilities were set to be demolished this year. Other smaller factories within the area still hope to be able to stay for another 3 years, but the future is uncertain. One particular factory, by the name of M&L, proved to be extremely welcoming and generous. The factory is run by two managers, Mr Zhou and Ms Liu, both former factory workers themselves. During a meeting in early December, Xin, Alex and Xiaoming agreed that there might be a larger potential within these factories than just simply buying their empty cones.

The ladies at work, currently connecting arms to the torso of grey cotton sweaters

At the same time as we were looking for cheap and reusable materials, Ivar had been working extremely hard to find funds. Finally Ivar was able to raise funds from the Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture (DOGA) amongst others, due to their interest in the project. These funds allowed Alex and myself to come over, and now we have been here for two days already.

Today we went back to the factory to ask whether we could look at making a closer collaboration for the duration of the workshop. Although the managers Zhou and Liu had only previously agreed to support us with empty cones, today they confirmed that they would be our partners in this exhibition and, together with dotA, we would make something together.