Harbin Gallery District is anchored in the dynamics of the future of the Harbin’s city in the north- east of China. One of the main features of this proposal is the preservation of 80% of the original site. Indeed, the project does not seek to remove or add elements that would risk destroying the industrial character of the site. The approach seeks to build on the existing to develop, amplify and give it astandingin the urban matrix of Harbin: towards a new metropolitan momentum.
The singularity of the site results mainly in its industrial fabric, which invites on visitors to take advantage of a precious relationship of scales in the progressive verticalization of the city. The project seeks to work in a way that disseminates its concept through the urban fabric by distributing proposals related to tourism, ecology and alternative mobility. The Harbin Gallery District becomes a place of encounter, exchange and cultural mixing by forging links with the city’s tourist network. This new interface is overseen, guided by the Hub, the site’s centre of gravity. This metropolitan polarity and its architecture reflect a desire for the site to have visibility and interconnection at the scale of the city. The Hub gathers metropolitan transport (train, cable car, automobile) and then includes some of the most appropriate means of mobility for tourism (pedestrian, bicycle, shuttle). Through the galleries, we pass through between the seasons, as the proposal does not separate winter from summer but seeks to join them together in order to exploit their potential and qualities.
The gallery is a medium that integrates and becomes an emitter of the tourism system. From one gallery to another, the range of possibilities varies. From orthogonality to the curve, the journey is different, some junctions take us into a different tourist universe. The size varies according to the role the gallery has within the site. Lines, curves or straight movements indicate traffic patterns, and areas defined by large open green spaces for playgrounds. The galleries can be intertwined, superimposed, generate crossings that invite the walker to branch off from one use to another. The gallery can be adapted to suit your needs, desires, programs, a multitude of typologies and variations are possible. The gallery can become thicker, accommodate the program. The gallery is a rhythm, passing over, under, inside, from summer to winter, between opening and closing, one passes from one point to another. Porosities can structure it, events can temporarily inhabit these voids to breathe new life into the tourist site. Through the gallery, you can walk outside the site from the inside. The inside and outside are no longer locked. The gallery offers a new alternative, an intermediate level, a new state. The galleries structure the project, design the public space, accompany between landslides and elevations to connect the tourist polarities.
The ambition of this proposal is to capture and extend the character of this place, a witness to the transition from the industrial era to today’s metropolis. The project seeks flexible urban regeneration, seeks to reinvest as much as possible into what remains of the past, but in order to be part of the ecological and tourist dynamics of the Harbin of tomorrow. As industrial heritage is precious, the project seeks to respect it and adapt it to the contemporary needs of Harbin and its people. Harbin Gallery District aims to develop the imaginary of the metropolis by drawing on the uniqueness of this city. From then on, it becomes possible to live a plural experience that takes advantage of the remarkable seasons, events, festivals and activities that punctuate this new centrality.
What prompted the project?
First of all, the project was motivated by a common desire to be anchored in a politico-economic reality. Indeed, the essence of the thought takes root in the geographical context of the Harbin’s city, its climate, its post-industrial situation, its fabric and its various challenges. It was necessary to understand and grasp the complexity and richness of a metropolitan matrix that was unknown to us. A research work by drawing was necessary to understand the city, by mapping, by looking for quantitative data, we looked for ways to represent them visually. This preliminary study allowed us to integrate the project into heritage and preservation themes while integrating a general ambition of sustainability and reversibility.
What are the questions raised by the project and what are the proposed answers?
In the short time available to us to carry out our proposal, we had to commit ourselves, discover and capture as much information as possible in order to foresee a relevant, adequate and sensible forward-looking vision. This former industrial site raised the question of how to understand the history of the place, what dialogue to establish, what visibility to give it? One of the main features of this proposal is the preservation of 80% of the original site. Indeed, the project doesn’t aim to remove or add elements that could dilute or blur its industrial character. Our approach seeks to build on the existing to develop, amplify and give it an important place in the urban structure of Harbin: towards a new metropolitan momentum.
In addition, it was necessary to identify strong lines of thinking in order to integrate the proposal into a rigorous logic of large-scale to the nearest scale. The project seeks to spread its philosophy throughout the urban fabric by working on a cohesion between creative tourism, ecology and alternative mobility. How to establish a relevant general coherence with these different issues? Some specific elements make it possible to describe the ambition of the project, to describe the general vision. We have conceived the Harbin Gallery District as a place of encounter, exchange and cultural mixing, a polarity that forges links with the city’s cultural network.
What is the final ambition of the gallery, an architectural element characteristic of your proposal?
The gallery is a medium that integrates and becomes an emitter of the creative tourism system set up. From one gallery to another, the range of possibilities varies. From orthogonality to the curve, the journey is different, some junctions take us into a different tourist universe. The size varies according to the role the gallery has within the site. The lines, the surfaces indicate the traffic, the uses. The galleries can be intertwined, superimposed, generate crossings that invite the walker to branch off from one use to another. The gallery can be adapted to be compatible the needs, desires, programs, a multitude of typologies and variations are possible. It can therefore thicken, become a rhythm. We can pass over, under, inside, from summer to winter, between opening and closing, we pass from one point to another. Porosities can structure it, events can temporarily inhabit these voids to breathe new life into the tourist site. Thus, the site can be surveyed from the outside by the inside. The inside and outside are no longer locked. The gallery offers a new alternative, an intermediate level, a new state. The galleries structure the project, design the public space, accompany between shifts of meanings and human flows to connect programmatic polarities.
How would you define the term « preservation »?
To preserve is to reveal a temporality, an era, a moment of history. To preserve is to highlight the existing potentialities, the meaning of a given place, what it reflects. When we try to preserve, we don’t run out of steam with superfluous details, quite the contrary. We are looking for the sketch, the skeleton, which originally animates the genius loci. Protecting also means watching over the link, the fidelity to protect what makes the place vibrate. The site draws on its matters, know-how, typologies and forms of material transformation. How can we revive these architectures and give them a new lease of life without impair them?
What informed your approach to preserving 80% of the site?
The main ambition of this proposal is to capture and extend the character of this place, which witnessed the transition from the industrial era to the current metropolis. When we discovered the site, we were able to discover its beautiful patinated bricks from the 1950s. We immediately understood that everything was already there, that our search was going to be to revive what had run out of breath. The project aims at flexible urban regeneration, seeking to reinvest as much as possible in what remains of the past, but to be part of the ecological and tourist dynamics of the Harbin of tomorrow. As the industrial heritage is precious, the project seeks to respect it and adapt it to the contemporary needs of Harbin and its inhabitants. Harbin Gallery District seeks to develop the city’s imaginary by building on its unique character. From then on, it becomes possible to live a plural experience that takes advantage of the remarkable seasons, events, festivals and activities that punctuate this new centrality.
Taking advantage of an industrial heritage that is still very present on the site and its surroundings, the Harbin Gallery District seeks to reveal this heritage and affirm it as a precious heritage of the passing of time. This railway city is full of signs, traces and it’s a whole industrial vocabulary that can be picked up. The Harbin Gallery District asserts a general aesthetic. The project seeks to invest the old industrial structures, spans, structural systems, … The industrial fabric being made of corners, nooks, it’s a particular geometry which is offered to us to incorporate new uses.
What informed the choice of Harbin as site for the project?
The particularity of this competition is that it was set up by the Urban Planning Society of China (UPSC) and the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST). This competition was opened for the first time internationally with the aim of discovering different forms of ideas and proposals in a context of cultural, tourist and innovative development of the city. The site was therefore imposed on us, we were able to go there to discover it. During three days, we had the opportunity to visit the project site, but also and above all, to understand the large territory in which it’s located.
How did you approach the on-site research? What tools did you use?
First of all, we had only 3 or 4 hours to discover and visit the site. Thus, we can say that it was very short and relatively intense. How can 22 hectares be apprehended in such a short time? Words have helped us a lot in order to prolong our intuitions, to extend our thoughts. Writing lists of words allows us to define fleeting feelings that we try to keep in mind throughout the maturation of the project. The jumble, the bazaar of ideas is expressed in many small details that we try to mark quickly to avoid a loss of memory and therefore of meaning. The eye must grasp quickly, tracing isn’t precise but the strength of the intentions already emanates from the first feelings. The idea is to capture, sometimes unconsciously and then formalize the guidelines that will animate the thought process.
What informed the various mediums through which you explore and reveal the project?
The mediums to explore are different from those to reveal. To explore, we use very personal means that are designed to talk to both of us, to bring out ideas fairly quickly. A map, stabilos, pencil strokes, color codes appear, sheets of tracing paper are ripped off. We are trying to find logics, entry points, structuring elements. We finally try to exhaust the solutions to find the most appropriate answers to our intuitions, the context and what we are trying to put in place. It is as a result of all this that that mediums will come to reveal the project, to illustrate and affirm intentions, wealth and atmospheres. The illustrations are of course a communication tool that allows you to translate precise and sought-after atmospheres. In our opinion, the sections can also speak to the general public, they can become more playful while keeping their hierarchy, their thickness and revealing their richness, spatialities and interactions.
What role does text hold in your approach?
The text has a major role in the writing of the project. From the description to the scenario and the narrative, sometimes bordering on the fantastic, we use up all the vocabulary inspired by the place, the material for the project. We like the idea that words have the power and ambition to take space to express itself in a different way. Words are a unique medium to try to describe an experience, a feeling, sometimes the undefinable. Narrowing space offers the possibility to understand it differently, to give it body, meaning, to lead the reader to dialogue between reason and poetic imagination. From then on, the simple weight of words derives from the evocative power of a place. The poem offers a helping hand towards the polysemy that city moments can have. The words, their rhythm, their structure, inspire us to make space become a chimeric expression, an invitation to grasp the resonances of reality.
How did you choose to frame the final perspectives?
Perspective drawings is a communication tool that makes it possible to tell in an understandable, immediate way. An illustration must allow as many people as possible to project themselves, invest themselves and immerse themselves in a sought-after mood. Beyond the aesthetics of the document, the drawing must speak, evoke, be credible to consider the proposal. Within the framework of the competition, the drawings helped us to support certain fundamental points of the proposal: the challenge of the reversibility of the seasons between summer and winter, proposing uses, the ecological amplitude or the cultural dimension that intrudes into the heart of the old industrial structures.
What were the main aspects of the project you wanted to convey with each?
The general ambition of the perspectives was first of all to tell the spirit of the place with a certain fidelity. Therefore, dyptics have been proposed to show the passage of the seasons on the habitability of the site. The gallery appears as a common thread, a binding, a conductive element that spreads, connects and brings together users and buildings. The tonalities come together to express a general atmosphere, an enthusiasm for the way the place is lived.
How important is the image for the architectural project?
In our opinion, the purpose of the image is to tell the story of intentions, to offer a general vision, but also sometimes to give importance to detail. Through the image, we can translate our sensitivities, incorporate our convictions. The image is a major medium not to be neglected. However, it must seek out the plausible, the credible in order to embark people in a projection. The successful image opens up the imagination, calls for constructed reality. We are very admiring of some perspectivists as Troy Hodgson aka Darcstudio or Anna Pizova. These perspectivists create an oneiric tension that meets physical reality. There is a certain elusive character that makes you want to marvel at the beauty of the elements that make up the space. There is something almost mystical that arouses curiosity, attracts the eye and makes you want to take a closer look. We don’t promise to succeed in transcribing this aspect, but we like to work in this perspective, to reinforce contrasts, to release volumes, the material, the light, the primary elements essential to the project can be affirmed and to tell the ambition of the project.
What is for you the most the architects most important tool?
It’s most likely the look that matters most. The architect’s gaze, if benevolent and eager for novelties, will be able to grasp the elements that will form the subjectivity of each thought. The architect has theoretical knowledge, the eye allows us to develop these knowledge, cultivate our sensibilities, extend our intuitions that guide us towards an aesthetics, a sense of detail which is singular. We also believe that reading, whether very theoretical or more free, is very important in order to enrich one’s spatial vocabulary but also to develop one’s reasoning. A monograph allows us to immerse ourselves in the projectual universe of an agency, a novel immerses us in a spatiotemporal framework and an imaginary setting, … Any reading makes our imaginations work, allows us to maintain this mental image so important at the moment of the project’s exercise.