Columbia Circle

OMA as Architects

Located along Yan’an West Road, Shanghai’s main East-West artery, Columbia Circle is a historically important site, including preserved colonial monuments and former industrial buildings. Originally the social hub for Shanghai’s American community, the once rural complex is now concealed behind a perimeter of tall modern buildings.

The Columbia Country Club, from which the project derives its name, was built in the 1920s during Shanghai’s grand epoch. The club’s original buildings were designed in 1924 by American architect Elliott Hazzard for the American elite society and includes the former clubhouse, a gym and an outdoor pool.

Another historical building on the site is a villa designed by Hungarian architect László Hudec in 1930, previously owned by Sun Ke, the son of Sun Yat-sen. In 1952 the Shanghai Institute of Biological Products took over the site and the original buildings, and gradually developed a research campus with production facilities, offices, warehouses and laboratories. Due to the nature of the Institute and its disconnection from the surrounding urban development, the compound was developed in a vacuum.

Since SIOBP has ceased its activities, the site lay idle, waiting to be rediscovered. When the potential of the historical site was recognized, it triggered a range of proposals for redeveloping the site into a lively public area with commercial and cultural spaces, restaurants and offices for creative business.

The buildings that occupy the site display a cross-section of twentieth century Shanghai. Its architectural legacy consists of the three prewar monuments in Spanish Colonial Revival Style. In addition to the three monuments, the compound contains nearly 40 other structures, all built between the 1950’s until after 2000. Although architecturally not exceptional in quality, the former SIOBP buildings and facilities provide examples of a variety of styles, that together form a meaningful collection.

Preservation does not limit itself to the officially acknowledged monuments, but can also respect other architectural layers developed over time. OMA’s renewal strategy combines the careful transformation of both the monuments and the industrial buildings with the introduction of three new buildings. The new buildings extend the repertoire of spaces and offer programmatic possibilities not available in the existing buildings. For each industrial building, we propose a specific program and architectural transformation, sometimes adding, sometimes removing volumes. Where possible we maintain the raw existing facades, and where needed propose new openings and renewed façade finishes. The transformations introduce a limited number of new materials to the site, modern but complementary to those existing.

The combination of colonial monuments, industrial buildings and new modern buildings results in a rich collection of spatial typologies. The mix of commercial and cultural activities, restaurants and creative business combined with alluring public spaces will attract a broad public. After half a century of inaccessibility, Columbia Circle has the potential to become a prominent public space in Shanghai again.

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