Water Tower Pavillon (Renovation)

Water Tower Pavillon (Renovation)

Shen Yang, China
Project Year

Chen Su; © META-Project

Water Tower Pavillon (Renovation)

Meta-Project as Architects

META-Project, a Beijing based research-design studio has recently completed a renovation for VANKE in Shenyang, China that infused new life into the dilapidated water tower in an exquisite manner.

This water tower is located in the campus of a run down military factory, formerly known as the People's Liberation Army No.1102 Factory, founded in 1959 during the Great Leap Forward. Formerly one of the most important heavy industrial production bases of China, the Tiexi District in Shenyang is now full of miscellaneous industrial relics from that time period. Water towers scattered around the city have become unique symbols of the history of industrialization in this area and the visual anchor points in the ever-shifting reality of this region. The transformation around this particular water tower began starting in 2010. VANKE, China acquired the campus of this military factory, converting it into what is called the Blue Mountains residential complex project. Along with the decisive construction of the surrounding cities, the water tower has remained well preserved – functioning partially as a reminder of the fragmented memory of the history of industrialization, as well as serving as a projection of unexpected public use in the future.

The water tower, which is re-interpreted as a type of “Public Folly”, has provided deliberate clues. For META-Project, a “Folly” is a highly ambiguous built object that either suggests by its appearance some other purpose or is so eccentric that it transcends the common usage to which it belongs. The definition of such a folly only makes sense in the precise positioning within its physical and historical context. The water tower is situated in such context: spatially - it is situated on the edge in-between the inherited industrial fabric and an upcoming residential complex development; temporally - it is sitting on the dividing line which separates where Tiexi has deviated from the industrial past and where it is accelerating towards an alternative future. Setting off from the precise positioning within this context, META-Project started to unfold the concept of the renovation along this space time continuum as opposed to taking it as an isolated event. The renovated water tower pavilion, or the “Public Folly”, on the outside forms an artistic intervention in the urban landscape, and on the inside it offers a space for public activities for the surrounding communities. Even transcending mundane usage, it functions almost as an adaptive device, able to re-create linkages from two removed sides – like a transmission, or a hinge…

The cautions with which specific renovation measurements are made demonstrate circumspection. They are positioned thoughtfully with the intent of embedding a new reality in a historical sample. It is not one that can be easily dismissed as conservative, nor a jubilant welcoming of the new global reality. The tower is specifically adapted to a local context, yet without turning into a pure replica of that context. On one hand, we want to keep the original water tower intact, only allowing necessary structural reinforcement and minor treatment on the existing window openings; on the other hand, the new installation – quite an exquisite device – was inserted into the interior tunnel of the tower. Two end-to-end funnels form the main part of the installation. While the smaller funnel on the top reflecting daylight into the lower parts of the tower, the bigger one shapes the space in the middle, giving it a seemingly endless depth, and is linked to many camera-lens-like window frames, which grow out of the tower body from every possible opening. On the bottom of the tower, theater steps are made to link the entrance and the view platform, which functions as a “mini-theater” providing space for activities or projection for the local public.

As an experiment on using historic renovation to engage community building, the water tower pavilion has received wide spread attention from the public and residences. In May 2014, the first mini-exhibition was opened inside the pavilion, as an extension of the spatial usage, as well as showcasing to the visitors the significance of such a small project. The water tower can now house a number of events, including meeting/movie/performance, and even adding a mini coffee-bar is under discussion to serve for the public. Through the experiment of the water tower renovation, META-Project hopes to invite more people to engage and rethink the co-existence of history and reality.

While memory is the ineffaceable attribute of a place, like the palimpsest, the original text scraped off will not completely disappear in the overall comprehension of the city. This will also lend to a re-interpretation of the other dozens of preserved water towers scattered around the industrial city of Shenyang. Every night, as the heavy water tower gradually fades into darkness, the bright light boxes will become distinct signals floating in the air symbolizing a quest to seek out the hidden corner of the history and archetypes of architecture. From there, the water tower digests the opposition of history and reality into a completely neutral space – it becomes a simple sensory device of the external world, an ear, or a viewfinder...

Project Credits
National Maritime Museum
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National Maritime Museum

Tianjin, China - Build completed in 2019
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