Rust belt in Shanghai converted into art district
Artists and academicians visit the abandoned steel mill which is to be home to an art school. Photo:
The Artistic Metamorphosis of a Steel City, an international forum on the transformation of abandoned industrial areas into sites for arts and creative industries, was recently held in Shanghai's Baoshan district, known to be home to Baosteel Group's original factory, reported, a Shanghai-based news portal.

Artists and academicians from China's top art schools, including Tsinghua University's Academy of Arts & Design, Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Tongji University, China Academy of Art and Power Station of Art, got together with their international counterparts from Europe, Asia, and South America to explore various topics ranging from renaissance of industrial legacy, and opportunities brought by overcapacity to urban esthetics.

In Shanghai's 2035 city plan, the now abandoned industrial site by Baosteel in an area of 26 square kilometers in Wusong, a subdistrict of Baoshan, will be upgraded into the cosmopolitan city's sub-center. The original steel mill covering an area of 3.25 square kilometers will house the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts by 2020 with all the obsolete factory area's landmark facilities and venues like workshops, blast furnace, gasometer and cold rolling mill being renovated into gallery, concert hall, hotel, offices, and leisure space.

Stephen Hughes, the secretary general of TICCIH, an international organization for industrial heritage, told that the project of reusing industrial heritage is ambitious. “The simplest way to recycle an industrial architecture is to push over all its internal structures and installations and then rebuild them all. But this will not be the case for the Wusong International Art City. It's a good idea to transform the factories into a fine arts school,” he said.

The factory area in Wusong was first built in 1938 on the site of former Shanghai No.1 Iron and Steel Group, the precursor of Baosteel. In 2017, in a bid to develop Wusong of Baoshan district into a center for hi-tech and creative industries, Baosteel moved away from its home of over eight decades.

The economic restructuring and urbanization drive in China has made many industrial sites in urban China obsolete, and the government has been calling to reserve industrial areas of historical and cultural significance. In the background, the concept “industrial heritage” has gained popularity while initiatives for the material heritage to be transformed into some venues of creative, artistic and hi-tech value have burgeoned all across the country.

Beijing, in fact, spearheaded the efforts to transform former factories into artsy spaces in the 1990s by converting a military factory complex into today's most well-known 798 Art District. The successful case of 798 has long set a good model for abandoned industrial installations across the country which is now trying hard to curb overcapacity.

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