Shanghai's creative & design hubs

Posted on March 22, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Until a few days ago, I did not realise that Shanghai was officially named as the 7th UNESCO City of Design in 2012. And what does it all mean? Well, here is the official description:

"It is designed to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities which apply to the network seek to promote their local creative scene; they share interest in UNESCO’s mission towards cultural diversity. This network of networks is structured around seven themes: Literature, Film, Music, Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Media arts, and Gastronomy."

The city has been investing heavily in the creative and design industry in recent years, and as a result, there are now over 200 creative hubs scattered around the city including: M50 (50 Moganshan Lu, near Xi Suzhou Lu, Putuo), 800 Show Creative Park (800 Changde Rd, Jing'an), 2577 Creative Garden (2577 Longhua Road, Xuhui), Red Town (570 Huaihai Road W, Changning) and the list goes on.

Since I was there for only 4/5 days, I picked a few to see what this 'City of design' has to offer:


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1933 Shanghai


1933 Shanghai (29 Shajing Lu, near Haining Lu, Hongkou district)

This is probably the most famous creative hubs in the city because of its unusual background and architecture. It was once a cattle slaughterhouse. Located in the historic Hongkou District above the Bund, the building (also known as “Old Millfun”) is not that easily accessible by public transport. Yet when you are there, the Art deco and maze-like architecture will blow you away.

Designed originally by British architect and built in 1933 by Chinese developers with British concrete, it survived demolition and is the last of three left in the world (the other two were in London and the US). After the RMB100 million restoration in 2008, the formal slaughterhouse has been used as a creative hub for architectural and design firms, with a few restaurants, cafes and design shops.

Before my arrival, I was expecting the place to be buzzing, but it turned out to be surprisingly quiet with some local visitors and 'tourists' like myself. There were only a few shops on the ground floor and a few restaurants that were opened, otherwise the place was eerily empty.

I spoke to my local friend about this and she told me that many Shanghainese believe that the building has 'bad spirit' because of all dead animals that have been slaughtered here. Apparently, many companies moved in but left soon after, hence, now the place only has a few offices and is mostly used as a backdrop for photo shoots.

I don't blame the Shanghainese for being superstitious because as I was walking around, I did find the place rather creepy. I later found out that there are religious (Buddhist) elements in this building, i.e. all the windows were built facing west, directing the slaughtered animals towards the land for reincarnation. Yet in terms of architecture, it is an outstanding piece of work, so it is worth visiting if you are interested in architecture.

N.B. The restaurant, Noodle Bull within the building offers inexpensive and MSG-free Taiwanese noodles, it is a good lunch option.


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The commercial house 1913 & Manbo ceramics shop & cafe


The commercial house 1913 (160 Ha'erbin Rd, Hongkou district)

Only about 5 minutes walk from the Old Millfun is another new creative hub (opened in 2011) with a offices, shops, restaurants and cafes. The British style building once belonged to the British company, Hutchison Whampoa and first started construction between 1912-13. In 1935, the trade office building was completed and during the hundred years, more additional constructions were added including a large ice storage.

After almost a year of restoration by the cultural and creative development enterprise Dobe, the 6th creative hub has been restored to create commercial spaces for rental. Yet apart from 2 small pottery shops including Manbo on the ground floor, the other floors didn't appear to be occupied, so I didn't bother exploring further. The building and surrounding area was extremely quiet, which I found kinda odd for the highly-dense Shanghai.

Manbo is a wonderful ceramics shop/cafe selling ceramic tableware and home accessories made by young local craftsmen/artists/designers. The shop's name means 'slow stop' in Chinese, so it aims to promote slow living and the ceramics here also reflect this attitude and quality.


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Top row & 2nd row left: The Bridge 8; 2nd row middle & right, 3rd and 4th row: Jing An Design Centre/ Central POD


The Bridge 8 (8-10 Jian Guo Zhong Road, Xuhui district)

The Bridge 8 used to be the abandoned factory buildings of the Shanghai Automotive Brake Company. The site has been restored and opened in 2004, occupying over an area of 20,000 square meters in the city centre and is one of most well-known creative hubs in the Shanghai.

The notable architectural feature of this complex is its modern bridge that connects the two buildings. Yet the complex's most highly regarded aspects are its energy saving systems of solar photovoltaic power generation system, solar water heating system and ground source heat pump air-conditioning system.

There are over 70 international creative enterprises located here, covering the fields of architecture (including one of my favourite architects, David Chipperfield) and interior design, fashion design, advertising, and Film & TV production.

Unfortunately, I got a bit lost and only arrived early in the evening, and so I didn't get the opportunity to explore the site properly. I am guessing that the site would be more lively during the day.


Jing An design centre/ Central POD (595 Wu Ding Road Jing'an District)

Located not far from the Jing-an temple and the busy shopping district, this new ( since 2011) 3-storey building is a co-working creative and commercial space. Like the other hubs mentioned above, this building was also converted from a former industrial space built between 1930-70 and has been carefully restored by the architectural firm, a_a&d. ( though I read from another source that the building was once a bath house).

The building stands out for its environmental and sustainable aspects, i.e rooftop farming, natural air circulation, usage of recycled materials and low water usage. I love the bright and spacious space, and the use of mosaic tiles as flooring. Although there are only a few offices that are being occupied at the moment, the SeeSaw cafe on the ground floor is a very popular hangout amongst expats and locals.


After exploring some of these creative hubs and seeing less than 30% occupants (except for The Bridge 8), it made me wonder if there is a need for over 200 of them? The concept of restoring heritage buildings into creative spaces is viable if there is a demand, without the demand, these hubs are completely pointless. I am also wondering about the rental prices, are these hubs affordable to young designers, artists and new start-ups? Is this the reason why these hubs are not being utilised to their full potential? Whatever the reasons, I hope many of these hubs will not be abandoned when I next visit the city.


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Chinese design, Shanghai, Architectural conservation, Design, Modernist & Art Deco and was tagged with chinese design, Shanghai, creative hubs, art deco architecture