Nantou Old Town Preservation and Regeneration

Nantou Old Town Preservation and Regeneration

We could have written about some impeccable projects of the Portuguese school, dear to us for biographical reasons and academic training; we could have looked at the excellence of Central European architecture; we could have written about some author’s gems, in some moving corners of the Mediterranean landscape. We have preferred to dedicate ourselves to an ordinary architecture made in China, whose richness consists precisely in its condition which is by no means exceptional. We consider it a significant stage within the respectable architectural research of the Urbanus studio, a sort of continuation of the successful design strategy started with the OCT (Oversea Chinese Town) in the Nanshan district.

Also in Shenzhen, within Nanshan, Urbanus has coordinated the Nantou Old Town Preservation and Regeneration Project. In spite of the theories that portray Shenzhen as an “Instant City”, the Nantou area is one of the oldest man-made areas in the Shenzhen-Hong Kong region, a center inhabited since the Jin Dynasty. The historical core has been over time absorbed within the dense urban fabric of the typical urban villages — one of the many that dot the city — which in turn has been incorporated within one of the most populous cities in Asia. In this urban-scale intervention, which we had the opportunity to visit in the fall of 2019, we believe the Baode Square project can be considered exemplary, a small masterpiece, worthy of inclusion in a serious anthology on minute heroism in architecture. The studio began working on the project in 2016, which allowed them to include this experience as a case study into the 2017 Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism / Architecture (UABB), curated by Urbanus itself. This analytical and curatorial approach paved the way for a second phase of design and execution, all within a very short time frame.

The square is located at the centre of the old town’s main intersection. The plaza’s basketball court (probably the only recurrent space inside the urban villages comparable for function and dimension with an Italian square) was once the threshing venue of the Nantou Community in the 1970s. Urbanus persuaded the village to agree to have the two temporary tin commercial structures by the plaza transformed into a communal public area for activities. The two buildings’ new roofs have soon become viewing steps that descend to the sides of the plaza, integrating the architecture with its surroundings, yet still showing subtle but frank differences. Together with the numerous windows, balconies and roofs of the surrounding residential buildings, the new architecture creates a three-dimensional urban theatre which invites locals to sit and hang out, enjoying the daily occurrence of colorful, lively urban drama.

Authors: Urbanus
Place: Shenzhen, China
Year: 2017
Photographs: © Urbanus / © WAR – Warehouse of Architecture and Research

WAR was founded in Rome in 2013. Its essence lies between a mannerist architecture studio and an independent space for research. The Warehouse of Architecture and Research is profoundly tied to the roman culture. Theory alongside practice, dialogue before design. In the warehouse, a collective hive-mind of documents, books and drawings, the team elaborates architectures, magazines, exhibitions, furnitures, schemes of urban development and questionable ideas; war held lectures at La Sapienza in Rome, Politecnico and Triennale in Milan, Parsons, Pratt, Tulane in the United States. Its works have been exhibited in Rome, Venice, Milan, New York, at the RIBA and Betts in London, at the UABB in Shenzhen and published on Corriere Della Sera, Domus, IDEAT, Summa+, The Architect’s Newspaper among others. Today its partners are Gabriele Corbo, Jacopo Costanzo, Valeria Guerrisi. Currently, they are teachers at the Interior Design Course of IED in Rome and advisors to the American Academy in Rome. Since 2019 they have been publishing the Panteon magazine. In 2020 they were included among the 50 best Italian architects and designers under 40 by Platform magazine.