Housed in a former state-run electronics factory in Chengdu, China, the Vanke City Growth Hall is a new multipurpose venue by Chinese residential real estate developer Vanke that dynamically bridges past and present by drawing upon both analogue and digital technologies. Shanghai-based architecture and interior design practice MDO have transformed the decrepit facility into an immersive milieu that offers visitors a rich sensory experience by seamlessly fusing the building’s industrial heritage with a polished, cutting-edge aesthetic, and blurring the boundaries between the venue’s various functions which include exhibition and events spaces, workspaces, meeting rooms and an indoor/outdoor café. Combined with a learning centre on the top floor, MDO’s exhilarating take on retro-futuristic design makes the revamped three-storey building a dynamic new entry in Chenghu’s “Eastern Suburb Memory”, a thriving cultural and design hub containing a business park focused on digital music, performance and exhibition venues, restaurants and bars.
Founded in 1958, the state-run Hongguang Electronic Tube Factory manufactured oscilloscopes, devices that allow you to see how voltage changes over time by displaying a waveform of electronic signals, and kinescopes, a.k.a. cathode ray tubes which were used in early television sets prior to the advent of LCD and LED screens. The designers drew inspiration from these products turning the now outmoded technologies into a dynamic design language of geometric volumes and grids, metallic and glossy finishes, and a series of graphic lighting elements.
Welcoming visitors on the ground floor, a giant digital screen extends the entrance space into the virtual realm through fluid, 3D visuals as wells as functions as a kaleidoscopic beacon catching the attention of passers-by on the street. The immersive screen is complemented by a series of light strips lining the ceiling and pillars as a tribute to the electron rays of the oscilloscope devices. Designed as a flexible space that can both host events and pop-up stores, the entrance hall is flanked by a DJ booth and a café, the former featuring an old water tank that has been transformed into a hall of mirrors offering visitors infinite Instagrammable opportunities, while the latter has been conceived as a relaxing refuge. Also on the ground floor, an immersive, experiential space designed as a computer-generated realm subverts visitors’ spatial perception through the creative application of light and colour, and dynamic lighting scenarios.
At the heart of the building, a wide staircase connects the three levels whilst also providing a communal space for informal meetings where visitors can sit down to relax or chat. Encapsulating MDO’s boldly conceptual interior design, this space harmoniously combines contrasting materials and textures both as a tribute to the building’s history and as a forward-looking gesture. Perforated metallic panels softly illuminated by concealed lighting are paired with terrazzo steps and a custom-design ceramic wall depicting Hibiscus mutabilis, an indigenous plant with a rich foliage and showy, rose-coloured flowers, inspired by the 8th century poem “Welcome Rain in a Spring Night”, which describes how “the wet red patches in Chengdu's twilight, are flower branches, heavier but bright”.
On the first floor, an open-plan lounge where Vanke representatives meet clients is designed as an abstract representation of an oscilloscope: the curved lines and golden hues enveloping the space echo the device’s shape, while the jumbled neon lighting suspended from the ceiling evoke the burst of energy at its heart. At the same time, the exposed concrete structure provides glimpses of the building’s past. In the adjacent bar area, the designers have paid tribute to the former factory’s cathode ray tube production, which marked China’s foray into black and white television manufacturing in the 1950s, with a lighting installation composted of a matrix of vintage television screens. Finally on the second floor, MDO’s gripping lighting design, in combination with a sleek, minimalist aesthetic, imbues the "Get Chengdu Learning Center" with a youthful sense of energy and enthusiasm.
Conceived as a layered bamboo box inserted into the building’s concrete structure, the wood-panelled café on the ground floor is a warm, relaxing oasis filled with warm, earthy tones and natural light in contrast with the grey hues, glossy textures and bold lighting design that dominate most of the interiors. Sliding glass screens allow the space to be fully opened up out onto the street, blurring the boundary between interior and exterior, and inviting passers-by inside, while a timber bench lining the street front creates an outdoor sitting area where patrons can enjoy their coffee while watching people passing by – a further reminder that the venue was ultimately designed with a sense of community in mind.