Industrial legacy and the future of Chinese cities
Maria Paola Repellino


MARCH 16, 2020

Capital Steel Group (Shougang) has transferred steel production from Beijing to Caofeidian port of Tangshan city (Hebei Province). Pearl River Piano has moved piano production away from the centre of Guangzhou, locating it within a new cluster dedicated to advanced manufacturing in the Pearl River Delta area. Shougang and Pearl River Piano are two examples that re-articulate the syntax between architecture, city and production, revealing how much the change of production processes contributes to the definition of spaces in contemporary China.

The economic and planning reforms undertaken by the Chinese government since the late 1970s, the industrial relaunch and the relevant urban expansion have changed the localisation strategies of manufacturing enterprises and the relationship between city and production. The systematic process of spatial relocation of industries and workers outside of urban centres, together with the organization of new “development zones” in suburban or rural areas (He, Wei and Pan 2007), has left behind a huge number of disused sites in Chinese cities. Obviously, this process does not only connote contemporary China, but it has a particularly relevant dimension in this context. Due to industrial relocation, from 1985 to 1997, about 60 hectares of industrial land were vacated in Beijing alone, of which over 71% were from the core (Feng, Zhou and Wu 2008). Under the banner of environmental sustainability, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games further accelerated the phenomenon: the percentage of industrial land use within the Fourth Ring Road decreased from 8.74% to 6.6% between 1999 and 2005, vacating 900 hectares of industrial sites (Feng, Zhou and Wu 2008). Although the decentralisation of industrial activities is partly related to the desire (and need) to reduce environmental pollution within urban centres, “the main reason for the move was the increase in land values and its impact on government revenue” (Gao, Liu and Dunford 2014, 8). Therefore, how have the relations between production processes and cities changed? What kind of cities tend to define the current production processes? Following the relocation of manufacturing enterprises, what kind of spaces are presented for possible architectural reuse? What is the role of industrial legacy in the reconfiguration of such places?