The Xi'an Shiyou University residential campus boiler station was planned in 1994 and finally completed in 1997. However, due to changes in the urban heating system, it was closed in 2014. When we visited it in 2019, despite being relatively new, the boiler station presented an intriguing image of a historical ruin, surrounded by urban residential buildings.
This type of coal-burning boiler station was once common in North China. However, with the shift to a different energy supply system, this type of facility will no longer be built. The tall chimneys and large coal scuttles that were designed with instrumental rationality have become obsolete with the end of production. However, these useless structures, which were not regulated by present zoning laws, remind us of the simplicity and straightforwardness of that rapidly developing decades. This type of boiler station has become a historical symbol of those golden years, even though most are still under 30 years old.
This industrial heritage site, located in the core urban district, is not suitable for redevelopment due to its size and property. However, by implementing a reasonable program as an economic basis for its urban survival, there is an opportunity for renovation and reuse. The large, tall boiler operation room is well-suited for an art exhibition, while the smaller rooms could be used as commercial space to fund the art events. As a result, we have decided to convert the building into a mixed-use art community, which is a new type of ecology in Xi'an. The appropriate functions of this conversion will protect the building's original frame from being divided into cheap co-working units, as is happening with many other urban industrial heritage sites in China.
To accommodate this transformation, we added a runway connecting the outdoor square and the main exhibition hall on the third floor. In addition to serving functional needs, the runway also highlights the new interventions applied to both the old chimney and the era it represents.
To bring in soft light and improve the building's thermal performance, we replaced the original elevation with polycarbonate panels. This new material also introduces a different scale, contrasting dramatically with the surrounding residences and emphasizing the building's previous industrial characteristics. It also enhances the public nature of the new space, which now engages more directly with the urban environment.
The MEP equipment has replaced the former production facilities. Some installations have been optimized to minimize disruption to the space, while others are meant to be displayed. For example, the air ducts in the main exhibition hall take advantage of the triangular space between the coal scuttles and the columns, providing conditioned air through 24 spherical nozzles. The new stainless-steel coverings are placed alongside the old rough concrete, representing their respective times.
Due to the possibility of COVID-19 quarantines on campus, we used scaffolding to create a temporary fence. The quickly assembled scaffolding also serves as a basic frame for exhibition posters, resting chairs, and selling booths, depending on the event.
According to statistics, the average lifespan of buildings in China is only about 30 years due to changing environments and requirements. In the past 30 years, this boiler station has fulfilled its original task and is now starting a new one.