Adaptive Reuse: Dahua 1935

“You can’t predict the future, but you can count on the need to adapt.”

In the home of the famed terracotta warriors, a once-idle textile mill has risen from the ashes of WWII to become a modern mixed-used hub. Mere steps away from Daming Imperial Palace, Dahua 1395 is rich with retail, art, and entertainment.

A citadel of experience ruled by the city’s youth, here is a place where history gathers no dust. Set to the melodic pendulum swings of skateboards soaring on and off the ground, Dahua 1935 overlays space, spirit, and people in a balance as true to the site’s future as it is to its past.  


What was the approach?

By the time Woods Bagot was tasked with its reuse, Dahua 1935 was 82 years old. Having fallen victim to time, patchy renovations, and a devastating fire during WW11, the once-modern textile mill had been in disrepair for six years. An exercise in ‘retail infusion’, the projects’ successful transformation required a rewiring between past and present to allow for a fully integrated future.

Historical analysis done during the project’s initial stages allowed the team to gain a deep understanding of the site’s heritage value early on. Identifying what percentage of the original façade was left on each building allowed designers to see exactly where the historical value lay – allowing a level of freedom for the redesign.

The sheer scale of the 65,000 sqm site required serious programming. With seamless integration being a key goal, circulation between each of the six zones was carefully considered. The once-characterless intersections between each building were reconceptualised as plazas or meeting points for visitors –often including public artworks that speak to the sites’ past.  

The site’s DNA was considered in 360 degrees. Tasked with balancing youth culture, creativity, retail, and entertainment with imperial and industrial history, designers sought to distil the essence of the place by taking every opportunity to retain character. Simple additions and a commitment to keeping industrial aesthetics defined a ‘light touch’ approach that honoured the sites’ existing appeal while improving usability.

Across the two years it took from concept to completion, every opportunity was taken to increase efficiency and connection. While the building’s function did evolve to become a place where the younger generation can stay, play, shop and eat where they couldn’t before, this did not come at the sacrifice of the unique elements that set Dahua 1935 apart.  


“Why dilute when you can distil?”

Dahua, once one of the biggest state-owned factories in West China, underwent damage after a devastating fire.

Why was this approach better than defaulting to demolition?

You can’t rebuild history from scratch. If Dahua 1935 was demolished, then a devastating amount of history would go with it – keeping it allows the next generation to have their own relationship with their city’s past in a way that allows them to have their own experiences in the site.

Set within the heritage elements, the project’s mixed-use typology really allows its uniqueness to sing. It’s cool to see skateboarders careen about in a place that was once a rigidly-run factory because there’s an element of social commentary that makes you sit back and think about how we live now – Dahua 1935 makes being in the present moment feel exceptional because of its layering with the past.

Lessons learnt/problems solved?

There were four main takeaways from the adaptive reuse of Dahua 1935:

Adaptive reuse projects are, in themselves, lessons in adaptability. As architects, the process of repurposing a building brings the importance of future adaptability into sharp focus. As a result, the shops at Dahua 1935 can expand or contract according to demand, services can be easily updated or replaced, and materials can be recycled and maintained.

A building’s ground plane is a statement to its community, make sure it’s an invitation. As a hub of activity, Dahua 1935 needed to connect with its surroundings in order to invite people in. Originally quite inset from its neighbours, the update works to remedy this insular feel by including a new elevated platform that is used as a viewing platform towards Daming Place – creating a point of interest that is simultaneously an architectural marker for those on the lookout for the site itself.

Services can be placed in unexpected places. Another problem was the coordination of services. Having been built at the same time the steam train finally networked its way across western China, the building did not have room for modern technology. Its lack of basement meant there was no obvious solution for the location of key services, which meant that alternative placement needed to be found. In the end, services were place within the large industrial beams supporting the buildings’ roof – making practical use of industrial features.

Time shouldn’t feel like it’s standing still. There’s a balance to be struck between passive and active movement. Designing for a younger generation meant that Dahua could never feel like a museum – but more like an entertainment zone. There’s also something to be said for being aware of the great things that already exist in the building and beating the temptation to design for design’s sake. For example, the natural light and industrial feel of the space were elements that needed to be designed around, not out.

What needs to change in your city for adaptive reuse to stay?

A change in mindset is the first step. The prime land in the city is all gone so the time has come to use pre-existing building and transform them for new needs. This level of adaptive reuse is quite new for China overall, and we need to consider the honest justification of our path forward. For this to work, innovation will be key. Cities need to work with heritage and site constraints in ways that consider what’s best of the end user.