Recasting a Historic Riverfront Factory as a Modern Lifestyle Destination

August 21, 2019

The transformation of the Tianjin Thermal Factory into a mixed-use center acts as a model of sustainable urban renewal for this major port city. As part of a larger redevelopment with Jinmao Group that includes new office and residential towers, the five-story mall will sensitively connect the original 1937 structure with a new building and expanded civic functions. The multifaceted project takes advantage of its central location along the Haihe River and at the confluence of major subway lines to anchor a new pedestrian experience for the area.

Woods Bagot’s Shanghai studio carried out the architecture, interior design and branding to develop a unified proposal around the concept of “transformation.” This approach refers both to the factory’s historic standing —as the first plant in the city to generate electricity—and to remaking it as a modern commercial complex that integrates retail, lifestyle, ecology, culture and education. After completing several field surveys, interviews with local residents, and research, the team conceived a plan to preserve and refine the original building within the expansion.

The overall arrow-shaped geometry links the old and the new building together and connects to the adjacent office towers. The soaring silo-shaped central entry, leading to the river plaza on one side and the metro station on the other, folds in a series of frames that replicate the old factory setting. As with most joints between old and new structures, the atrium is crafted of glass—showcasing the authentic structure and red brickwork behind, while introducing a modern aesthetic and more transparent sightlines.  The original façade is retained as much as possible, and other heritage features—such as the coal buckets and steel roof trusses—are recovered and displayed throughout.

The first floor is comprised of retail, cultural and education spaces. An open stair connects the first through third floors, with each level set back to provide the visual accessibility of stores and inhibit a natural flow of people walking through the space.  The most eye-catching feature makes full use of the old factory’s height: a three-story indoor rock climbing mountain for children offers an immersive experience for families. The upper floors concentrate the food and beverage and fine dining options. A catered roof garden extending to the office tower sets up a full viewing platform over the water and downtown. To learn more about the history of the original building, a museum will be built into the west part of the original factory.

In addition to the architecture and interiors, the design activates a large outdoor plaza along the river to create a public gathering space. “The regeneration of this closed factory into an open and engaging place for Tianjin citizens inspires a new lifestyle while memorializing the local history,” Woods Bagot Regional Retail Design Leader Billy Ip said.

“The Thermal Factory contributed to the country’s industrial age, and now will take on new life in a model of sustainable development for this transforming city,” Ian Png, Principal at Woods Bagot, said.

Mixed Use