O·POWER Culture & Arts Centre / Shenzhen Huahui Design
Text description provided by the architects. The Huazhong Power Plant is located in the northern part of the Overseas Chinese Town area in Nanshan District, Shenzhen. In 1989, during the rapid economic development of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, the power supply in the Overseas Chinese Town area faced a shortage, leading to a situation of power supply for three days and a blackout for four days. To alleviate this situation, the Huazhong Power Plant provided electricity to the entire Overseas Chinese Town area through heavy oil power generation. In 2006, it was officially retired due to urban development and environmental protection requirements. As an industrial relic and a testament to the rapid development of Shenzhen’s history, the Huazhong Power Plant holds the memories of many old residents of the Overseas Chinese Town and embodies the collective spirit of the era. The process of the Huazhong Power Plant renovation project differs from previous renovation projects. At the beginning of the project, the theme and color scheme of the park’s landscape had already been determined. Therefore, throughout the entire redesign process, the focus was on how to excavate and recreate the spirit of the place on the existing foundation, how to balance the constraints of the site’s environment with the practical functional requirements, and how to coordinate and integrate with the landscape elements.
The project is located between the interface of the city, nature, and the community, serving as an important northern gateway and a connecting bridge within the entire Overseas Chinese Town area. Based on the historical and future development value of this project, the design defines it as a future cultural leader in the art community of the Overseas Chinese Town area. It aims to create an urban living room and a creative humanistic hub that integrates culture, art, and community, allowing the former energy center to return to the city and become a source of community spirit. From an old power plant to a community space, it aims to construct positive community public spaces for the surrounding residents and activate the artistic and cultural ecosystem of the urban area.
Retention and Intervention – Starting from the site elements, the entire plot is divided into a dynamic and static zone along the north-south axis. The southern zone is a recreational interactive area focused on outdoor sports, child-friendly facilities, and leisure experiences. The northern zone is a performing arts and cultural creative area centered on multifunctional theaters, concerts, and community cultural activities. The original power plant possesses five unique industrial relics, but due to the rigid boundaries and chaotic layout of each building, it fails to form a complete spatial narrative. The design takes public space creation and architectural openness as the starting point, based on the original spatial layout and volume of the building complex. By softening the architectural boundaries, releasing the bottom space, and incorporating transparent glass circular areas, external staircases, and gray spaces, it creates a vibrant “micro-urban structure” within the park. The O•POWER Culture and Art Center (#1) was originally a generator plant. The ground floor has been transformed by incorporating a full glass circular area to create a new shared space. It gracefully accommodates the surrounding trees, creating a community atmosphere along the street and enhancing the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as providing transparency for sightlines. Due to insufficient natural light inside the original plant, the design opens up the solid wall on the southern facade, replacing it with transparent glass and steel grilles. This allows more natural light to enter the interior and serves as a display window showcasing the spirit of the place. The renovated building maintains a similar volume and proportion to the original structure while preserving the primary concrete structure of the old power plant to the maximum extent. This renovation project is a tribute to the memory of the old power plant while extending its legacy.
The western second-floor rooftop platform of the O•POWER Culture and Art Center (#1) was originally an abandoned platform. Due to years of neglect, the design involves repairing and reshaping the rooftop platform and incorporating a stainless steel canopy around the existing chimney form to create a unique industrial experiential space. The preserved traces of industrial heritage and the newly constructed elements form a continuous and organic entity, connecting the past, present, and future of the power plant. This allows the old and new structures to iteratively merge within the same order.
Isomorphism and Symbiosis – Inspired by the oil tank forms found in the southern area of the power plant, a cylindrical structure (O space) has been incorporated into the main building as a new spiritual and core guiding space, engaging in a “dialogue” with the outdoor oil tanks. The facade of the cylinder is made of UHPC (Ultra-High-Performance Concrete), reducing the thickness of the cylinder walls and mitigating the impact of additional structures on the interior space. The insertion of the cylindrical structure divides the original high-ceiling space of the plant into the multifunctional O space and the POWER Theater, capable of hosting immersive performances, art exhibitions, and various other functions in the future. This creates a cutting-edge theater cluster centered on the integration of performance and exhibition.
To meet the requirements of absolute purity and physical properties for the exhibition space, the walls on both sides of the foyer are covered with sound-absorbing material – foam aluminum. By using this new material with a “light” attachment method on the old walls, it minimizes damage to the original structure and the old walls while enhancing the multifunctionality of the cylindrical foyer space. The presence of the original factory crane beams and exposed primary structural elements creates an intriguing juxtaposition of old and new, providing a vivid representation of the power plant’s memory within the overall space. The POWER Theater draws inspiration from the core physical attribute of “electricity” in the old power plant, representing the transition from the past’s “physical power” to the present’s “artistic power” centered on performing arts content. The theater is a closed-box space that breaks away from traditional proscenium stage design, allowing any area within the theater to become a performance stage. It is equipped with flexible seating arrangements that can accommodate approximately 200 seats or around 400 standing audience members. Serving as the core engine of free and innovative experimental theater, it collaborates with the O space and outdoor spaces to radiate to the surrounding community and even the urban area.
As a transitional space between the urban interface and the park, the Cultural and Creative Backstreet (#4) undergoes a transformation from a single, narrow spatial form. There is a 3-meter height difference between the original building and Qiaoxiang Road on the north side. To prevent children from climbing, the design incorporates a solid wall on the sidewalk side, forming an under-eave gray space along with the newly added stainless steel structures. Additionally, seven small-scale water-washed stones and cast-in-place concrete boxes are introduced, increasing the depth of the original building while creating multiple interpretations of gray space through twisting and shifting between paired boxes. The preservation of trees on the north side and the Cultural and Creative Backstreet collectively form an organic enclosure, enveloping the park and creating an open and integrated spatial relationship between the backstreet community and the city. The zigzag ramp connects the sidewalk on Qiaoxiang Road to the Cultural and Art Center (#1), providing visitors to the POWER Theater with a more convenient access route. The meandering shape of the ramp also creates a sense of place for visitors to wander through the woods and enjoy a unique perspective of the park’s scenery from an elevated vantage point.
Continuation and Evolution – Buildings #2, #3, and #5 were originally the power plant’s oil pump house, fire pump house, and circular water reservoir, respectively. After being renovated and transformed, they now form an enclosure with the “Water Tower” (formerly the cooling tower) to create the Cool Playground. The renovated Theater Bar (#2) features exposed main beam-column structures and crane equipment, showcasing the strength and weathered charm of the original industrial heritage. The structural elements define the perception of the original space while allowing for a modest retreat to create an outdoor gray space that draws people into the “Cool Playground.” The facade incorporates “hollow” and “modern” water ripple glass bricks, as well as old building materials such as water-washed stones, showcasing a symbiotic relationship between preservation and intervention, where they support and accommodate each other.
The Brick Workshop (#5) is located at the core of the Northern Area Cool Playground and was originally a circular brick water reservoir. By adding a curved entrance wall and an external circular staircase made of rusted steel plates, the ground floor, outdoor area, and roof have been reconfigured into an organic continuous space, creating a unique sense of place experience. The exterior facade uses porous red ceramic bricks to restore the original architectural form, tracing back to the “new” and awakening the spirit of the place. The Artist Studio (#3), designed with “light” as the main theme, incorporates two slanted walls, one on the south and one on the north, into the existing structure. The south side features recesses and tall side windows to bring in beams of light while ensuring the privacy of the studio. From Huazhong Power Plant to O•POWER Culture and Art Center, it has been a transformational journey from a “physical power plant” to a “spiritual electric field. “By designing the space, we empower the place. Through the renovation of the old power plant, we aim to transform industrial heritage buildings from observers and witnesses of urban development into active participants and leaders.