Real Estate Notes On Adaptive Re-use In 798 Arts Zone, Beijing, China

Once more we’ll have Real Estate learning, this time while on a business trip in Beijing, China. A few hours break gave me the opportunity to explore a special district that once upon a time equipped destruction through its war factories, but now nurtures creativity.

The place is known as 798 Arts District or 798 Art Zone. It sits on a decommissioned war factory complex with each building with a number as its name, hence “798”.

Still unknown to many; thus, it is surprising to learn that it is already the 3rd most visited destination in Beijing. It receives more than 3 million visitors yearly, ranking next only to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

How did it evolve from a warfare industrial complex to a mixed-use creative hub?

It was built in the 1950’s under a military-industrial cooperation project with the Soviet Union. In the late 1980’s it ceased operation and was rendered obsolete. It was taken over by a state-owned real estate firm charged to lease out the abandoned buildings.

Struggling to find tenants initially, the opportunity came in the mid 1990s. The contemporary Chinese artists, apparently, were evicted from their old neighborhood close to the Summer Palace, and discovered the spacious, naturally well-lit and cheap rentable spaces in the industrial complex. The art community since started to grow. The factories were perfect as workshops and studios for the painters, sculptors, designers, publishers and other creatives. Soon enough a community grew from it with galleries, boutiques, events places, cafes, bars, restaurants and quirky thrift shops sprouting about.

Fast forward, decades after, it came under pressure for a redevelopment. Options were to demolish the industrial complex and build a new high-rise complex to maximize the real estate revenue potential of the property. Studies were conducted and Sasaki, a design firm which is known for Architecture, Interior Design, Urban Planning, Landscape Architecture, Place Branding, etc., was tasked to create a Vision Plan for it. Sasaki, in 2018 won the Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Excellence for their output.

In this video, I’ll show snippets from their work, and photos I took while on stroll around the art zone This is while we learn about Real Estate Development Lesson on Adaptive Re-use.

What is Adaptive Re-use?

Adaptive reuse refers to the utilization of old buildings for new purposes. This is while they keep their historical and architectural character. It is a form of recycling and hence, considered green development or sustainable in character.  And prolongs the life of a building and usefulness of the construction material from which it was built. It saves on new material, water and energy needed in totally new construction. Savings can also be had in avoiding demolition costs, which can run as high as 5-10% of the total development costs.

Not all old buildings are candidates for adaptive reuse, though. The owners, planners, and developers need to ensure that the outcome is viable and purposeful. Serving the market and community while generating revenues. Certain structures or areas are relevant culturally and historically, with architecture that speaks of stories of a community and generations of people. Real estate values are not just proportionate to floor areas but the immeasurable spirit, energy and character of a place. The attraction creates demand, and from the center outwards, multiple other new developments can be planned and built. Such is the case for 798 Arts Zone.

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