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Renewed Orchestra Unites Shanghai’s Past and Present: A Novel Urban Micro-renewal in Blackstone Music Park

The Blackstone Apartment Building with a hundred-year history is a part of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in fast-paced Shanghai. Based on its unique characteristics, our design concept is ‘Orchestra between the Old and the New’. The unification of Shanghai’s past and present was achieved by using novel designs scaled properly, along with the preservation of the historical layout and the overall context. The project aims to renovate and expand the Blackstone Apartment Building and its narrow public spaces into a music-themed park.  Native plants were used to create a multi-dimensional landscape on the building façade and the in-between squares. The landscaping is used to represent the symbiosis between many different historical periods and the cultures of those times.

This project goes beyond simple renovations. Instead, it explores the many design possibilities through the reuse and the embellishment of building facades, walls, and smaller spaces. When historical tradition meets modern concepts, a novel public space blossoms, full of vitality and artistic atmosphere, which will cradle a cozy and enjoyable community life for visitors and residents.

Site History

Built-in 1924, the Blackstone Apartment Building is the oldest Baroque apartment building in China.  Named after the Blackstone family, the building’s unique black stones and other materials were imported from the United Kingdom. The apartment, a landmark in central Shanghai is across the street from the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. It was a luxury residential building for Citi Bank employees. But after years, the building served to house the staff of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. It lost its glory with rotting interiors and exteriors. The ground floor of the apartment was opened to the public in recent years, serving as an urban cultural gathering space. The second to sixth floors were residential and office spaces.

Design Challenge

The Blackstone Apartment Building is a classical architecture design in Shanghai.  Its grand scale, elegant design, and historical background are indelibly linked with the architectural character of Shanghai.  With the completion of the renovation, the apartment was reborn after a tumultuous life of changes. Renewal will give the Blackstone Apartments a musical heart in the form of a music-themed Park at the center of the building.

The unique history of the building created many specific questions that were addressed in this landscape design. Answering all the questions was critical to the goal of a unified design. Some of the more important questions that required answers: How to create space in the narrow alleyways for new landscape development and also create more open green spaces? How can the old infrastructure be renovated to improve the rainwater carrying capacity? How can the historical architectural memory and cultural identity be preserved during the renewal process while co-existing with the newly designed spaces? How can the building design influence the social relationships among original and new residents?

The Landscape Design of Narrow alleyways

The overall landscape design emphasizes the site’s history and its original texture. When the building facades, walls, and in-between spaces were renovated, the original landscaping was retained. Existing infrastructure was also rehabilitated to retain both the identity and a sense of belonging to space.

Modern elements have also been introduced.  Carefully selected new plants were installed, to create a feeling of harmony within the narrow alleyways. A new landscape was created using stone textured partitions as walls.  Falling water, musical fountains, soft paving, and appropriate lighting provide graceful final touches to an atmosphere that unifies the best of old and new.

Integrating the new design into the older one initiated a dialogue between the new and the old. Each one retains its own unique characteristics, protected and enhanced by the partnership. To create a new, distinctive whole.  In addition, a new sequence and combination were created through the integration of art and nature. The stone wall garden, tree shadow garden, and the zelkova garden bring the special qualities of natural beauty into the lives of residents. The harmonious interplay of the two partners uses the beauty of natural design to create high-quality life for the residents’ using.  Community social activities are enhanced by the friendly and welcoming sense created by the design.

Ecological Strategies

Urban development and a healthy environment must use the same strategies.  In one case, the community was provided with an additional source of easily accessed water while the environment was protected from polluted water. A neighborhood rainwater garden was added to collect and reuse rainwater. It is cost-effective ecological retention and seepage facility and it improves the rainwater carrying capacity for the local community while creating a sustainable environment with a low maintenance burden.

In choosing plants and landscape materials, existing trees, including magnolia, old camphor, and Acer palmatum were retained and integrated into the new design proposal. Based on the principle of ecological suitability, native ginkgo and bamboo were incorporated for a more satisfying landscape while remaining the foundation of the natural health of the site. A variety of flower border systems were planted under the older trees to build a new shade garden. Six unique zelkova trees enclose an indoor garden, with walls rich with green plants for a delightful indoor open space.

The landscape renewal of this project takes into consideration both ecological protection and aesthetic needs, achieving the green vitality of seasonal change while improving the livability of the environment. Our design provided the cornerstone.

The Renovation of Historical Nodes

The new design responds to the spatial song of historical buildings in Shanghai’s alleyways. It brings light to the narrow spaces and plays the orchestral between different time periods. The cultural and historical songs of the old buildings are therefore preserved and cross talked. With a novel design, the project brings in a unique artistic experience and a humanistic environment for the people living in the neighborhood.

Architecture offices involved in the design: Playze Architects

Project location:  No.1331 Fuxing Zhong Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China

Design year: April 2018 – May 2018

Year Built: March 2020

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