Blending The Old with the New has long been our favourite topic. We love projects that respond to the challenge of restoring, re-using, re-organizing and re-purposing buildings that have a past. New is easy. But figuring out a respectful yet contemporary way to let historical buildings continue their lives takes sensitivity and creativity on a completely different scale.
In Shanghai’s Huangpu district, locally based Wutopia Lab has recently completed the transformation of the St. Nicholas Church into Sinan Books poetry bookstore.
In this case, the renovation did not touch the exterior of the building but transformed the interior dramatically. The building started its life in 1932 as a Russian Orthodox Church but it has gone through several periods of neglect. It has also been used as a washing-machine factory, laundry, warehouse, canteen, office, dwelling and a club. It once housed a French restaurant, Ashanti Dome, on the upper level and a Spanish tapas bar, Boca, on the ground floor. Located at Langao Road #16, the building has been under the protection of the Shanghai Historic Building Protection Affairs Center since 1994. Its guidelines prevented the designers to change, for example, the existing façade, structural system, underlying floor plan or the original interior features such as pillars, floral decorations, walls and flooring. The previously added layers of structure and surface materials also needed to be removed to the extent possible. Within these guidelines the designers created a steel grid, a “church-within-a- church” to emphasize and echo the soaring height of the dome. The grid became also a bookshelf system with no back panels which allows light and the buildings’ original features including some gorgeous frescoes to show through. The store inside the church is 388 square metres (4,176 sq.ft) in size and the inner dome is 9.9 metres (abt. 32 feet) high.
The builders used 45 tons of steel for the grid that was formed of 128 standpipes, 640 large steel plates, 2,921 small plates for 23 layers of crossbars.
The store offers more than 1,880 poetry titles in the central dome area, including 600 foreign volumes, mainly from Japan, France, the UK, the US, Poland, Italy and Russia. In addition to poetry books there are also books selected by Douban, a Chinese version of MySpace that has special interest groups, as well as a London Review Bookshop and a café. Tuija Seipell