The MVRDV-designed Shenzhen Women & Children’s Centre is complete, transforming an old mixed-use tower into a vibrant and colorful skyscraper housing a hotel and a variety of facilities for the welfare of women and children: a library, an auditorium, a children’s theatre, and “discovery hall,” as well as therapy rooms and staff offices. In Shenzhen‘s Futian district, the building’s colorful facade is a welcome sight; more importantly, the 100-meter-tall structure establishes an important precedent for adaptive reuse in a city that will soon experience a “great wave of adaptive reuse.”
The tower was originally completed in 1994, during the initial period of Shenzhen’s explosive development. Due to persistent fire safety concerns, the commercial units in the substructure were not opened until 2002, and the tower itself remained vacant indefinitely, revealing the original design’s hasty execution.
In 2019, it was evident that the building was no longer suitable for its intended purpose due to the building’s inability to meet environmental requirements. The National Development and Reform Commission chose this structure as one of 24 revitalization examples as a result of China’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 and to reach a carbon peak by 2030.
According to an official statement, “To rectify the building’s problems, MVRDV designed a comprehensive transformation that would allow the building’s structure to be reused – a far more sustainable approach than demolishing and rebuilding. The most visible element of this transformation is the new façade: a grid of multi-colored exterior frames increases the depth of the façade to a full meter. These frames provide extra shading to reduce thermal heat gain, and also incorporate openable panels on the inside that allow for natural ventilation – thus increasing occupants’ comfort and reducing the building’s reliance on air conditioning.”
The design also transforms numerous building components. The tower’s apex shelters a large, accessible terrace with a 360-degree view of the neighborhood below. Originally used for parking, the atrium has been transformed into a public space with a food court. The entrance to the city’s metro, which previously littered the pavement outside, has been relocated inside the building to improve its connection to public transit networks and reinforce the shift away from automobile dependence.
The metamorphosis of the building was accomplished while reusing approximately 24,000 cubic meters of the original structure’s concrete, resulting in a carbon reduction equivalent to 11,800 flights from Amsterdam to Shenzhen. Small additions were also made to the structure, filling in some of the awkward geometry of the original design to create straightforward, efficient floorplans.
“The Shenzhen Women and Children’s Centre could be a pioneering project for Shenzhen”, says MVRDV founding partner Jacob van Rijs. “With the city’s fast-paced growth, many existing buildings were not really designed to have a long lifespan. That is a recipe for either an epidemic of demolition or, ideally, a great wave of adaptive reuse. Showing that even the most inadequate of these structures can be reused could save a crazy amount of concrete going to landfill – and eliminate millions of tonnes of carbon emissions that would have been created replacing that concrete.”
The building’s facade’s yellow, orange, pink, and green hues communicate its layout. The multicolored base advertises the building’s function as a service center for mothers and their children, while the hotel’s superstructure features a more neutral white. The four primary entrances to the complex on the ground floor are each highlighted by a concentration of a distinct color, making the building navigable and inviting to visitors.
This approach to color and communication continues in the main lobby. Here, a structure with nine “rooms” houses various functions that, when combined, form a playground-like space for children’s pleasure during their visit. The vibrant hues of this structure emphasize its function as a place where children take precedence.
Project Name: Shenzhen Women and Children’s Centre
Location: Futian District, Shenzhen, China
Founding Partner in charge: Jacob van Rijs
Partner: Wenchian Shi, Director
MVRDV Asia: Steven Smit, Peter Chang Design Team: Lorenzo Mattozzi, Marco Gazzola, Giuseppe Mazzaglia, Daehee Suk, Fredy Fortich, Chi Zhang, Bertrand Tan, Siyi Pan, Albert Parfonov, Andrius Ribikauskas, Enrica Perrot, Martina Franco, Jiameng Li, Agnieszka Dabek, Paula Vargas Torres, Elisa Paneni, Peter Chang, Luca Xu, Hong Yang, Echo Zhai, Zhang Ruochen, Leo Zhang, Huang Cai, Peilu Chen, Xiaoliang Yu, Americo Iannazzone, Yihong Chen, Kefei Yan, Edvan Ardianto
Interiors & Landscape Design: Lorenzo Mattozzi, Fokke Moerel, Pim Bangert, Giovanni Nardi, Daehee Suk, Jiameng Li, Bertrand Tan, Paula Vargas Torres, Luca Xu
MVRDV NEXT: Boudewijn Thomas, Yayun Liu, Changqing Ye Project coordination: Jammy Zhu Visualisations: Antonio Luca Coco, Angelo La Delfa, Pavlos Ventouris, Francesco Vitale, Luana La Martina, Jaroslaw Jeda, Emanuele Fortunat
Co-architect / Landscape architect / MEP: SZAD Project coordination: Shenzhen Women & Children’s Building Operation and Management Co., Ltd. Facade Consultant: KGE (King Glass Engineering) Structural engineer: Yuanlizhu Engineering Consultants (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd. Lighting Consultant: BPI (Brandston Partnership Inc.) Cost calculation: Jinxia Property Cost Consultation Co., Ltd. Interior architect: Jiang & Associates
Photographs: Xia Zhi