Joseph Dejardin completes the renovation of a 12000sqm former factory building at Chenfeng Group’s Kunshan campus near Shanghai, South China. The design transforms garment production workshops & administrative offices into contemporary fashion studios and flexible office space. As one of China’s largest textile & garment manufacturing companies, the conversion project is part of the studios’s ambitious redevelopment masterplan to transform the factory site into a creative hub for nurturing fashion design in China.
Located at the border of Kunshan City and Shanghai, Chenfeng Group’s 90,000sqm factory campus was set up in 2003. With over 15,000 employees, Chenfeng Group is a certified enterprise of the International Fair Labor Association and a member of the International Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The company is a production partner to international brands including Patagonia, Uniqlo, Stella McCartney, and Chinese fashion designers such as Feng Chen Wang, Xu Zhi and Chen Peng. The group is also a partner in the ready-to-wear brand Comme Moi, founded by former supermodel Lü Yan. Taking advantage of the group’s garment manufacturing expertise, the redevelopment masterplan aims to establish long term collaborations with the country’s top fashion design institutions and internationally renowned young Chinese fashion designers, many of whom already maintain studios on site.
The former factory building sits at the centre of the campus, which is progressively being transformed from a conventional production facility into a modern fashion hub with integrated production capabilities. A phased renovation strategy was devised with the Client to minimise disruption, as continuation of production is key to the Client’s vision for the site. This facilitated the continuous operation of factory floors, pattern cutting rooms, and studio spaces in the lower floors of the building throughout the renovation process.
Key spaces were identified within the building for transformation: a renovated grand entrance lobby; re-imagined communal courtyard with shortcut stair; meeting & multi-functional spaces, design studios & executive offices to replace the former factory administration offices. The design also reconfigured the circulation and services to meet the demands building‘s new occupants.
The renovated spaces are designed to maximise flexibility, meeting the varied demands of fashion studios for design, cutting, storage and fitting, as well as the potential demands of any future occupants through minimising the use of fixed subdivision and increasing the ability to circulate between spaces while focusing on the use of high-quality finishes.
“We wanted to work with the existing as much as possible, only making changes where necessary to adapt and improve the building’s function. We feel that our attempts to retain the essential character of the spaces within the building succeeded and lend the project an atmosphere that is uniquely representative of the client company and its history,” said Joseph Dejardin, founder & design director of the studio. “For us it was important to work economically with the building to maximise the flexibility of the spaces and create a working environment that will meet the functional demands of the occupants well into the future.”
The design methodology was focused around identifying and retaining key original features from the existing factory while introducing a contrasting clean and modern material language to update and prepare the building for its future use.
Marble, granite, white painted plaster, mirrored glass and brushed aluminium were kept where appropriate, and elsewhere original materials were stripped back to introduce concrete and brick into the palette.
High quality finishes such as terrazzo, stretch membrane ceilings, translucent mirrored glass and white powder coated steel were then introduced to develop a contrasting materiality as a counterpoint to the existing. This contrasting materiality communicates the distinction between existing fabric and contemporary interventions within the building.
The renovation of the entrance lobby is a statement responding to both the factory’s heritage and its future, a dark red marble floor juxtaposed with an illuminated stretch membrane ceiling. The dark red marble floor was installed as a continuation of the red marble entrance portals that exist throughout the campus and gives the project a link to its past materiality, a link the client wished to preserve. A minimal and futuristic illuminated stretch membrane ceiling was then installed, creating a contemporary atmosphere and intentionally contrasting with the classic marble floor.
The existing internal partition build ups were removed, and the newly exposed brick walls painted a clean white, while the concrete structure was given a white wash to soften its intensity. Opposite, the existing glazed façade was removed and replaced with a minimal updated brushed stainless-steel glazing system, the low-iron glass coated with a semi-reflective coating.
Gallery spaces are positioned at each end of the lobby, separated from the main space by sheet glass. These spaces are used by Chenfeng Group and the other designers for exhibition display. Atop each of these enclosed displays is a viewing gallery overlooking the lobby space.
Throughout the factory buildings, a simple polished grey granite is present, used across floors, doorways, and as wall cladding. This stone is retained in many locations and continues to be employed throughout circulation spaces and in the fourth-floor courtyard, where it clads the surrounding columns and surfaces, contrasting with the newly introduced glazing and white powder-coated steel of the viewing gallery railings.
A minimal palette of clear glass, brushed stainless steel, and white powder-coated steel are chosen for the multi-use offices and meeting rooms. Semi-reflective glazing is used to create clean, linear spaces while maximising natural daylight. The existing plaster finish of the structure in these spaces was scraped away to expose concrete pillars and beams within the new working space, a light residue being left to soften their presence. A poured terrazzo was selected to finish the floors creating a hard-wearing, quality finish. These finishes are combined with strip lighting and soft lighting from hanging pendants, to create a sense of warmth and communality.
The large courtyard on the fourth floor is designed as a communal meeting and break out space, shared by the surrounding office & studio spaces. A traditional rock garden retained from the old building layout sits beside a spiral shortcut staircase spanning over three floors and leading up to the large open event space on the sixth floor.
Glass partitions around the courtyard on the fourth-floor open onto a large shared studio space, whereas the fifth floor hosts a series of smaller separate offices, meeting rooms, and archive spaces. The light-filled courtyard creates a strong visual connection between the spaces, encouraging people to meet and interact.
“Chenfeng Group are leaders in nurturing young fashion talent in China and this project underlines that; the modern, up-to-date workspaces provide the ideal platform to continue to cultivate this success. Our ambition for the project was to create a contemporary workspace that is tailored to the client’s future ambitions. We have a strong ongoing relationship and see this as only the first step in the development of the new campus. To be able to differentiate between the existing and the new, and to retain the spirit of the existing building while looking to the future was very important for ourselves and the client.” said Joseph Dejardin.
The renovation is emblematic of a wider trend within the Chinese manufacturing sector, as companies seek to expand their focus to research and development while retaining their core manufacturing capabilities. This project embraced this through a materiality that looked to the future while retaining strong links to the past through preservation and reimagination.
Based in London and Shanghai, Joseph Dejardin is a multi-disciplinary design & architecture studio working across architecture & interiors, set design & installations, exhibitions & furniture. The studio is currently involved in several architecture, interiors and set design projects in the UK and China, including a series of multi-brand concept stores and two large-scale architectural conversion projects, alongside a number of ongoing fashion collaborations.