Planning for Creativity
Fri, 2007-08-10 12:00 — Renee Chen
Shanghai is awash with creative spaces, part of a plan to develop the
city's creative industries. Renee Chen finds out more about the
Although Tianzifang (Taikang Lu), M50 (50 Moganshan Lu), and Bridge 8
are already landmarks on the city map, their relatively recent arrival
marks the beginning of a new era in our cultural development. Until
now, we knew them simply as cool buildings, or areas in which to have
coffee, go shopping, or visit art exhibitions. But today, developments
like these are being heralded as the new seats of Shanghai's creative
Their growth hasn't gone unnoticed. Shanghai's creative businesses
generated ¥54.91 billion more in 2005 than in 2004, and back in
December 2004, this burgeoning success led the Shanghai government to
announce a policy designed to identify and develop other creative
spaces around the city. According to He Zengqiang, Secretary General of
the Shanghai Creative Industry Center (SCIC), "A creative industry
indicates that it is based on creative thought and an intensity of
knowledge. Supporting them will lead to an increase in job
opportunities in these fields."
In addition to revenue, it is the hope of transforming the local
economy from a manufacturing to a service industry that further compels
the government to push the trend. Shanghai's serious economic
development began with the influx of foreigners during the middle of
the 19th century, and as industry built a solid foundation, a mass
stock of industrial capital was erected, shaping the city's landscape.
But after 164 years of economic ebbing and flowing, many of these once
bustling factories fell victim to what the noted Austrian economist
Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction." They lie dormant now,
but are primed for a new life.
"There are over 30 million square meters of old and idle factory space
in Shanghai, but unlike the newer office buildings, they have a history
that gives a full sense of our culture," says He. The SCIC helps to
invest and renovate this glut of old factory space, while keeping the
cost down to as little as ¥1 per square meter in areas such as Hongkou
district. "We did a study this May which found the average rent for old
warehouses and factories is ¥2.75 per square meter per day, which is
much cheaper than office buildings," says He. "This price is perfect
for those with a creative streak."
Although the big name areas such as Taikang Lu get most of the
attention, there are already 75 such creative clusters in Shanghai,
involving 3,000 companies and 27,000 employees and covering industries
such as R&D, architectural design, art, consulting, and fashion.
When creative types find a home, creative ideas are bound to follow.
Bridge 8, which opened its doors in December 2004, now has a 100
percent occupancy rate with companies from the catering, retail,
interior design, and film production industries. The number of tenants
has risen from 25 to 100, and has drawn many internationally When
creative types find a home, creative ideas are bound to follow. Bridge
8, which opened its doors in December 2004, now has a 100 percent
occupancy rate with companies from the catering, retail, interior
design, and film production industries. The number of tenants has risen
from 25 to 100, and has drawn many internationally famous studios like
ALSOP from the UK and SOM from the US. "My job is just like writing a
play," says Huang Hanhong, the CEO of the Lifestyle Consulting, Ltd.,
the operators of Bridge 8. "I want a play that can bring out the best
from its actors; in other words, its tenants. Maybe that's my
The success of clusters such as Bridge 8 has provided the impetus for
new projects in the city. The hugely impressive former slaughterhouse
Old Millfun, located in Hongkou district, is one of the newer projects
under construction and will be one of the largest creative centers in
Shanghai. "If you want to experience buildings typical of Shanghai in
the 1920s, you have other choices than just Xintiandi," says SCIC
undersecretary Cherry Zhou, pointing to this 1933 slaughterhouse.
And unlike Xintiandi, which razed local buildings to make way for
upscale shopping and dining, Old Millfun will keep and renovate its
original building, a vast network of concrete ramps, bridges, and
staircases, in an effort to maintain this portion of the city's
history. Meanwhile, certain modern elements will be incorporated. Old
Millfun will be finished by the end of next month, and will host the
2007 Shanghai International Creative Industry Week this November.
Apart from government supported projects, there are still independent
clusters like the Wujiaochang 800 Art Space. This brand new five-floor
building located in the university area of Wujiaochang, was developed
by Shanghai Hanqu Ltd. Besides several urban planning and architecture
design studios, 800 Art Space is mainly for art galleries. "We only
recruit professional artists, which is the very thing we pride
ourselves in, as even M50 has many personal studios," says Judy Yan,
who works for the investment department of 800 Art Space. They have
already recruited 40 studios and galleries, including ShanghART Gallery
and Shine Art Space.
The creative industry in Shanghai is so young that it's hard to compare
it with western cities which have highly developed cultural,
publishing, film, and advertising industries. Intellectual property and
market cultivation are two hurdles the creative industry will have to
clear on its way to development. "The Chinese are quite good at copying
things," says He. "If a new fashion style came out in Europe yesterday,
it will have arrived in Hong Kong today, and will travel everywhere on
the Mainland tomorrow."
Many, including the government, have now indicated that this trend must
stop. As long as the profitability stemming from a company's work is
threatened, the market will never build up the resources necessary for
its own growth – which is why so few foreign creative companies have
been willing to set down roots here.
Regarding homegrown talent, SCIC has done its bit, enacting regulations
that aim to protect the ideas coming from entrepreneurs and other
creatives. But there is a recognition that more must also be done to
nurture creativity at an earlier age. "The interests of students are
ignored by our education system, since there is too much pressure to
get into university and then land a job after graduation," sighs He.
"It just ruins young people's lives."
Fortunately, this may be changing, as educational projects are being
designed to develop students' critical thinking. Shanghai Normal
University, for example, has set up a Cultural Industry Management
course that Shanghai Jiaotong University had already been using for ten
years. A creative institute is also opening for the first time at the
Shanghai Theater Academy.
The hope is that while the government develops the city's creative
spaces into platforms for an emerging creative industry, talent will
also be nurtured to step up onto that stage.
Other creative clusters to check out
Xin Shi Gang
Formally a steel factory, this building now houses the Shanghai
Sculpture Space. Later phases will add a space for multimedia companies
and the Jiangsheng flower and plant market.
570 Huaihai Xi Lu, near Hongqiao Lu, 6280 0789.
Yifei Creative Street
Originally conceived by the famed-painter Chen Yifei, this 723 meter
long street on Yanggao Nan Lu will be an upscale leisure center
complimented by several international design studios.
Yanggao Nan Lu, near Jinxiu Lu.
This 1920s warehouse on Suzhou Creek houses a science and technology
cluster, as well as visual arts and architectural design studios.
21 Guangfu Lu, near Wuzhen Lu, 6380 1202.
Tianshan Fashion Cluster
This block was designed by the China Fashion Designers Association and
the Fashion and Art Design Institute of Donghua University. It aims to
nurture fashion businesses, as well as professional design, and
1718 Tianshan Lu, near Loushanguan Lu.
Y&G Art Warehouse
This renovated printing press hopes to attract artists seeking personal
studio spaces. Some contemporary painters like Ye Qiang and Liu Hong
have already moved in.
No.2, Lane 295, Xianxia Lu, near Loushanguan Lu, 5206 9176.