MDO’s project is the transformation of a canal side Qing Dynasty Post Office into a dynamic community social hub. Our approach combines sensitive renovation techniques with modern upgrades to create a space that celebrates the tradition of information sharing and brings the history of the postal service to life for a new generation. By preserving the building’s original features and integrating new elements, we have successfully revitalized the post office into an exhibition, museum, café, and lecture space, fostering community engagement and cultural exchange.
Commissioned by the local Qingpu government, our objective was to showcase the post office’s history to both the community and the growing number of tourists visiting Zhujiajiao, drawn by its traditional architecture and picturesque waterways. Our design approach centered around information sharing, resulting in a waterfront café, a versatile hall for community events, and a multifunctional gallery. Permanent exhibits, featuring the post office’s rich history, are thoughtfully presented through physical and digital media.
The existing building, an exemplary Qing Dynasty architecture, underwent meticulous restoration by removing modern additions and restoring it to its original form of brickwork, timber structure, and tile. To distinguish new elements from the old, carefully curated objects were inserted into this historical context, allowing visitors to appreciate the contrast and evolution of the space. The stair and shelves were crafted with a color palette inspired by the local fabric’s “Qingpu blue” and the distinctive “green water” of the water transport post office, paying homage to the building’s heritage.
This projects addressed the challenges China faces in preserving its past while embracing the future. Shanghai’s rapid development has often resulted in the demolition of historic urban areas, leaving cultural heritage overshadowed by commercial interests. However, our approach in Zhujiajiao is different. We recognized the vibrant community’s living heritage and aimed to transform the post office into a dynamic space that celebrates its history and serves as a hub for the exchange of ideas.
By honoring the past while embracing modernity, we have created a space where people can gather for meetings, lectures, and exhibitions, thus reviving the post office’s original purpose of information sharing. In doing so, we respect the building’s original architecture and its story, evident in the intricate roof, the timeworn bronze letter box, and the distinctive clay brick wall.
Our design incorporates modern elements that pay homage to history, such as the shelves supported by black ‘feet,’ reminiscent of the postmen who traversed towns with vital information. This harmonious blend of old and new fosters a meaningful dialogue between the past and the present, reminding us of Daniel Johnston’s poetic words: “The world is an old canvas, painted over many times.”
Benefitting the Community
At the heart of our “sensitive renovation” approach is the judicious use of resources, both existing and new. We maximized the reuse of the original structure, utilizing walls, floors, windows, doors, roof, and veranda. Recycled materials played a crucial role in the project, including locally made terrazzo for the stair and ground floor finish, and a lino flooring made from natural rapidly renewable materials. Existing exposed walls and roof tiles were carefully cleaned and repaired, preserving their authentic character.
Energy efficiency was a priority in our design, with energy-efficient lighting employed throughout the building. The riverside façade, which also serves as a solar control screen, is designed to provide cross ventilation, cooling the interior spaces naturally. Although air conditioning is necessary in Shanghai, its use is limited due to the thermal mass of the existing structure combined with the building’s natural ventilation and solar control methods.
Beyond the architectural achievements, the community greatly benefits from the gallery, lecture space, and café, which provide valuable local resources. The project also emphasizes community engagement by employing knowledgeable local residents who share the post office’s history with visitors, fostering a sense of pride and connection.
In conclusion, our renovation of the canal side Qing Dynasty Post Office stands as a testament to the successful preservation and transformation of historical architecture. By striking a balance between honoring the past and embracing the future, we have created a vibrant community space that brings people together, fosters cultural exchange, and ensures the rich history of the postal service continues to thrive for generations to come.
Project Name: Qing Dynasty Post Office Renovation; Project Location: Shanghai,China; Project Area: 188 ㎡; Design Team: More Design Office; Design Directors: Justin Bridgland, Jaycee Chui; Completion Date: January 2023; Space Photography: Pianfang Studio;