Brownfield in Beijing: From Decaying Steel to Electro Dance Party
Last May 25, in the far west of Beijing, an exuberant crowd gathered in the old steel factory of Shougang (opened in 1919) for the electro festival INTRO. The festival has been held here in the 798 art district or in Crab Island (east of the city) since its inception in 2013. With 8.56 km² of broken windows, abandoned canteens, and disused pipes, the location seems to hold a particular kind of allure for participants. Yet just ten short years ago, it was swarming with industrial workers. Like many other places in the capital, the 2008 Olympic Games irrevocably changed the destiny of this factory, whose production in the early 2000s was 10 million tons of steel per year as it employed more than 200,000 people.
Although an important source of employment in Beijing, the factory was also one of the country’s biggest polluters. As part of the environmental policy implemented on the eve of the Olympics, the Shougang Group was forced to relocate its business to the neighboring province of Hebei while industrial activity in Beijing decreased in anticipation of the international event. The factory completely ceased its activity in December 2010 firing its remaining 22,000 employees.
After being a shining exemplar of Mao’s productivity policy for decades, the Shougang factory seems to still be evolving and adapting to the city’s current needs. At the end of 2011, the local government announced that part of the site would be transformed under the banner of “creative industries”. This new precedent suggests that old industrial areas in the city may in the future be permitted to convert their activities into cultural and entertainment industries (music, design, art, architecture, etc.) without changing their tenure status.