Shanghai, China

For the Xiang-Dong Buddhist Art Museum, Jiakun Architects crafted a new home for an important collection of Buddhist icons inside the envelope of an old factory. In doing so, the firm juxtaposed the distinct worlds of religion and industry—two spheres that historically rarely cross paths.

Interpreting the Buddhist term, conglin  (forest)—a metaphor for a temple, the Buddhist community, or transmigration—Jiakun created a stepped and winding space inside the old industrial shell. Visitors encounter icons in areas designed to evoke temple spaces—stepping over thresholds, moving around sculptures, and changing levels. The architect also introduced trees and plantings inside the museum to create an artificial landscape and reinforce the allusion to forests. Instead of hiding the building’s industrial past, Jiakun exposed the original roof trusses and rugged brick walls. Visitors enter the museum into a double-height space, then ascend a series of platforms to a mezzanine level before heading back down to the first floor.

As China modernizes its industrial base, cities around the country find themselves with old factories that need to serve new functions. The Xiang-Dong museum shows how the flexible spaces of factories can be utilized in novel and unexpected ways for the arts and 21st-century enterprises. It also serves as a foundation for the re-development of the industrial part of Shanghai’s Jiading Juyuan New District while preserving part of the district’s vernacular history.