Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln: from ruins of production to a public space

China-based HCCH Studio has transformed the ruins of Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln in Nanhui, China, into a public space, renovating it to generate a greater social value.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Nov 21, 2022

Hoffmann Kiln is a familiar presence worldwide, owing to their efficient use of heat and fuel—patented by German inventor Friedrich Hoffmann in 1858—they have been widely chosen for brickmaking. Tracing its origins back to the early 20th century, the architectural silhouette of Hoffmann Kilns featuring high chimneys and ring passageways surrounded by small rooms started appearing in the landscape of Shanghai. Even though the kilns were a significant part of the last century, in the current scenario, most have been relegated to redundancy, abandoned or ruined, due to the lack of its necessity. With the contemporary world reviving tangible and intangible parts of history from being forgotten or lost, the kilns are also adorning new identities, to sustain in these changing times. With an understanding of Hoffmann Kiln’s past, knowledge of architectural advancement in the restoration of old structures and an optimism to transform abandoned spaces into a public hub, China-based HCCH Studio approached an old kiln in Pudong, Shanghai. Located in Laogang Town in Nanhui, Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln, also referred to as ’Pudong Red Kiln', sits on the edge of an underused golf course. The site is bound by a canal that flows through the centre of the town to the East China Sea. Due to the natural scenic landscape of the site and the context embracing newer changes and developments, the intervention by the Chinese architects aims to transform Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln "from the ruins of production into a public place".

  • Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln referred to as Pudong Red Kiln is located in Laogang Town, Nanhui, Pudong | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln referred to as Pudong Red Kiln is located in Laogang Town, Nanhui, Pudong Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • Patented by German Friedrich Hoffmann in 1858, Hoffmann Kiln was widely used over the world because of its efficient use of heat and fuel | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    Patented by German Friedrich Hoffmann in 1858, Hoffmann Kiln was widely used over the world because of its efficient use of heat and fuel Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The site sits on the edge of an underused golf course bounded by a canal that flows from the centre of the town to the East China Sea | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The site sits on the edge of an underused golf course bounded by a canal that flows from the centre of the town to the East China Sea Image: Qingyan Zhu

At the time of project's inception in 2019, the kiln was found in a deteriorated state; the roofs and walls had collapsed and were damaged, piles of soil had accumulated and weeds were growing from the cracks. While the kiln was evidently abandoned for a long time, the current attention to the structure’s renovation was following the proposal for the site to be a suburban leisure park in the future. However, HCCH Studio used the opportunity to reimagine the kiln for public use, while retaining its original atmosphere as much as possible. Talking about the intervention, the architects share, “The renovation attempts to not only retain its classic layout, materials, and scale but also amplify the usability and spatial charm of the place."

  • On the west, the original passage close to the chimney is used for evacuation, to preserve the original | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    On the west, the original passage close to the chimney is used for evacuation, to preserve the original Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • Turning the process space into a framework, the renovation underpins the possibility of contemporary lifestyle  | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    Turning the process space into a framework, the renovation underpins the possibility of contemporary lifestyle Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • In addition to the space value, the old kiln starts to generate a greater social value | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    In addition to the space value, the old kiln starts to generate a greater social value Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The facade is kept transparent, with verandas on both first and second floors as evacuation and viewing platforms | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The facade is kept transparent, with verandas on both first and second floors as evacuation and viewing platforms Image: Qingyan Zhu

Though the building was in a deteriorating state, the architectural features of the kiln were mostly intact. Therefore the site cleaning, reinforcement, and design work of the Pudong Hoffman Brick Kiln were simultaneously carried out. A repetitive motif, an arch element can be found in most spaces of the kiln including the circular tunnel, passage, and openings. Keeping this character intact, the damaged, old, brick arches were informally strengthened with steel structures. "Walking through it is like being in the industrial universe of the brick-burning era of the 19th century,” state the architects.

  • The red kiln on the site had already lost its original function for a long | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The red kiln on the site had already lost its original function for a long Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • Roof and walls were collapsed and damaged, buried by soil and overgrown with weeds | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    Roof and walls were collapsed and damaged, buried by soil and overgrown with weeds Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The site cleaning, reinforcement and design work of this project are carried out simultaneously | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The site cleaning, reinforcement and design work of this project are carried out simultaneously Image: Qingyan Zhu

Intervening in a kiln with a closed flue, an outer ring and a chimney, the architects opened up the enclosure and added an additional outer layer to it. "During the design process, we found that the closed flue in the middle can be opened into the outer ring. The connections between the two were originally used for smoke exhaust," noted the architects. Opening up the closed flue, these openings which were previously smoke exhausts, transformed into doorways. Guided by this, HCCH Studio created a column grid layout, where the inner closed flue became a passage adorning planters and a long skylight and the outer ring and exterior corridor became hospitality areas, hosting dining and recreational dining functions.

Standing beneath the skylight, visitors can look up at the towering chimney, which is the symbol of the entire site | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
Standing beneath the skylight, visitors can look up at the towering chimney, which is the symbol of the entire site Image: Qingyan Zhu

The narrow inner flue lacked a source of natural light; dealing with these constraints, the architects added a long skylight, which acts as a light well. With archways opening to the outer ring, the inner flue now acts as a passage illuminating the interiors with ample natural light and greenery. The vaulted space of the outer ring in brick architecture, now, acts as a restaurant space. In the unique design of bricks, the barrel vault ceiling gradually transfigures into the walls, allowing the visitors to perceive the space as a single entity. Keeping the initial character of the outer ring alive—where the bricks are placed to dry in a kiln—the renovation presented the space in a similar character with a secluded enclosure. The lighting design also follows a warm effect, where the light sources are the original vent holes scattered on the ceiling.

  • Inside the brick kiln, the circular tunnel, passage, and openings all repeat the motif of arch | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    Inside the brick kiln, the circular tunnel, passage, and openings all repeat the motif of arch Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • During the design process the architects found that the closed flue in the middle can be opened into the outer ring | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    During the design process the architects found that the closed flue in the middle can be opened into the outer ring Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The connections between the two was originally used for the smoke exhaust which now became arch-shaped doorways | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The connections between the two was originally used for the smoke exhaust which now became arch-shaped doorways Image: Qingyan Zhu

Along with renovating the existing spaces of Hoffman's Kiln, the architects also added a new layer to the structure by transforming the informal corridors into areas of recreation, circulation, and leisure. The corridors along the longer axis adorn a glass facade, and the shorter ones act as an open passage with arch openings. The stairs connecting the ground floor to the upper floor also begin from this passage, with open corridors. The facade remains transparent, with verandas on both the first and second floors, functioning as evacuation and viewing platforms. The exterior corridors on the first floor, wrap the multipurpose hall with skylights. Replicating the lightwell of the flue, the hall also has a long skylight on its pitched roof.

  • Daylight floods into the dark ring through the arches, just like porch around patio or atrium | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    Daylight floods into the dark ring through the arches, just like porch around patio or atrium Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The arches on the other side of the ring are the climatic boundaries, creating private pockets looking to the landscape | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The arches on the other side of the ring are the climatic boundaries, creating private pockets looking to the landscape Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The original vent holes scattered on the ceiling are reserved for lighting and spraying, and the lower exhaust holes are used as air- conditioning outlets | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The original vent holes scattered on the ceiling are reserved for lighting and spraying, and the lower exhaust holes are used as air- conditioning outlets Image: Qingyan Zhu

Reminiscing the arch motifs of the interior design and traditional old Hoffmann kiln, arches adorn the east facade. However, the exposed brick facade, the scale and proportion of the five front arches, and the sloping roof profile are similar to the romanesque church architecture seen in Milan, Italy. While this architectural character is not common for kilns, the main attraction, beyond the facade, remains the towering chimney, an identification of kilns. Designing and renovating the old kiln for new use and a new era, the architects carefully balanced the essence of the old, to be presented through the contemporary world. A direct example of this is seen in the material palette where brick—an integral part of the kiln, its history, and identity—is structurally and architecturally supported by concrete. Apart from that, the architects transformed the industrial aesthetics of the kiln into an immersive public space by making it more transparent and accessible through interesting openings, skylights, and indoor plants. 

  • The vaulted space of the outer ring in brick architecture now acts as a restaurant space | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The vaulted space of the outer ring in brick architecture now acts as a restaurant space Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • In the unique design of bricks, the barrel vault ceiling gradually transfigures into the walls allowing the visitors to perceive the space as a single entity | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    In the unique design of bricks, the barrel vault ceiling gradually transfigures into the walls allowing the visitors to perceive the space as a single entity Image: Qingyan Zhu
  • The renovation of the red kiln does not only use abandoned industrial forms as relics to display | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
    The renovation of the red kiln does not only use abandoned industrial forms as relics to display Image: Qingyan Zhu

Talking further about the renovation and its relevance in the current world, the architects add, “Shanghai is one of the cities that opened port earliest in the 19th century. The introduction of the Hoffman kiln exemplified the industrialisation of its suburban economy. The renovation of the red kiln does not only use abandoned industrial forms as relics to display but turns the process space into a framework, to underpin the possibility of a contemporary lifestyle. In addition to the space value, the old kiln starts to generate a greater social value.”

The renovation attempts to not only retain its classic layout, materials, and scale, but also amplify the usability and spatial charm of the place | Pudong Red Kiln | HCCH Studio | STIRworld
The renovation attempts to not only retain its classic layout, materials, and scale, but also amplify the usability and spatial charm of the place Image: Qingyan Zhu

Project Details

Name: Pudong Red Kiln
Location: Shanghai, China
Architect: HCCH Studio
Design team: Hao Chen, Chenchen Hu, Ziyan Ge, Zehong Liu Development company: Shanghai Hengda
LDI: TC Design&Construction

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