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Jul 01, 2022 By IIDA HQ
Perspective: State of Being | Renew
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Fantasy Babble Factory: a redesigned former soap-making factory site becomes a museum, cafe, and gallery space
By IIDA HQ Jul 01, 2022
Published in Articles
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Fantasy Babble Factory couldn’t be a more appropriate name for the retro sci-fi wonderland that lies within a 97-year old industrial building once facing demolition. Originally founded in 1923, the newly-renovated Shanghai Soap Factory now serves as a multi-purpose space that provides an immersive otherworldly experience. Part–museum, part-cafe, part-imaginative green space, Fantasy Babble Factory is located on the bank of the Yangpu River. But the design team behind the project did not stop at simply bringing the outside in. Embracing the soap making process step by step, they have created more than an Instagram-worthy space—they’re telling a story of industrialization.

Before: Originally built in 1923 as The China Soap Company, Shanghai Soap Factory led by British company Unilever Co was the first one in the Far East. By 1930 the factory, located on the bank of the Yangpu River, manufactured 550 tons of soap each week with a workforce of 450 Chinese workers—primarily for the "Sunlight" soap brand. Other Chinese household staples, such as Bee Flower, Guben, Shanpai, and Baili would follow.

After: Yangpu Riverside is the world's largest riverside industrial belt according to UNESCO and is considered the birthplace of modern Chinese industry. So preservation was key. Part of the transformation of Shanghai’s urban waterfront was the Shanghai Soap Factory, sitting amid the Shanghai Urban Space Art Season, a 5.5-kilometer waterfront public space in the southern section of the river. It is now home to Fantasy Babble Factory.

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The Shanghai Soap Factory on the banks of the Yangpu River. Image © Virtual Shanghai
The Shanghai Soap Factory on the banks of the Yangpu River. Image © Virtual Shanghai
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Preserved interior of the now Fantasy Babble Factory. Image © Xunjun Xu
Preserved interior of the now Fantasy Babble Factory. Image © Xunjun Xu

Before: During the decades-long work toward Shanghai's development and urban renewal, efforts focused on renovating industrial heritage buildings along the Huangpu River waterfront. The 97-year old Shanghai Soap Factory site was classified to be demolished.

After:
Atelier Z+ a Shanghai-based interdisciplinary architecture firm, who alongside interior design studio, Supercloud, reimagined the nearly-demolished factory site—inside and out. Part–museum, part-cafe, Fantasy Babble Factory, provides an immersive indoor-outdoor experience for all.

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White Seven Coffee and Bar. Image © Zhi Xia
White Seven Coffee and Bar. Image © Zhi Xia
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White Seven Coffee and Bar. Image © Zhi Xia
White Seven Coffee and Bar. Image © Zhi Xia

Before: South-facing the Huangpu River, sits the production auxiliary area of what once was a soap factory. The adjacent landscaped area and a water wharf add to the endless possibilities of renovation that would focus on reimagining the space while maintaining its original elements.

After:
Taking the original foundations as a starting point, the designer team builds a low red brick wall to form a semi-open courtyard. This sunken space by the river is now White & Seven Coffee, and provides a hidden entry to BaiQi Cafe, a restaurant themed after the oversize greenery surrounding it. Next to it, exhibition space Acacia Island features soaps produced across the years, all neatly presented in translucent soap bubble-shaped displays.

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Acacia Island features soaps produced across the years, all neatly presented in translucent soap bubble-shaped displays. Image © Zhi Xia
Acacia Island features soaps produced across the years, all neatly presented in translucent soap bubble-shaped displays. Image © Zhi Xia
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Tube connecting display space (Mixing) and Café (Extracting). Image © Fangfang Tian
Tube connecting display space (Mixing) and Café (Extracting). Image © Fangfang Tian

Before: Yangpu Riverside is one of the largest and well-preserved industrial heritage sites, once home to several of China’s earliest industries—paper mills, shipyards, water, and coal gas plants, a fish market, and more—many of which date back over 100 years. After becoming vacant and abandoned, more than 60% of the sites faced demolition.

After:
Leaning into the building’s past as their main source of inspiration, Supercloud named the interior spaces after significant procedures from the soap-making process: injecting, mixing, extracting, presenting, returning, and foaming. All five spaces are connected by 2.4m-diameter steel pipes-turned-tunnels that invite the visitor to a journey through time and space—an ode to Yangpu's industrial past. Some even feature embedded interactive lighting (above).

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Interactive floor and scenes of different moods. Image © Zhi Xia
Interactive floor and scenes of different moods. Image © Zhi Xia
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Hidden entry of BaiQi Cafe. Interactive floor installation. Image © Zhi Xia
Hidden entry of BaiQi Cafe. Interactive floor installation. Image © Zhi Xia

Before: A Shanghai Soap Factory original stirring pool.

After:
A Fantasy Babble Factory exhibition space.

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"Mixing" is where the original stirring pool was, and now turned into a tranquil display room. The large-scale artwork "One Year/ Ten Thousand Years" designed by the famous Japanese artist Yoshiyuki Kawazoe is displayed here. The artwork with foam elements, shaped like stalactites, is one of the permanent exhibits in the 2019 Shanghai Urban Space Art Season. Image © Zhi Xia
"Mixing" is where the original stirring pool was, and now turned into a tranquil display room. The large-scale artwork "One Year/ Ten Thousand Years" designed by the famous Japanese artist Yoshiyuki Kawazoe is displayed here. The artwork with foam elements, shaped like stalactites, is one of the permanent exhibits in the 2019 Shanghai Urban Space Art Season. Image © Zhi Xia
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Floor embedded marble patterns. Image © Zhi Xia
Floor embedded marble patterns. Image © Zhi Xia

Before: The former soap factory’s structure roof.

After: Going up an orange steel ladder visitors access the top floor. Under the newly-created, see-through bubble roof, a redesigned light green swimming pool becomes a laboratory of sorts. There a hands-on experience of soap making awaits. Aromatic bubbles float in the air and notes of sandalwood, with a touch of jasmine and citrus fill the space.

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Orange staircase. Image © Zhi Xia
Orange staircase. Image © Zhi Xia
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Making soap in the empty swimming pool. Image © Zhi Xia
Making soap in the empty swimming pool. Image © Zhi Xia
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