Chinese cities face a new urgency: to move away from the mass production of built space, and instead nurture the rise of healthy, diverse and creative urban centers. To this end, creative clusters are a pivotal planning tool. Creative districts the world over have been able to assimilate into existing urban fabric and effectively reinvent themselves as interesting, comfortable and profitable destinations. However, in China, its most renowned creative zone, the 798 Art District in Beijing, has become a victim of its own success. Emerged at the hight of China's economic boom, its accelerated gentrification has spiraled out of control. In a matter of years the area has converted from factory compound, to art district, to a loose-fit assembly of galleries and coffeeshops. After a decade and a half, it is legitimized and has the resources to plan more commercial developments. What is lost, during this period, however, is the involvement of a dedicated art community that can ensure new buildings contain and generate creative content. The challenge: ‘Can we plan what was essentially unplanned?’

The CITY = MUSEUM project is a planning project based on extensive research of the heyday of 798, as presented in the September special issue of Urban China Magazine, guest edited by MARS + MORE. Through interviews of key figures and analyses of new creative clusters the challenges planning China's many new creative clusters are analyzed. Available as PDF here: URBAN CHINA_ 798 and the CREATIVE CLUSTER CONUNDRUM

The second set of slides introduce the initial observations, concerns and planning concepts (PDF) by MARS+MORE.






In the fall of 2013, Beijing-based artist Huang Rui - one of the founders of the 798 Art District - invited MARS for an initial brainstorm about the future of the 798 area. The following stakeholder workshop that included the Seven Star Group—the owner of the district—local artists and gallerists and representatives from related fields, revealed the many complex challenges the area faces and the limited means architects and planners have in addressing them. The initial objective to increase the present floor area by threefold would both further undermine the cultural value of the area and would accelerate the ongoing abrasion of its profound industrial heritage. The pragmatic block-by-block approach to redevelop the district, as was proposed by the owners, would only add the sequence of ad hoc solutions, rather than addressing the root cause driving its harsh gentrification and commercialization. During this initial phase MARS + MORE worked with Huang Rui and the Seven Star Group to assess the possible impact of the proposed development goal and formulate alternative planning objectives.

Ensuing, MARS + MORE have invited eight world-renowned Chinese and international offices, including OMA, McKinsey and Rockbund Art Museum, to produce an integrated planning strategy, to be presented during Beijing Design Week. The firms have worked together in a unique format aimed to develop a single comprehensive approach to initiate a renaissance of China’s first grassroots art district. The strategy lays out the short and long-term steps for the future of 798 and provides a vision how to plan creative clusters around China. The project is the framework for a broad panel of leading global architects and experts who have teamed up using a unique collaborative format to develop ways to move beyond 798’s generic gentrification.

Eight firms will approach the challenge from their unique backgrounds, integrating perspective on new business models, cultural managment, new media technologies and architecture and heritage. This multidisciplinary team consists of: OMA, McKinsey, CAFA/Moujiti, HybridSpaceLab, XML, Rockbund Art Museum, AIM Architecture and WAI Architecture Think Tank.

The integrated planning strategy CITY = MUSEUM, was presented in a public symposium on 28 September, 3pm at UCCA, in 798 Beijing.


The below project introduction contains the TEAM BRIEF (PDF) and the full INTRODUCTION (PDF).


When it comes to art in China few places capture the imagination more than the 798 Art District in Beijing. The rich history of the area, reflects the many stages of evolution Chinese society has seen since the birth of the Republic. At the heart of the area the beautifully engineered factory halls still radiate the sense of proud collectivism of blue-collar workers producing bullets and armor during the fifties and sixties. From the late seventies onwards, a loose-fit and highly critical art community emerged, using the warehouses and depots as affordable private studios. During the nineties commercial galleries became more prominent tapping into a growing international demand for Chinese art—increasingly with a supporting infrastructure of coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Steadily, China’s unique brand of consumerism permeated all parts of the 798 District, providing anything from street food at oily stalls to luxury cars at mega corporate events. When the local government co-opted the first 798 Art Festival in 2005 and rent prices matched those of downtown, all art production effectively moved out. The art on offer has also rapidly commercialized, however, as many as six internationally renowned independent galleries and art institutes provide a solid ongoing platform for cultural content. The 798 district of today, is the result of this progressive adaptation to Chinese modernity. The traces of each previous era still clearly visible, stacked organically one on top of the next.

This process can be compared to the gentrification of industrial compounds around the world. Many of which have been successful in reinventing themselves from centers of mass production, to hip commercial hubs or even modern clusters for creative industries. This hasn’t happened overnight and has always been the result of a deliberate planning process —often in sophisticated public-private partnerships. There is a strong sense the conditions in 798, both spatially and socio-politically, are more complex and more challenging. For the first time the government sees the importance of some form of a planned intervention, described as a roughly defined ambition for five new cultural buildings (exchange center, museum, auction house, storage and gallery, education facilities) and a projected densification of 3.5 times the current floor area ratio (from 0.7 to 2.5). A larger vision how to achieve this, or even how the new buildings would correlate is lacking.

798’s organic adaption will not cease, and concerns relating to inaccessibility, pedestrian and car congestion, harsh commercialization, messy subletting and skewed rent prices are only mounting. Ultimately, the area’s core qualities as rooted in its architectural heritage, its lineage as a grass-roots art community, and even today’s hotchpotch diversity of places and people are under pressure. Fears are looming, a heavy handed, top-down implemented plan would further undermine these qualities. Larger visions have been made over the years, but they follow a model of planning by simply adding built volume, with no reference to the activities that should occupy these new space, let alone the communities that would nurture their growth and determine their quality.
MARS + MORE (M+M) have analyzed the possible impact of densifying the area more than threefold. In response we have developed an initial proposal that largely goes underground in order to safeguard the historic heart while meeting the objective for new floor area. However, it is clear that the larger challenge lies beyond the realm of architecture and planning alone. A long-term vision will be needed, which integrates the components for a new business model, sustainable cultural management, urban identity and heritage, and virtual and social engagement. With no real precedent in China—or elsewhere—we believe only a cross-disciplinary and multinational team can formulate such an integrated strategy. The result is a roadmap that details the steps towards a new future for the 798 Art District and may hold the key for China’s vast ambition to create new creative industries nationwide.


The task was divided in four themes: Business Case, Future Heritage and Nostalgia, Cultural Production and Management, Virtual and Social Engagement. Each theme will be tackled in tandem by one Chinese and one Dutch team. As the projects unfolds, the proposals will be merged to form a single strategy. Leading up to this strategic collaboration M+M have conceived a planning proposal which will developed in detail during the course of the project and may be used as a spatial framework.

The following questions suggest a direction and aim to ignite initial discussions about the implications of each theme. The first skype conference call will help each team to define the focal points for their strategies. In addition to one of the themes below we ask each team to provide two opening slides describing their dream and doom scenario for the future of 798.

Now both postindustrial and post-suburban, the district’s organic growth has largely been overtaken by commonplace market-driven development models.

  • Can the Chinese development models be adapted to nurture the diversity of program and communities we find in 798 today?

The cultural identity of 798 relies on a awkward mix of architectural heritage, its legacy as a grass roots art community, petty consumerism and a unique maze of public spaces.

  • As the carriers of its core identity continue to erode, can strategies can be formulated to extrapolate these qualities into the future, or will new core values need to be defined?

Our relationship with our social and physical environment is today severely mediated by technology. New phenomena from big data to cloud based solutions are fundamentally transforming urban life. Already today the virtual realm has redefined mobility, real estate and culture itself. Future opportunities to upgrade areas such as 798 with new media technology seem boundless, but how to steer this ongoing transformation remains illusive.
How can technology foster new and engaging relationships between creative content and the different users groups and communities?

In 798 the contrast between high and low art is striking. While nationwide, the explosive production of cultural space and a lack of cultural content has created a harsh disparity.

  • Does this simply require a redefinition of typologies and new attitudes towards curatorship,

or should we develop new tactics to assure cultural facilities will actually accommodate creative program and culturally content of a certain standard?


Central to this project is the strategic collaborative relay. This is a unique time-based process that allows for large multidisciplinary teams to efficiently achieve complex, long-term and truly integrated visions.

During the collaborative relay 8 teams work in Chinese-Dutch partnerships, together representing four different disciplinary backgrounds. Each team works for a period of 2 weeks on a single strategy. In thirty pages, each strategy is required to describe a future vision for the 798 Art District and the necessary steps to arrive at this vision.

During the Beijing Design Week, the participating offices will be invited to join a 2-day closed working session to further compress and refine their expert strategies.

During day one, the Chinese-Dutch teams of the same field are asked to merge their proposals, and reduce the combined presentations from 60 to 30 pages, specifically aligning which steps need to be taken in which order. During day two, the four pairing teams work together again to reduce their proposals further with specific care how different solution components will be able to support each other. The result is a concise 30-slide document, with a single overarching strategy for the long-term future of the 798 area.

The condensed results of the relay will be presented during the public seminar. The seminar aims to discuss the applicability of the proposal and methodology in 798 Art District, and in other cities in China.

Required additional team info

Name(s) partner(s) in charge, e-mail address, phone nr
Photo of the partner(s) in charge (color, 300 DPI)
Profile of office / institute (max 200 words)
Bank details, contact person for administration


OMA -- Business Case
AIM -- Future Heritage and Nostalgia
Hybrid Space Lab -- Virtual and Social Engagement
XML -- Cultural Production and Management

McKinsey -- Business Case
WAI Think Tank -- Future Heritage and Nostalgia
CAFA / Moujiti -- Virtual and Social Engagement
Rockbund Art Museum -- Cultural Production and Management


OMA (dg) --- Business Case
McKinsey (MGI) --- Business Case
AIM (AIM) --- Future Heritage and Nostalgia
WAI (wai) --- 1
CAFA (feijun) --- the Virtual and the Social
Moujiti (lulu) --- the Virtual and the Social
Hybrid Space Lab (HSL) --- the Virtual and the Social
XML (XML) --- Cultural Production
Rockbund Art Museum (rockbound) --- Cultural Production

MARS+MORE --- Project Introduction (this page)
MARS+MORE --- Future Underground

The wiki consists of three main functions at the top of each page; the article, post and the datalog. In the article you build your story in text image and links. To include images and files click post, which brings you to an upload screen. All files end up in your datalog from where you can retrieve the codes that links to the file you want to include in the main article. Feel to post comments too in other team’s datalogs. A listing of the latest uploads will grow on the right of your article. Here are tips on basic formatting. An initial text has been pasted in your page as an example. Click edit to see how the formatting is coded.


  • An initial DATA SHEET was compiled based on interviews with vice director Li of the 7 Star Group, with numbers on areas, rent, people and programme.
  • A 3D sketchup model of the site can be made available for download here,
  • as well as basic CAD plans here and diagrammatic maps of 798 area in PDF format are available here.


After thirty years of flash expansion, China’s urban development is entering a new phase that must aim for quality over quantity. Working to transform the world’s production powerhouse into a service and innovation based economy, Chinese cities face a new urgency; to move away from the mass production of built space, and instead nurture the rise of healthy, diverse and creative urban centers. As defined in China’s 12th Fifth Year Plan, to this end, creative industry and creative clusters are a pivotal planning tool. However, a model to plan top-down, what is intrinsically defined by grass-roots incentives, does not yet exist for China. 798 FUTURE UNDERGROUND is a case study for Beijing’s famous 798 Art District, which will develop and test a new collaborative planning method that fully integrates urban design with long-term innovation strategies.

This project is initiated by Mars+More, two Dutch architecture offices based in China, who have been commissioned to develop an urban vision for the 798 area. This will be the framework for a broad team of Dutch and Chinese experts working together in a unique collaborative process of strategy development applied to revitalize 798 area, the role model of China’s creative industries.


Over the past four months the two offices Mars+More have been immersed in a project that aims to formulate a strategy for the future of the 798 Art District. What was initially defined by the Seven Star Group—owner of the district—as a straightforward Chinese planning assignment aimed to simply increase the floor area ratio, proved to be an undesirable, even counterproductive target for an area of such great historical and cultural value.

A first workshop with the client, hosted by Huang Rui—key artist in the district and our liaison for this project—has revealed the many complex challenges the area today faces and the limited means architects and planners have in addressing these type of issues. The initial objective of increasing the floor area nearly threefold would both further undermine the value of the area as a grassroots art community and would accelerate the abrasion of its profound industrial heritage. Instead, this typically Chinese top-down planning objective of indistinct densification will likely accelerate the process of harsh low-level commercialization the 798 Art District has seen over the last decade.

Arguably this is part of an entirely natural process of gentrification, as seen in creative districts around the world (i.e. from factories to art studios, to galleries, to museums surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops and souvenir stalls). Many of these areas—most notably SOHO in New York and more recently Glasgow’s industrial suburbs—have been able to assimilate into the existing urban fabric and effectively reinvent themselves as unique, diverse and profitable destinations.

However, 798, the first district to complete this cycle in China, is a victim of its own success. By driving out art production, the onslaught of commercialization has eroded the area’s core value to the point a clear objective for its future seems impossible to define. Flooded by tourists and co-opted by local authorities, the area now has the funds to develop and densify, but has lost the involvement from the art community that would ensure new buildings will actually generate creative content. The question is, can organic creative emergence ever be planned or orchestrated?

This project aims to investigate this contradiction, faced by all planners working on creative industry driven projects. Art districts and creative hubs thrive on the self-organization of creative communities seeking industrial scale work spaces that are only affordable in the suburbs. As these areas become successful and are swallowed by the expending cities, prices augment and the community at the heart of its success is driven out. Increasingly implemented as a tool to stimulate the local economy or regenerate an area, planning or reviving a creative cluster, requires orchestrating what is essentially a self-organized community, often in areas where this is economically unviable.

The limitations of planning are revealed in the urban proposals that have been made for 798 Art District in the past. Lacking the tools to address the complexity of a rapidly evolving area, one by one, they have been shelved. More than a mere spatial plan, what is required is a comprehensive approach that guides a programmatic transition from industry to art and beyond.

Therefore, new entirely objectives will need to be defined. With art production absent, diversity will be key. Each of the components of the rich ecology that has evolved in the 798 area plays a unique role—from the major art institutes that set the standard of the available content, to the big brand headquarters that generate the main revenue, to the small scale retail that serves the daily influx of mass-tourism. Finding a new mix, based on a broader definition of creative industries, with stronger emphasis on applied arts, design and education seems an obvious choice. The question becomes, how to formulate a strategy that can build on the prevalent qualities to nurture a diverse creative community?

This new objective, compelled us to operate beyond the original assignment of merely adding more floor area. Simply increasing the built volume, even upgrading the existing heritage will not ensure new opportunities for the creative community, nor guarantee a shift to more creative content. The results of a first round table meeting with local stakeholders suggest diversity, history and high-end (unrestricted) content are 798s most potent qualities. Fostering these qualities requires a cross-disciplinary approach that ties together the central themes surrounding the creative industries in China—from industrial heritage, to cultural management in this booming art market, to new business models, to interactive technologies and sustainability. These aspects make 798 FUTURE UNDERGROUND the most urgent and most powerful case study to distill an integrated approach that can give direction to China’s vast ambition for new creative industries.


The project 798 Future Underground consists of 4 stages with specific results:

  1. field research: magazine
  2. urban planning backbone: scale model
  3. collaborative relay: strategy document
  4. public road show: video

The field research will, through a journalistic approach, chart the history of 798 and the shift of the cultural climate shaping creative industries in China. Through interviews and policy research, we aim reconstruct how the 798 community originally emerged and evolved into the present-day art district. The objective is to trace the relationships between the role of the community and the production of creative content. The research will culminate in the publication of a dedicated issue of Urban China Magazine, to be launched during the upcoming Beijing Design Week (BJDW’14).

A comprehensive urban proposal will offer the flexible framework that facilitate the strategic visions for the area. In response to the ambitious assignment, Mars+More are working on an urban backbone that allows for a controlled future development of the 798 Art District. This backbone aims to address the conflict of interest between the large amount of newly planned floor area and the existing architecture. This design endeavor has expanded the project into an in-depth investigation of underground solutions for cultural program, to be presented at the Beijing Design Week in the form of models and videos. The urban design proposal is developed in close dialogue with Beijing based artist Huang Rui. Download scanned pages of the book 798 Beijing, edited by Huang Rui as PDF.

Central to this project is the strategic collaborative relay. We have adapted the signature relay process MARS Architects has developed for eco-city planning in China. This is a unique time-based process that allows for large multidisciplinary teams to efficiently achieve complex, long-term and truly integrated visions. For this project this relay process will be applied to strategy development. In the form of several tailor-made multi-stakeholder sessions a range of expert strategies is steadily integrated with stakeholder feedback into a single overarching vision.

During the collaborative relay 8 teams work in Chinese-Dutch partnerships, together representing four different disciplinary backgrounds. Each team works for a period of 2 weeks on a strategy. In thirty slides, each strategy is required to describe a future vision for the 798 Art District and the necessary steps to arrive at this vision.

Through on and offline workshops these strategies are gradually aligned to each other. After an 5-week period, this leads to a layered and diverse proposition for the future of 798. The preliminary results of this process will be incorporated in the Urban China issue on creative clusters in China.

During the Beijing Design Week, the participating offices will be invited to join a 2-day closed working session to further compress and refine their expert strategies. During day one, the Chinese-Dutch teams working on the same theme are asked to merge their proposals, and reduce the combined presentations from 60 to 30 slides—specifically aligning which steps need to be taken in which order. During day two, the four pairs work together again to reduce their proposals further specifically taking care how different solution components will be able to build on each other. The result is a concise 30-slide strategy document, based on an integrated vision for the long-term future of the 798 Art District.

It is crucial for this project to involve stakeholders, local creative communities and the audience at large in a broad conversation about creative clusters in Chinese cities. To this end Mars+More will host a carefully curated public lecture program and seminar. The public program will contain key note presentations by the Dutch and Chinese offices and by Dutch and Chinese experts, working in these fields and present in the region during the Beijing Design Week. CAFA Students have done field interviews and data collection that will be made available.

The condensed results of the relay will be presented during the public seminar. The seminar aims to discuss the applicability of the proposal and methodology in 798 Art District, and in other cities in China. The local partner for the public program is Beijing Design Week creative director Beatrice Leanza.


The project is initiated by MARS + MORE, two Dutch research based architecture practices, based in Shanghai.

MARS Architects lead by Dutch architect Neville Mars, is a Shanghai based boutique design studio that specializes in complex projects that range in scale from planning ecocities to the design of green buildings and furniture.
Mars first started his practice in 2003 in the 798 Art District as the Dynamic City Foundation (DCF), an international research platform investigating hyper-speed urbanization. He is the author of The Chinese Dream - a society under construction (010 Publishers, Mars, Hornsby, Rotterdam 2008, 800 p). Mars has been the director of the Beijing based Dynamic City Foundation since 2003; an interdisciplinary urban research platform focussed on sustainable growth in China. The research and methodologies developed by the DCF, have become the underpinnings of MARS Architects and have been applied to various ecocity planning projects across China, including the new Sino-Dutch Ecocity in Shenzhen and the collaborative relay project for Caofeidian Ecocity, presented at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

As a member of the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Mumbai, MARS Architects developed a unique grassroots urban strategy based on a series of community level sustainable technologies, realized through engagements with local stakeholders. The first installation, the Water Bench has been installed in parks across Mumbai. Autumn 2014, Mars will publish his second book Manifesto of Mistakes - urban solutions for the new world. Mars Architects have won national and international architecture competitions, including the winning bid for a 300 meter tall office tower in Chongqing, the winning entry for the national image museum in Chengdu, and the winning entry amongst over 360 entries worldwide for the international competition for a brand headquarters in Sofia.
Daan Roggeveen is the co-founder of MORE Architecture, a young architecture practice based in Shanghai. Over the past years, Roggeveen has been involved in research on Chinese urbanism through the Go West Project, a think tank which he co-founded with journalist Michiel Hulshof. Following their research, Roggeveen and Hulshof launched the book ‘How the City Moved to Mr Sun – China’s New Megacities’ (SUN, 2011, Dutch edition 2012) that describes the transformation of cities in the heart of China, and discusses the shift in focus from the ‘hardware’ to the ‘software’ in Chinese urban development.

Go West proposed and studied the concept of a Special Art Zone, a project in which they investigated the way to nurture cultural life in Chinese megacities. The project, that contained an extensive dialogue with the local creative community, was presented at the Chengdu Biennale 2011 and through an essay in the Asia Literary Review. Since then, Roggeveen and Hulshof have shifted their focus, and are looking at the influence of Chinese urbanism in African Cities, a project supported by Creative Industries Fund NL. They recently published a dedicated issue of magazine Urban China with the first results of their work. Roggeveen also works as a curator at the University of Hong Kong / Shanghai Study Centre, where he oversees the public program. He curated the shows ‘Olympic Cities’ , ‘The Future of the Museum’ and ‘Monument to Progress’ amongst others.


For this 798 FUTURE UNDERGROUND, Mars+More strive for a deeply rooted project that is connected to questions relevant to local governments and cultural agents. For each specific part of the 798 FUTURE UNDERGROUND project, Mars+More will collaborate with a renowned local partnering institute or individual.

The project 798 FUTURE UNDERGROUND was initiated in close collaboration with artist Huang Rui, a key figure in the art scene of the 798 district and long time friend and collaborator of Neville Mars. Huang Rui was one of the founders of the legendary Stars group, China’s first collective for contemporary artists and know for his social and cultural criticism. Huang Rui is the most vocal and prominent advocate striving for a more comprehensive approach to achieve a strong community driven future for 798. The theme of the project has been being developed in close collaboration with Moujiti, the new media design studio headed by Fei Jun and Li Xin Lu (Lulu) and with the New Media department of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, where Fei Jun and Lulu run a design class on this topic. For the field research Mars+More join forces with Urban China Magazine. Founded in 2004, Urban China is the first Chinese periodical with a critical analysis on China’s massive urban transformation. For the issue Mars+More work with deputy director Huang Zhengli and her team of graphic designers, journalists and urban researchers.



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