From Power Station of Electricity to Power Station of Art

Its past and present story

Electric lights illumanated Nanjing Road in Shanghai, 1883, From the collection of: Power Station of Art
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The history of the power plant dates back to 1897, when it was built by the Qing dynasty government on the banks of the Huangpu river. Following a successful attempt to power an electric light on January 21, 1898, it became one of China's first power plants. One day later, the plant provided power for 30 new street lights along the Bund, bringing an end to the Qing government's ban on electricity production.

Top view of the former Nanshi Electric Plant, From the collection of: Power Station of Art
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In 1954, following the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the Huashang Electric Company became a joint state-private partnership. In 1955, the company became a state-owned enterprise and was renamed the Nanshi Power Plant. The power plant remained in service for over half a century until its closure in 2007, and made a number of pioneering achievements in technological innovation, management practices, personnel training, and safety. Its most notable achievement was the construction of a 12,000 kW dual liquid-cooled generator at the end of the 1950s, a significant breakthrough in the history of electricity generators. In 2004, the Shanghai World Expo organizers signed an agreement to purchase the land usage rights. The plant was subsequently closed in 2007, along with numerous other aging power stations, bringing an end to the site's industrial history.

PSA building exterior viewPower Station of Art

The power station was subsequently renovated to house the "Pavilion of the Future," which opened to the public in 2010 for the Shanghai World Expo. The pavilion showcased futuristic visions of urban life. The architects at Original Design Studio maintained the original features of the building wherever possible, and used a number of renewable-energy technologies and eco-friendly building concepts. In addition to protecting the building's industrial heritage, this design strategy also ensured that the building could be used for a wide range of functions, both during and after the Expo.

Night view of PSA buildingPower Station of Art

One of the defining features of the building is the towering chimney. Built in 1984, it has been converted into a huge thermometer. After considering numerous renovation plans, the architects decided to use LEDs to display the outside temperature. The transformation of this industrial-era smokestack into a visual landmark symbolizes the increasing importance of Shanghai's art and culture scene.

The year 2012 marked the beginning of another chapter in the power station's history—the Power Station of Art. PSA was opened during the ninth Shanghai Biennale, and is Mainland China's first state-run contemporary-art museum.The theme of the ninth Biennale was "Reactivation", which was chosen to celebrate the re-opening of the former power plant and to promote sustainable development.

The ChimneyPower Station of Art

The history of this unique building doesn't just explain how PSA came to be—it also helps us reflect on the museum's mission and its role in today's society.

On Becoming the Wind (2013) by Nishino KozoPower Station of Art

As Mainland China's only public contemporary-art museum, how will PSA face new challenges and continue to drive the development of contemporary art? Only time will tell.

PSA building facadePower Station of Art

The 12th Shanghai Biennale: Proregress

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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