It’s a rare thing to read a gushing story about an American corporation running a factory in China. But a recent report from Domus does just that, giving us a glimpse into how the Lafayette 148 factory in Shantou rethinks the ways foreign architects and companies work in China, by engaging local construction traditions and streamlining the flow of production within the factory.
If you don’t know (I didn’t), Lafayette 148 is a New York-based womenswear company. Their factory in Shantou contains the entire process of production, from the conception of designs to the finishing of the garments. The building, built by Mehrdad Hadighi of Pennsylvania’s Studio for Architecture and Tsz Yan Ng, stacks each of these programs vertically, creating a super-efficient flow of labor laid out on floors that are completely open-plan, thanks to post-tensioned floor beams.
But as Marc Neveu points out, the real highlight is the facade, which is blanketed in wonderfully elastic concrete sheaths that bend and twist like fabric. The horizontal louvres (punched with weight-saving holes that spell Lafayette 148 in Braille) are made with poured-in-place concrete–a construction technique that is usually prohibitively expensive. But in Shantou, poured-in-place concrete is actually cheaper and more common than prefabricating concrete in panels. So Hadighi and Ng designed a reusable formwork that local construction crews could employ to fabricate each chunk of concrete on-site. Neveu explains:
Contrary to the unfortunately all too typical scenario that finds large western companies exploiting the inexpensive, and often unethical, labor practices in China, at Lafayette 148 the architects are dependent upon but also develop the local tradition. The product is not, however, exported for profit but rather stays on site. In fact, this mode of fabrication could only occur in a situation such as the one in Shantou. . . an unusual but wonderful twist, the building’s façade has informed the branding of a recent clothing line for the company.
Another plus? Thanks to the shading and ventilation powers, the louvres make the factory 40% more energy efficient than nearby factories.
Read the full story on Domus here.