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First Look: Shanghai’s New Creative Park, EKA Tianwu in Pudong

Still a work in progress, we check out what's sure to be one of the cities most hyped places this summer
2024-04-03 12:00:00

There's been a lot of buzz for the past few months about EKA Tianwu, a new urban renewal project in Jinqiao. The space, originally occupied by the Shanghai Marine Instrument General Factory, and previously the old Pudong Customs Factory dating furthest back to 1869, has been generating a lot of excitement, despite half of the buildings still lying vacant.

EKA, which stands forExploration Knowledge Aesthetics, is billing itself as a creative park and community hub for "change makers" – so it has loftier ambitions than being just another F&B hub or pedestrian shopping plaza. They have a rotating schedule of cultural events, such as film screenings, art exhibitions, and EKA Market events. This past month, there was a series of experimental theater performances scheduled over three days, transforming the old factory buildings into interactive theater spaces.

Walking through the park, it feels a bit like Beijing's 798, mixed with one part Xintiandi, and one part funky architecture park. It's easy to see the space's creative potential and visual appeal. Already it feels like a photographer's hotspot. The renovation project refurbished the seven factory buildings of the original industrial heritage site, and constructed a network of stunning new buildings around them to renew the entire area. The fountain and the iconic "copper castle" with the curved arch roof are the central focal point of the creative park. Walking through and exploring further, visitors will find countless more architectural styles: some whimsical, some exotic.

The F&B

There are some restaurants and stores that are already open in the park. Opposite the fountain is a Peet's Coffee. Thai restaurant and bakery BoboLEE is here. A new Beef & Liberty is tucked away behind the main strip, as is a Baker & Spice and a W Coffee.

Intriguingly decorated specialist tea shop BLAN BUNNY has a new store here. They sell fantastical, quirky English tea sets, unique tea-related gifts, and varieties of floral and fruity teas. The decor of the shop alone is worth a stop in and taking a gander at.

Further back is a beautifully designed three-story café bistro One Step Garden with a relaxed outdoor seating area. They serve a predictable standard Western menu of steaks, salads, pizzas and pastas. The red brick building of the restaurant itself is very iconic and worth photographing from all angles. Despite being off the main strip, they were surprisingly busy and have a take-a-number ticketing system just to get a table.

Lenbach Fountain may have the best location and view overlooking the fountain, with its sprawling outdoor patio for sun-soaked al fresco dining. It's dog-friendly and has a relaxed vibe. They also have an indoor dining area and a full bar with wine and beers on tap. On the menu were burgers, tacos, fajitas, and other standard Western fare – as well as their signature must-order thin crust flammkuchen.

Next to Lenbach is SOMEWHERE kitchen, the sister branch of SOMETHING dining & bar from Craig Willis, which is sure to become a popular new brunch spot on Pudong side. The space has a cozy industrial loft vibe with lots of potted plants and natural light on all sides. They have a small outdoor patio with a good view of the fountain and the copper castle. More on SOMEWHERE in our F&B round-up.

There are also a handful of businesses such as The Treasury Hotel, TAPA TAPA, Uncle No Name, HEYTEA, and a new Texas BBQ offering called Garlic Barbecue, all marked as coming soon.

And the art spaces...

There are so many intriguing empty buildings that they are currently putting the finishing touches on. One can only assume that they will eventually be used as galleries, showrooms, and event spaces. Exciting stuff.

For the moment, until it becomes fully populated with more stores, restaurants, etc, the star of EKA Tianwu is absolutely the architecture. Every building is an architectural delight to behold. The styles are eclectic, somehow managing to be simultaneously exotic and tastefully urban minimal. There are Japanese, Indian, and Spanish architectural influences throughout the park, melding with the Shanghai industrial style of the original factory buildings.

Ultimately, everything is aesthetically cohesive and works well together. So many interesting structures, what goes on in each of them, and what will their future function be? The mind just boggles.

When this place fully opens, it will probably be the most wanghong and internet hyped place in all of Shanghailand. This almost ridiculously photogenic creative park seems designed expressly for this social media era of Instagram and Xiaohongshu, which is tactically clever for self-marketing, but may also be a source of annoyance for some visitors. Almost immediately upon entering EKA, you feel as if you are intruding on someone else's photo, or you yourself are waiting for someone to clear the frame from a photo that you really want to take. Whether this detracts from your enjoyment of the space depends on your own tolerance level of large crowds of social media savvy "change makers" – but alas this is the digital age we live in. If you're easily perturbed by things like Taobao photo shoots while you are trying to enjoy your coffee, we'd strongly advise visiting during off-peak days.

The only other unfortunate aspect of the park is the poorly thought-out flow of traffic. There is a constant stream of cars directed through its busiest pedestrian street, where people walking their dogs and visitors taking selfies need to constantly dodge EVs trying to get through. I dread to revisit this place in a year's time on a busy weekend when there is a people-mountain-people- sea scenario. Hopefully by then, all the logistical kinks of the space will be worked out.

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EKA Tianwu is located at No. 535 Jinqiao Lu in Pudong. The nearest metro station is Jinqiao Lu on Line 6. From Jinqiao Lu Metro to EKA Tianwu, it is a brisk 13 minute walk. Or if coming by car, navigate directly to EKA Tianwu. There are two parking lots inside.

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