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Breaking the mold
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13:22, July 01, 2008

Breaking the mold
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In the midst of the building fervor that has invigorated Beijing in the lead-up to the summer Olympics, a minute was taken, albeit across the globe, to examine the projects that China has recently seen come to fruition.

The China Institute hosted in New York a special program on June 25 entitled "Zest to Impress: Architecture in China", featuring architects from the world's leading design firms involved in high-profile projects in China.

Bradford Perkins, chairman of the firm Perkins Eastman, called China's building boom the greatest the world has ever witnessed.

"The Olympics are a very big project, but in relation to what's going on in China, not really that big," Perkins says.

Perkins Eastman has had a presence in China for the last 10 years. This February, the firm announced the creation of a Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise (WFOE) in Shanghai to better serve its East Asian clients. In May, the 800-person firm was honored with the "International Achievement Award" at the fourth annual World Trade Week Awards Breakfast in New York.

The highly-acclaimed Shanghai World Financial Center, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, has become a new landmark of Shanghai.(Photo Source: China Daily/Cheng Qianjun)

As a man who has designed projects in 11 Chinese provinces, including Beijing's Tufu Bay Resort, Shanghai's China Merchants Bank building and Chongqing's Luneng Park, Perkins sees the future of China's architectural development as a succession of wild dreams coming true.

"The Olympics is really impacting only one or two out of 100 big cities in China. I think there will be some settling afterwards in Beijing, but all the rest of the cities have very long lists of things they're planning on doing. Shanghai has the World Expo coming up in 2010 and they're just beginning to build that,
" he adds.

Chongqing Library is a work of Perkins Eastman, a leading international design firm that has been involved in high-profile projects in China for 10 years.(Photo Source: China Daily)

In all, five senior architects spoke about the developments they have worked on and their unique experiences in China. Chien Chung Pei, the middle son of I.M. Pei, presented slides on the creation of China's Suzhou Museum, built in the heart of the old city. The museum's front gate, gardens and ponds were inspired by tradition, with attention to detail and distinctiveness. I.M. Pei assisted in the rock design of the museum, for which granite boulders from Shandong province were imported.

During his presentation, Perkins spoke about projects such as the Shanghai International Medicine Zone (of which Perkins Eastman is the master planner), Huizhou Humao Center and Jinan South City, of which the first phase will be completed this fall. He also spoke of the increasing demand for institutions like the Concordia International School, due to the "fairly large" expat community.

The newly completed Suzhou Museum, designed by Chien Chung Pei, the middle son of I.M. Pei, features traditional style, with attention to detail and distinctiveness.(Photo Source: China Daily/Li Junfeng)

But breaking the mold altogether is part of the fun - part of what makes China an architect's playground, according to Perkins.

In a May 2008 article in National Geographic magazine, Perkins said that as Chinese enterprises search for architectural talent across the globe - "buying 30-40 years of experience they didn't have" - some believe that China has become "the Western architect's weapons testing ground." At the lecture, Perkins gave the example of the one-million square foot Wanliu Shopping Center project as something that would not be feasible to build in the US.

"Couldn't happen in America; it was completed in five years, in the US it would have to be 20 years," he says.

Chris McVoy, a senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, spoke about innovative designs such as the Linked Hybrid housing project in Beijing, which will feature 700 apartments, demonstrate "sustainable urbanism" and reduce the need for auto transport. McVoy showed slides of the structure, which sits on 6.18 hectares and was designed to be geo-thermally heated and cooled (free of boilers and electrical air conditioners), greatly reducing energy consumption.

The newly completed Suzhou Museum, designed by Chien Chung Pei, the middle son of I.M. Pei, features traditional style, with attention to detail and distinctiveness.(Photo Source: China Daily/Li Junfeng)
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The Linked Hybrid design features plenty of publicly accessible space on three levels and public bridges linking the five buildings between floors 18 and 22 on each. McVoy said all of its openings were portals and passages conceived as "cinematic space." McVoy later spoke about the "Shenzhen Floating Skyscraper" that his firm worked on, which created the underside of the building as a fifth facade that had been raised "on legs" from the ground.

"Rather than a base with retail, food, stores, cinemas, etc, they wanted to put the building up on legs, so suspension cables to support all the floors were put in, minimizing the use of steel," McVoy says.

But there is at least one structure that evokes memory of an American skyline in China.

David Malott, PC at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, presented a study on the construction of the highly-acclaimed Shanghai World Financial Center, which his firm designed in 1993 and finally completed in 2007.

Malott said that as in the beginning there was no context to drawn on, their design decision was with reference to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai, "so there would be a dialogue between the two landmarks." He detailed the World Financial Center's "visual twist," as the structure starts as a square at the base and tapers to parallel lines at its top - what he described as "various functions contained in a single gesture."

"The building is incredibly modular - even though the design is so unique it snaps together almost like Lego," he says.

In 1999, the owner (Mori Building Co) came to Kohn Pedersen Fox and requested that the building's height be increased from 460 m to 492 m, making it the world's tallest building, although it will be surpassed by the Al Burj in Dubai later this year.

Malott also detailed the process involved in creating the building's top. A globe was originally planned, but when word of this got out to the Chinese public it was perceived as a Japanese symbol. Malott said that it was public postings on the Internet decrying the design that caused the plan to be altered.

"It's a new China with a democratic process, so the design was re-evaluated, even though construction had already begun," Malott says.

Source: China Daily

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