December 1, 2009

Urbanisms: Steven Holl + Li Hu

On Monday, December 7, Steven Holl Architects opens the exhibition Urbanisms: Steven Holl + Li Hu: 4 Projects in China by Steven Holl Architects in the Horizontal Skyscraper/Vanke Center, in Shenzhen, China. The exhibition tracks the process of designing four ambitious projects in China from 2003-2009: Nanjing Museum of Art and Architecture, Beijing Linked Hybrid, Shenzhen Horizontal Skyscraper, and Chengdu Sliced Porosity Block.

As China experiences one of the world’s largest urbanizations in history, these works explore the creation of collective urban space- as opposed to object buildings. Rather than monofunctional buildings, these are new hybrid buildings with rich programmatic juxtapositions. Each project investigates the phenomena of light and tactility through material development and experimentation. Geothermal cooling and heating, solar PVC and gray water recycling are among several green strategies utilized in all the projects.

The exhibition illustrates the design process from initial conception to current status; documenting the collaborative process of model making, drawing, and animation. The works presented are the product of a cooperative effort between Steven Holl Architects’ offices in New York and Beijing, where the difference in time zones often facilitates a continuous 24 hour cycle of production, the result of which are unprecedented works that are a fusion of landscape, urbanism, and architecture.

The exhibition will be on view in the newly finished Vanke headquarter offices in the Horizontal Skyscraper/Vanke Center in Dameisha, Shenzhen. This hybrid building, a design by Steven Holl with partner Li Hu, includes apartments, a hotel, and offices for the headquarters for Vanke Real Estate Co. ltd. A conference center, spa and parking are located under the large green, tropical landscape which is characterized by mounds containing restaurants and a 500-seat auditorium.

The decision to float one large structure right under the 35-meter height limit, instead of several smaller structures each catering to a specific program, generates the largest possible green space open to the public on the ground level. Suspended on eight cores, as far as 50 meters apart, the building’s structure is a combination of cable-stay bridge technology merged with a high-strength concrete frame. The first structure of its type, it has tension cables carrying a record load of 3280 tons.

As a tropical strategy, the building and the landscape integrate several new sustainable aspects. A microclimate is created by cooling ponds fed by a grey water system. The building has a green roof with solar panels and uses local materials such as bamboo. The glass fa├žade of the building will be protected against the sun and wind by perforated louvers. The building is a tsunami-proof hovering architecture that creates a porous micro-climate of public open landscape; the first LEED platinum rated building in Southern China.

Interiors including the auditorium, conference center and hotel will be completed in late 2010.

For more information on the work of Steven Holl Architects, please visit


I won't hide that I am a big admirer of the work designed by Steven Holl's office. His attention to natural light, materiality, and his dedication to phenomenology closely ties into my architectural interests. However, in this particular building I feel he has move a bit towards the monumental form driven architecture of the Dutch and Danish practices making waves today. The interior photograph looks like a standard, and not very pleasant, corporate cafeteria - an an incredibly deep space reliant on fluorescent lighting. The exterior materials seem conventional even if Brightly colored. I love the perforated sun screen and the use of channel glass around the cores, but otherwise the interest in this building stems from its form rather than its phenomenological properties. A bit disappointing in my eyes but still an interesting building. I still do admire the integration of sustainable features and respect the LEED Platinum certification the building has received.

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