At a time when few big name architecture firms are building green in China, Steven Holl Architects is working on a few LEED-seeking projects: the sustainability-minded Linked Hybrid housing complex in Beijing, the mixed-use Vanke Center in Shenzhen, and now, the 'Sliced Porosity Block,' another mixed-use development in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.
The erratic design is meant to draw sunlight into the central public plaza while maintaining sun exposure for surrounding buildings, as required by code. As in Beijing, the complex is heated and cooled geothermally, and contains large ponds in its plaza that harvest recycled rainwater. Grasses and lily pads create a natural cooling effect. To reach LEED gold, the building will also rely on high-performance glazing, energy-efficient tech and regional materials. And as in Beijing, the design embraces micro-urbanism--a valuable choice in booming Chengdu, where streets are widening and cars are increasing.
Convincing the client to incorporate a costly geothermal system was not easy, Li Hu, head of Asia projects at Steven Holl, told me. Though the system being used is "not as ambitious as we had hoped," the developer, Singapore-based CapitalLand, was sold on the financial payback of geothermal. In China, developers tend to sell off their properties after construction, making the financial incentives of sustainability moot. "Fortunately for this project, the building's not for sale. When the client rents the property, it's easier to offer the case that this saves money."
Here's the official line on it:
Its sun sliced geometry results from minimum daylight exposures to the surrounding urban fabric prescribed by code. Porous and inviting from every side, five vertical entrances cut through a layer of micro-urban shopping before leading to the elevated public 'Three Valley' plaza. A great urban terrace on the scale of Rockefeller Center, this multi-level plaza in the center of the complex is sculpted by stone steps, ramps, trees, and ponds and caters to special events or to a casual afternoon in the sun. Here the public space parallax of overlapping geometries in strict black and white is supercharged by color that glows from the shops positioned underneath the plaza.
The three generous ponds on the plaza are inspired by a poem by Du Fu (713-770), in which he describes how 'Time has left stranded in Three Valleys'. (Du Fu was one of ancient China's most important poets, who spent a part of his life in Chengdu). These three ponds function as skylights to the six-story shopping precinct below, and are pierced by diagonal stray escalators that thrust upwards to three 'buildings within buildings'. Residing on voids in the facades of the sculpted blocks these pavilions are designed by Steven Holl (history pavilion), Lebbeus Woods (high tech pavilion, above), and [artist] Ai Wei Wei (Du Fu pavilion, below).
On a tangential note, Ai Weiwei is also doing the master planning for Ordos 100, a project that asks one hundred international architects to design a new town for a resource-rich city in Inner Mongolia. How the architects, half of whom will turn in their designs in April, will incorporate sustainability on the desert site remains to be seen. More on that to come.
Steven Holl's "Sliced Porosity Block" is scheduled for completion in 2010.