Some might say adaptive reuse is for the birds—in which case, San Francisco–based Kuth Ranieri Architects might happen to agree. The office is currently working on an unexpected adaptive-reuse project in Suzhou, China—just outside Shanghai—with fellow Bay Area landscape architects TLS Landscape Architecture, with the aim of repurposing an aged amusement park at the foot of the iconic Lion Mountain into a central green for a new, technology-focused residential hub. For the Shishan Park project, TLS has designed a district-wide master plan focused on a new circular promenade surrounding the old central lake that once anchored the forgotten fun park. The development is carved into ten subdistricts, each anchored by iconic pavilions—also designed by Kuth Ranieri—and recreational spaces “capitalizing on the site’s natural and man-made lakes as well as the mountain’s historic significance and beauty,” according to the architects. Overall, TLS’s designs highlight 18 “poetic scenes” that visually connect occupants to the existing lake, nature zones, and views of the five distinct mountaintops that can be seen from the site. At the heart of the new urban area is the disused amusement park and its original metallic roller coaster, which Kuth Ranieri plans to convert into a new, 160,000-square-foot visual and functional center for the 182-acre development. Utilizing stainless steel mesh netting to create the outermost enclosure and wooden decking and steel platforms for new occupiable promenades, Kuth Ranieri reenvisions the dilapidated roller coaster as a superscaled aviary. The plan includes a circuitous “infinity walk” that takes occupants up and through the reused roller-coaster structure to perches above the treetops furnished with viewing platforms and an expansive sky deck. The complex can be entered from any one of three access points framed by glass-wrapped concrete parabolic arches that extend into the aviary as covered walkways. Within, the complex will also contain a ten-story circulation tower that can bring visitors up to the highest observation levels. Here, a wide staircase containing landings generous enough to host public programming will wrap the elevator core. The complex will also include a green roof–topped animal care facility. The metallic enclosure surrounding the aviary is inspired by traditional Chinese ink paintings and, more specifically, by representations of Lion Mountain in such artworks. The cascading, rounded geometries of the canopy are designed to evoke “a feeling of layered misty mountains,” according to Kuth Ranieri. The project is scheduled for completion in 2020.
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Frank Lloyd Wright proposed the revolutionary suburban utopia Broadacre City in the 1930s. He could not have expected it to inspire artists designing the campus of an online shopping website in China more than eighty years later. China-based Drawing Architecture Studio exhibited a series of panoramic drawings called Taobao Village – Smallacre City at the Venice Architecture Biennale this year, which is a speculative design for the headquarters of Taobao, a Chinese consumer-to-consumer retail platform that garners 580 million monthly active users. Drawing Architecture Studio is a Beijing-based art, architecture and urban research practice cofounded by architect Han Li and designer Yan Hu. In Broadacre City, Wright envisioned that American cities would no longer be centralized and limited to a central business district. Instead, families, each given a one-acre plot of land, would be self-sufficient households commuting mostly with the automobile. His concepts are especially relevant today in China where the rural and urban divide highlights many problems of inequality and inefficiency. The Chinese drawing studio combines Wright’s ideals and a fresh perspective from modern China. The masterplan of Broadacre is used as the basis on which the village of Taobao, the Alibaba-owned, popular e-commerce website, is imagined. According to the architects, their proposal tries to speculate how Taobao and the Internet will contribute to China’s goal to integrate urban and rural economies. The village consists of transport infrastructure and distribution networks of the online shopping empire. Bridges, roads and conveyer belts cross over and intersect each other, constructing a layered, lively cityscape enclosing both the enterprise and the rural-urban complex. The illustrations employ elements from both the East and the West. The composition of the village is symmetrical and organized along a straight axis, recalling the organization of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Eclectic, Western-classical building motifs used in rural Chinese villages alongside traditional Buddhist statues and Chinoiserie columns are depicted in the illustrations. The drawings are part of the exhibition titled Building a future countryside in the Pavilion of China at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
A plan to develop a major arts district and “eco-city” outside Beijing was announced by Guangdong Yuegang Investment Development on Thursday at the 16th Venice Biennale. Located in the Xinglong Valley, just 20 minutes from the city by high speed rail, Valley XL, as the project is being called, will feature a museum, an art park, arts education centers, and artists’ studios, as well as residential and commercial developments. The nearly 1,000 acre development is being overseen by Arquitectonica and the first building to open in 2019, the 8,500-square-foot Valley XL Art Center, a performance space, will be designed by Wang Zhenfei. Along with a center for modern and contemporary art, the Valley XL Museum, the Art Center will be a focal point of the development. The Art Newspaper reports that curator Li Zhenhua will be the advisor to Valley XL and the artist and filmmaker Ju Anqi will be the project video director. Valley XL is a partner of China’s 2018 pavilion, this year themed Building a Future Countryside, curated by Li Xiangxing. The pavilion is focused on the tensions—and innovations—present in the rapid modernization of the once or still rural areas of China. The pavilion presents projects that are being built or have taken place in the countryside over the last several years through installations organized by Dong Yugan, Zhang Lei, Liu Yuyang, Hua Li, Rural Urban Framework, and Philip F. Yuan. Construction on the $2.8 billion planned city, developed by Guangdong Yuegang Investment Development in partnership with Shenzhen XL Culture Development, is expected to begin the second half of this year.
Morphosis Architects is one of the four winning design firms in the running to design Chengdu’s Unicorn Island in China’s Sichuan province, competing with Foster + Partners, a team of Arata Isozaki & Associates and Jun Aoki & Associates, and OMA. As China transitions towards a technology-oriented service economy, Unicorn Island was imagined as a centralized location where start-ups and established companies would be given the resources to grow. Whereas OMA’s plan for the island involved a crosshatch of different buildings for start-ups ringed by headquarters for the Unicorn companies (worth $1 billion or more), Morphosis has designed a series of curvilinear facilities that wrap around the island’s edge. While the island in Chengdu is small, Morphosis took the opportunity to bring big ideas, designing a campus that would be walkable, sustainable, and accessible via mass transit while also building up the city’s skyline. The firm broke the 165-acre island up into four quadrants, with each representing a stage of a Unicorn company’s growth. Flexible office space can be found in all four sections, as well as shared community amenities and a central park and hub for each. The northwestern quadrant has been set aside for education and will contain offshoots of the universities found in Chengdu proper, while the convention and showcase quadrant to the southwest will allow companies to demonstrate their wares. The eastern half of the island would be broken into north and south innovation quadrants, holding accelerator spaces, labs, and administrative support services. At the island’s core would be a massive “Unicorn Tower,” which would serve as the headquarters for the campus’s most successful companies. Other than the central tower, Morphosis chose to keep the other buildings low-slung and accessible from the ground level. Pedestrian access across the island was prioritized, and park-to-park walkways were overlain across the entire site. A proposed metro station near the Unicorn Tower would put most of the island within walking distance from mass transit. For their scheme, Morphosis worked with engineers Buro Happold. No estimated completion or start date has been announced yet.
Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, is rapidly transitioning towards a service-based economy and has enlisted OMA’s help in growing its local tech companies. Following an international design competition sponsored by the Chengdu government, OMA and three other high-profile studios have been chosen to master plan a Unicorn Island for startups and more established tech companies alike. OMA has designed a campus that weaves over the entire island, with skyways that overlap and interconnect, which they call a weave. At the island’s core is the Living Lab, a domed complex with working labs that will be open to the public. Branching out from the Living Lab will be the weave, which will hold startups and “Gazelles” (tech companies worth $1 million or more). The weave has been envisioned as a community space, and OMA has described the area as “village-like” in its project description; this interior section will contain residential housing for employees, a mix of office typologies, and amenity spaces meant to foster mingling between different companies. Along the island’s edge will be headquarters for the "Unicorns" (technology companies worth $1 billion or more), with room for expansion as the companies in the weave increase in value and relocate outwards. From the renderings, it appears that the complex will be massive and extend all the way across Unicorn Island. Interestingly, everything except the waterfront headquarters will be elevated; roads will pass below the floating weave, with four courtyards set aside, one on each block. OMA has also revealed some of the tower typologies that will be present in the weave, including a circulation tower, sports tower, education tower, and relaxation tower for the 16 cores. With such a tightly-condensed campus, parking had to be moved underground. From the site plans, it seems that parking will run under nearly the entire island, with the exception of the area below the Living Lab, which will become an underground plaza. The design of Unicorn Island was led by Chris van Duijn, OMA Partner and Director of OMA Asia. Mobility in Chain provided the traffic consultation and Transsolar acted as the climate engineer. No estimated completion date or project cost has been revealed at the time of writing. The other three winners of the design competition include Morphosis, Foster + Partners, and a team composed of Arata Isozaki & Associates and Jun Aoki & Associates.
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For over eight decades, SOM has been a leading voice in emphasizing structural poetics, or the integration of architectural and engineering efforts into built form. This mashup of rationalism and elegance was on full display at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennale, where they collaborated with Mana Contemporary to deliver a pop-up exhibition titled "SOM: Engineering x [Art + Architecture]," that ran from September 2017 through early January 2018 at the Ace Hotel. Among sketches, study models, and impressive structural mockup systems sat a lineup of more than 30 structural models at 1:500 scale, arranged by height. Hangzhou Wangchao Center has seamlessly grown out of this impressive survey of work—a design that exists as proof-of-concept to SOM’s design approach. Along with a robustly reinforced concrete core, the 54-story mixed use tower is defined by eight “mega-columns,” as defined by SOM, which weave back and forth as they track upwards. Secondary perimeter columns establish uniform bay spacing to the interior, connected diagonally to the primary corner columns with a Vierendeel transfer truss. Beyond creating an expressive formal shape, the structural configuration offers performance benefits such as wind load reduction and flexible column-free interior floor plates. The resulting unitized facade was carefully designed into a rationalized stepped surface to allow for flat planar glazing units. The canted curtain wall, which follows the tapered massing of the tower, is organized into floor-to ceiling units which slip past the finished floor level to create a sense of continuity from the interior. A recessed shadow box and horizontal fin assembly further articulates a reveal gap between floor plates. This carefully developed building envelope detail offers a discrete path for the building to accommodate natural ventilation.The ground floor building enclosure was engineered to accommodate 36-foot-tall glazing panels around the perimeter of the tower, dissolving the boundary between the surrounding cityscape, and highlighting a massive stone-clad core that blooms outward into the space of the lobby. The tower is currently under construction, with piles for the foundation system being driven into the ground. The project will be complete by 2021 just ahead of Hangzhou’s hosting of the 2022 Asian Games, a multi-sport event held every four years.
Book Launch and Discussion with authors Li Hu and Huang Wenjing of OPEN Architecture Drawn from keen observation of the rapidly changing social economic landscape of China, and using OPEN Architecture’s projects as case studies, Towards Openness is a symphony of seven built projects and six idea chapters that are interestingly interwoven to offer an in-depth examination of OPEN’s unique practice and the critical thinking underlying its work. OPEN is a passionate team of designers, collaborating across different disciplines to practice urban design, landscape design, architectural design and interior design, as well as the research and production of design strategies in the context of new challenges. Authors Li Hu and Huang Wenjing will introduce the book and discuss current work. The book will be available for sale at the event. www.openarch.com If you are not a member of the GSAPP Incubator or NEW INC community and would like to attend this event, please RSVP.
After recently completing its eye-shaped library in Tianjin Binhai, China, Dutch design firm MVRDV is facing questions over the functionality of the shelves in its main atrium. After the building went viral for its visually stunning floor-to-ceiling shelving, patrons have reported that the books on display are either fake or printed onto the shelving itself. Commissioned by the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute as part of a master plan to create a new cultural district for the city, the Tianjin Binhai Library went from design to completion in only three years. Layers of white, terraced bookshelves in the atrium wrap around a glowing orb that anchors the library and doubles as a centrally-located auditorium. Slotting the building into an existing 393,000-square-foot master plan by German architects GMP, MVRDV rolled the required auditorium into a multi-use cavity that leads to reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, meeting rooms and computer labs. The building itself is only 6 stories tall, so every programmatic element is accessible directly from the atrium. MVRDV acknowledged that their original plans for accessing the top bookshelves through upper-level rooms had to be scrapped because of the tight construction schedule, with “perforated aluminum plates printed to represent books” filling the inaccessible spaces. However, as Yahoo reported yesterday, visitors have been met with empty shelves and dangerously uneven stairs. Most of the real books on display for the opening were only put out for a photo shoot, and have been moved to traditional reading rooms deeper in the library. The library's deputy director, Liu Xiufeng, told Yahoo, "We can only use the hall for the purposes for which it has been approved, so we cannot use it as a place to put books." The decision was made by local authorities and against MVRDV’s wishes, according to spokeswoman Zhou Shuting. Originally promising to house 1.2 million books, the library has stalled out at 200,000, although it hopes to eventually reach that goal. Still, the project’s online popularity has bolstered the number of visitors that the library receives to 15,000 every weekend. The lack of books isn’t the Tianjin Binhai Library’s only problem, and less attentive tourists have fallen victim to the irregularly shaped stairs. "People trip a lot. Last week an old lady slipped and hit her head hard. There was blood," a guard told Yahoo.
Despite its solid economic growth and sizable population (the largest in the world), China is noticeably absent from many conversations and events surrounding design. As numerous publications have pointed out, there was very little representation of China this past year at Milan Design Week and New York Design Week, among others. To learn more, The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) managing editor Olivia Martin sat down with Yuichiro Hori of Stellar Works, a Shanghai-based design company, to talk about the current design climate in China. Although Hori is Japanese, he found Shanghai to be the best place to launch Stellar Works, a cross-cultural brand that has worked with designers such as Yabu Pushelberg, Space Copenhagen, Neri& Hu, and David Rockwell. Stellar Works has been praised as one of the few companies truly representing China (and Asia in general) in the design fair circuit. The Architect’s Newspaper: Tell me a bit about starting Stellar Works and how you ended up with a factory in Shanghai and a factory in France. Yuichiro Hori: My background is in furniture design, so I was designing my collection without my own factory and I was supposed to be making everything in Japan. The quality of Japanese manufacturing is very good, but the problem is that the factories aren’t very flexible. The Japanese manufacturing mentality is conservative and people hesitate to take on new challenges. This leads to long lead times and high costs. I had lots of ideas for my new collections, but it was difficult to get them done. When I went to China, I was surprised by the large-scale furniture factories with new machines and highly skilled workers—I was very impressed! I started asking some of the Chinese companies to work with me. Ultimately, I set up my own factory in Shanghai, which is an amazing environment: It is innovative and dynamic and international and I am able to find skilled workers easily. So, I moved to Shanghai for my factory there and also started working with the high-end French manufacturing furniture firm Laval to do the furniture’s hand detailing. How does that combination of Japanese-Chinese-France work? It’s very interesting. It’s a unique combination. Everything is different, even the way we work and the way we talk. Every day we have a new surprise—mostly positive surprises. We are learning about each other and learning from China. The French factory is smaller than the Shanghai factory and can only be open for 35 hours a week, whereas the Shanghai factory can be open for double that because the people are very young and very willing to work. Obviously, the two cultures are very different. We like to say that we are made in Shanghai rather than made in China. We enjoy the city here and the nice living environment. Typically, strong design movements come out of very strong economies and Shanghai has a strong economic background. As we get more and more design requests we can support the improvement of local manufacturers and challenge new designers. Overall, we have noticed a lack of Chinese design at major furniture fairs, even as the Chinese market has grown. Do you agree with that or are we looking in the wrong places? I think China is still more hardware than software. China is the factory of the world; they are producing everything and exporting everything. So the challenge for China is that they are so focused on manufacturing design rather than creating it. I definitely don’t think that is bad, but it makes it more difficult for design development. But, China is booming and growing so sooner or later it is going to happen.
One Journal Square, a mixed-use development designed by global architecture firm Woods Bagot, has been put under the microscope as the project’s developer, Kushner Companies, seeks funding through the controversial EB-5 investor visa program. The Jersey City development has been hit with turmoil recently, with its main tenant, WeWork, backing out and taking several million dollars of tax breaks with them, as well as potentially losing a major chunk of cash ($30.4 million in city bonds, to be precise) and a 30-year tax abatement to boot, according to Bloomberg News. Kushner Companies, like many developers, has turned to Chinese investors to garner funds, specifically $150 million of the $1 billion budget, utilizing the EB-5 investor visa program. The EB-5 program, more formally known as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 as a way to spur investment into rural communities and communities struggling with high unemployment rates. The gist is that a foreign investor can invest a minimum of $500,000 to $1 million in a business that will employ at least ten American workers, and, in exchange, they will receive a U.S. visa, which can turn into permanent residency for the investor and their family. The program was developed to spur growth in downtrodden communities, however, the program has become a loophole for developers to fund luxury projects, claiming nearby neighborhoods struggling with unemployment in order to qualify their luxury developments for the program. Then all they have to do is sell visas to wealthy foreigners in exchange for ‘cheap money.’ The number of visas issued through the EB-5 program has increased dramatically in recent years, from a meager 64 visas in 2003 to nearly 9,000 visas issued in 2015, according to The New York Times. Of those 9,000, approximately 80 percent were to Chinese investors, according to The Washington Post. Despite the increase in growth, a report by the Government Accountability Office in 2015 suggests the program is at high risk for fraud and has no reliable means of verifying sources of funds (like that one time invested funds were linked to several Chinese brothels). Although the EB-5 program itself is no stranger to scandals (for example, a member of Iranian intelligence utilized the program to obtain a visa), there is no doubt that much of this particular scandal comes from the company in question’s ties to a particular senior adviser to the White House (that would be Jared Kushner, husband to Ivanka Trump and former chief executive of Kushner Companies). Only one day before Kushner’s sister spoke to investors in Beijing about One Journal Square, saying the project “means a lot to me and my entire family,” President Trump signed an extension to the EB-5 program as part of his Omnibus bill, raising many eyebrows. Although there is no evidence that Kushner or his sister have done anything illegal or in direct violation of any ethics codes, the controversy surrounding One Journal Square has drawn a lot of attention to the conflict-of-interest concerns floating around President Trump’s White House, as well as the ongoing debate about the future of the EB-5 program and what that means for luxury developers. Despite the scandal and struggle to find funds, however, One Journal Square is still set to begin construction early next year. Stay tuned.
China is aiming to build two million affordable housing units this year in an effort to increase access to housing across the country, senior officials from that country report. According to Reuters, Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) vice minister Lu Kehua explained that access to affordable housing was becoming a top priority for the government, as housing affordability across China’s largest cities has plummeted in recent years. Many parts of the country are currently experiencing a property boom that has left China’s low-income residents—especially migrant workers who have moved to China’s bustling cities from the countryside—out in the cold. The new units will be developed with an eye toward housing such populations, Lu explained. Official Chinese state publication Xinhua reports that the government has boosted investments and financing in public housing production in recent months to begin the process. Confusingly, the so-called property bubble in major cities comes as many of China’s smaller cities suffer from housing overproduction, resulting in “ghost cities.” China’s unequal, helter-skelter housing growth is straining city residents and has the potential to end badly, economically speaking, as builders take on more and more debt to build housing where it is neither needed nor in high demand. Of course, the low-skilled workers most dependent on the booming building industry there are due to suffer most in the event of economic collapse. Though two million new units is an impressive feat, the new affordable housing efforts are relatively paltry, considering China’s population currently stands at roughly 1.357 billion inhabitants, with roughly 70 million people living in poverty there. Overall, China provides affordable housing for roughly 11.3 million families. By comparison, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, administers roughly 4.8 million affordable units, according to a recent report. By one measure, China’s forthcoming affordable units, if developed proportionally in the United States, would result in over 466,000 new units. That number, coincidentally, is close to the number of new units needed to begin to address California’s housing crisis.
During his visit to Beijing in 2013, Daan Roosegaarde, Dutch artist, designer, and innovator, discovered the air quality in the city was so poor that children were kept indoors and he was unable to see out the window of his hotel room. But Roosegaarde saw more in the smog than most; he saw the possibility for clean air for the people of Beijing. He returned to his team of designers at Studio Roosegaarde and they set to work on designing, building, and testing (what they claim is) the world’s largest air purifier. Standing at almost 23 feet high, the Smog Free Tower can clean 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour using the same amount of electricity as a home water boiler (about 1,400 watts). According to Roosegaarde, the system can collect, capture, and turn to dust about 75% of dangerous PM2.5 and PM10 airborne smog particulates, creating a bubble of clean air in its midst. Studio Roosegaarde turned to Kickstarter to get the project going and were able to build their first Smog Free Tower in Rotterdam in September of 2015. One year later, with the support of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Smog Free Tower opened in Beijing’s 751 D.Park on the first stop of its global tour. “We warmly welcome Smog Free Project to Beijing,” said Liu Guozheng, Secretary-General of The China Forum of Environmental Journalists. “This project is key in our agenda to promote clean air as a ‘green lifestyle’ among Chinese citizens. Our goal is to guide the public to a healthier lifestyle, low carbon development and to raise awareness amongst the public and reduce smog.” Visitors have also enjoyed visiting the Tower during its stay, calling it the “clean air temple,” in reference to historic Chinese pagodas. During its stint in Beijing, the tower cleansed 30 million cubic meters of air, equivalent to the volume of 10 Beijing National Stadiums, and removed 400 grams of smog. The smog particulates collected from the tower’s Beijing stay have been used to create 300 limited edition Smog Free Rings, each crafted by a member of Roosegaarde’s design team. The purchase of the rings aids in the development of the project and its global tour. “Smog Free Project is about the dream of clean air and the beginning of a journey towards smarter cities,” said Roosegaarde. He and his team hope that the Smog Free Project will inspire citizens, governments, and other members of the tech industry to work together toward smog-free cities. To learn more about Smog Free Project, Smog Free Rings, and the Smog Free Tower’s next stop on its global tour, visit Studio Roosegaarde’s website here.