Monday, 14 April 2014

More informative than usual

Regular readers of this blog will know that my main beef is the quality of information about projects to be found on most of the architecture news aggregation sites.  So even when I hesitate to say anything more profound about a project, I feel that it is only right to complement one that does try to inform.  This one happens to be a competition entry, so you could put down the apparent readiness to explain the scheme to self promotion, or even that it was simply cut and pasted from the competition documents.  No matter, the point is that there is something here for the conscientious reader to learn from.

The project is for a 60 storey mixed use tower for Fushun City in China, by Studio 7 of Urban Architecture (UA Studio 7), an indigenous firm that seems to have grown spectacularly over the last 10 or 12 years, establishing long-term cooperative relationships with high-end real estate developers.

You have to survive the metaphors described in typically excruciating English translations from the original Chinese, in which language with its built-in poetic allusions the same rhetoric may not sound quite so silly.  But after you get past the introduction and the slight overemphasis on the external rendered images, you are rewarded with considerable amount of detail worthy of attention.

Specifically, there is a short but informative description of the use of a parametric approach. It would appear that the firm approached the development of a complex but regular building form in much the same way that Fosters did the Gherkin in London – except that Fosters had to do it with bespoke software.  Using the generic Grasshopper software, the development of the form and its surfaces could be disciplined to ensure that the tall, flower bud-like form of the proposed tower could be clad by a remarkably small number of standard panels.  The illustrations and text are just enough to be instructive about how that was achieved.

But the page on Arthitectural also gives us scalable floor plans (albeit with mainly Chinese labels), and a simplified schematic section of the vertical circulation.  For someone like me, who has a great need to point students to case studies of both outcome and process, this kind of information is very welcome.

See the article in Arthitectural at Urban Architecture | Fushun Green Center High-Rise – ‘New City Flower’.  It is more detailed than most other competing sites.


Anonymous said...

Being one of the most established private Architectural firms in a state-owned dominated country, UA Studio has produced their largest parametric project yet!
Unfortunately, as a student with Chinese background and some knowledge in Grasshopper, this project seems like to be a product of a random massing experiment from the screen, which may or may not have based their ideas from well-regarded precedents (in this case the Gherkin sounds quite accurate) rather than based on the contextual elements. I made such statement according to the well-known phenomenon of the “copying” clich├ęs in China’s creative industry, and UA Studio seems no stranger. I have found multiple familiar works of “Hadid and Herzog,” which to me, they do not necessarily match with neither their social nor cultural contexts. I wouldn’t say that the “New City Flower” is a bad building at all. As its representation of a flower-bud has successfully realized the importance of the contextual Feng Shui, which fulfilled both social and cultural requirements this building may be UA’s best “copy” yet!

“Largest Parametric project” -
“Feng Shui” -

Steve King said...

I take your point about the tendency to be imitative, to the point of mash ups between famous projects by other architects. But you might be being a little bit unfair in this case.

I personally find the analogies for the external form to be painfully kitsch. But that is a cultural hangup, and as I say in my post, partly a product of the original Chinese translating really badly into English. Even if I didn't have a Chinese partner to help me out, I know from watching the arguments at Chinese wedding banquets about what to the items on the menu really mean, that you have to be careful about poetic allusions in Chinese. But in the case of this project, I could afford to ignore the introduction, and concentrate on what they were telling me about the use to which they had put the parametric analysis.

If I thought about it harder, I would point out that there something wrong when there is absolutely no difference between facades of different orientations, given how sensitive the very tall building is to solar loads. But I could say the same about many other buildings, including 1WTC for instance.

That said, I still found it interesting and instructive to be given quite as much information about the development of the planning system. When you drill down to that kind of detail, the fact that you may have started off with imitative ideas does not take away from the achievement of the design development. I suspect we are watching a transition phase in Chinese architecture comparable in some ways to the stage that the Taiwanese went through when they stopped ripping off European manufactured products, and started to develop their own refined technologies. Put it this way: in a country that big, you will eventually get every variety from rip-off to great originality.

Anonymous said...

As an Architecture student I recognise the frustration with the lack of informative documentation included on the popular architecture news feeds. The phenomenon is not peculiar to Architecture, the rise of reality TV and social media means that industry news sites adjust their content for mass appeal and speed of consumption. The "Grand Designs” effect has brought a consciousness of Architecture to the masses and industry news feeds are popularised, apparently to the detriment of those who desire more in depth analysis of architectural information. The positive impact of this ‘glossy’ information is that it gets people talking about what architects do, and for a profession that can often charged with being ‘self involved’ isn’t any inclusive promotion a positive driver - not only for openness and creation of business, but also the ability to include the general population in the design process?

Christine Outram’s widely discussed article argues that public involvement and survey should be an integral part of the design process, rather then overtly suggesting that Starbucks creates good architecture. I would argue that Architects have always striven to create contextual and meaningful places through understanding people, lifestyles and clients in parallel to the statement making structures that Outram laments, without the need for the mass survey and information gathering in the Starbucks manner. However, in this new digital age, aspects of Kaid Benfield's counter discussion are relevant; in particular the need to manage this new age of public involvement in a meaningful manner. The mass appeal of the architectural news feeds can only be a positive position for the architecture industry, however I must conclude that the sites have a duty to supplement this information with the appropriate documentation. Not only are industry participants interested in the documentation of a design, but it is worthwhile demonstrating the full design process required to achieve the built state shown in the news feed images to everyone. In its simplest form, when the client takes the image to the Architect, like the lady visiting the hairdresser with a picture of Jennifer Aniston and says: “I want my house/ hair to look like that” the Architect can then access the accompanying documentation and go through a more informed design process. Without meaningful management of any public surveys and information we are reminded of Henry Fords quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Christine Outram Article:
Kaid Benfield article: