Photography by Virgile Simon Bertrand.
Location: Beijing, China
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
Review: Hao Ma
An office and retail complex that acts as a beacon on the horizon, conceptually conceived as ‘Chinese fans that circle and embrace each other in an intricate dance’, Zaha Hadid Architects’ (ZHA) Wangjing SOHO is located in the Chaoyang District (northeast Beijing), between the Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads. It is home to an array of multinational corporations, such as Microsoft, Daimler, Caterpillar, Panasonic, Nortel and Siemens, as well as various Chinese start-up companies. Conveniently located along an infrastructure corridor en route to the Beijing Capital International Airport, the context is typically varied: banal corporate high-rise, set off against surprisingly generous public space. As with any commercial, retail or office business complex there is a curious sense of the ‘seen it all before’ as the non-descript urban landscape homogenises architecture, no matter the location.
It is hardly surprising then to find that ZHA’s latest project has itself been homogenised. It was widely reported in the middle of 2013 that a Chinese developer allegedly plagiarised ZHA’s initial ‘three pebble’ concept proposal for Wangjing SOHO in the Chinese city of Chongqing – the unerringly similar Meiquan 22nd Century is currently under construction. Beijing is home to other supposed copies, with CCTV Headquarters by OMA, according to Peter Eisenman, heavily influenced by a project he had formulated in sketch form.
In universities the world over, mimicry takes place in students’ projects as they imitate the works of their idols. And so to rehash a well-worn idea prevalent in architecture schools, taken from French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, contemporary architecture (or at least its stylistic approach) may be in simulacrum – where simulation leads to the extinction of the original. In Simulacra and Simulation (1981) Baudrillard states that things are not always as they seem, as the perceptibly false hides reality, and so reality is absolved and replaced by hyper-reality. As such, who can unequivocally say that stylistic influence is a direct copy? Is contemporary architecture simply in the first stage of simulacra, where there is a ‘reflection of a basic reality’, with projects escalating in simulacra to a state where, eventually, ‘it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum’. Can buildings be copies if they are just stylistically similar?
China, it seems, is an epicentre for piracy across a number of formats, whether it is pirated software, entertainment or, now, architecture. Pirated materials are referred to as shanzhaii, a land where intellectual property is a grey area. The developer responsible for the (allegedly copied) building, Chongqing Meiquan, may well believe that there is no issue of intellectual property, but it does raise the question as to a debate that has extended across the discipline for years: the original and the copy.
In regard to ZHA’s projects in the Asia Pacific region, it is difficult to discern which came first as a design idea, where each seemingly germinates as a modified version of the other. In AR134–Authority, the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hong Kong, was reviewed, with the SOHO projects in Beijing (Galaxy SOHO) and the soon-to-be- completed Sky SOHO in Shanghai are undoubtedly similar. However, due to the SOHO China client overlap across the projects, it is hardly surprising that there are similarities to be drawn. While the ZHA projects present an intriguing number of iterations, with each borrowing from the other, providing a sleek and typically ZHA aesthetic, each project remains the original, leaving others to undoubtedly copy.
ZHA’s mixed-use development consists of three anthropomorphic buildings that announce themselves as iconic. Well, that is if the hanging smog did not shroud the city in a thick veil. It is ironic to discover that the development has attained LEED gold certification. The buildings meet certain quantifiable targets, which makes for a compelling case in the Chinese context, and establishes itself as a credible sustainability advocate through, for example, its water filtration, but the buildings are a little let down by the interior spatial planning.
The expansive, 10-metre-high lobby space and other generous public spaces are offset by a fairly routine open floor plan arrangement, typical in office layout, but, typical of any ZHA project, it is beautifully detailed. There is finesse to the finishes and the sinuous recessed soffit lighting acts as wayfinding and enthuses its occupants; while the scalloped column detailing intensifies the sculptural fluidity one comes to expect from a ZHA interior.
As the three building volumes congregate around a semi-enclosed public access way that bisects the site – providing seclusion from the urban environment – there is an increasing recognition of urbanity and scale, as the three huddled masses tower above. This is where the onlooker fully appreciates the hulking masses of the buildings; the striated banding of the facade conceals the floor plate beyond, with the buildings rising effortlessly skywards.
ZHA’s projects are notoriously photogenic and this project does not disappoint, as the sculptural form swirls and swoons for its occupants and onlookers. It is a beautiful, sculptural moment in an otherwise banal urban landscape. It transfixes the onlooker, allowing for intrigue and interest in architecture. It may be the latest iteration in the work of ZHA in the Asia Pacific but they are each moments of pure originality.
ARCHITECT: Zaha Hadid Architects
CLIENT: SOHO China
SITE AREA: 115,393sqm
TOTAL (ABOVE GROUND) GFA: 392,265sqm
TOTAL (BELOW GROUND) GFA: 168,415sqm
PROJECT DIRECTOR: Satoshi Ohashi
PROJECT ARCHITECT: Armando Solano
PROJECT TEAM: Yang Jingwen, Christoph Klemmt, Shu Hashimoto, Yung-Chieh Huang, Rita Lee, Samson Lee, Feng Lin, Seungho Yeo, Di Ding, Xuexin Duan, Chaoxiong Huang, Ed Gaskin, Bianca Cheung, Chao-Ching Wang, John Klein, Ho-Ping Hsia, Yu Du, Sally Harris, Oliver Malm, Rashiq Muhamadali, Matthew Richardson
COMPETITION TEAM: Satoshi Ohashi, Cristiano Ceccato, Inanc Eray, Ceyhun Baskin, Chikara Inamura, Michael Grau, Raymond Lau, Hoda Nobakhati, Yevgeniya Pozigun, Michael Treder, Yevgeniya Pozigu
STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING: Adams Kara Taylor (UK) (competition); CCDI (Beijing) SD, DD, CD
FACADE: Arup Facade (HK) SD; Inhabit (Beijing) DD
MEP ENGINEERING: Hoare Lea UK (competition); Arup Engineers (SD).
Article by Hoa Ma, as featured in Architectural Review Asia Pacific.