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HORIZONTAL SKYSCRAPER - VANKE CENTER
Shenzhen, China, 2006-2009

PROGRAM: mixed-use building including hotel, offices, serviced apartments, and public park
CLIENT: Shenzhen Vanke Real Estate Co.
SIZE: 1,296,459 sf
STATUS: completed

Hovering over a tropical garden, this 'horizontal skyscraper' - as long as the Empire State Building is tall - unites into one vision the headquarters for Vanke Co. ltd, office spaces, apartments, and a hotel. A conference center, spa and parking are located under the large green, public landscape.

The building appears as if it were once floating on a higher sea that has now subsided; leaving the structure propped up high on eight legs. 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, was inspired by the hope to create views over the lower developments of surrounding sites to the South China Sea, and to generate the largest possible green space open to the public on the ground level.

The underside of the floating structure becomes its main elevation from which sunken glass cubes, the so-called Shenzhen windows, offer 360-degree views over the lush tropical landscape below. Covering the entire length of the building a public path has been proposed to connect through the hotel, and the apartment zones up to the office wings.

The floating horizontal building allows sea and land breezes to pass through the public gardens. The landscape, inspired by Roberto Burle Marx' gardens in Brazil contains restaurants and cafes in vegetated mounds bracketed with pools and walkways. At night a walk through this landscape of flowering tropical plants will mix the smell of jasmine with the colorful glow of the undersides of the structure floating above.

As a tropical, sustainable 21st century vision the building and the landscape integrate several new sustainable aspects. The Vanke Center is a tsunami-proof 21st century hovering architecture that creates a porous micro-climate of freed landscape and is one of the first LEED platinum rated buildings in Southern China.
"Steven Holl, the center's architect, is a major talent, with significant projects in Europe and America, but his most potent urban ideas have sat on shelves for decades. In China he was given the chance to dust them off, and the results are extraordinary. [] It demonstrates what can happen when talented architects are allowed to practice their craft uninhibited by creative restrictions. [] It is an architecture that opens doors to new possibilities. And it underscores why China's experimental climate, when combined with genuine intelligence, can be so exciting."
-Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times
"The challenge of this program in a small city with almost no urban experience inspired Steven Holl, Li Hu and their team to embrace the opportunity to exercise their greatest gift: by offering the city a building that could only be emulated and improved upon, which will encourage the children playing under its shadow to build themselves a more promising future. Executed with great attention
to detail and environmental impact, it is a towering achievement to erect such a thoughtful and considered structure in this immense country in which so much of the built environment is merely instrumental. Its uplift is not only physical, but deeply human."
-Yehuda Safran, Abitare
"In spite of of the architectural explosion, in Shenzhen some of today's masters offer vivid evidence of their abilities. The American architect Steven Holl is one of them. His Vanke Center ... contains a series of good reasons -including its highest level of LEED certification- to be considered a positive contribution to the architecture of the city. Like the Linked Hybrid of Beijing, the Vanke Center is the constructed result of the studies on large urban architecture developed by Steven Holl, starting in the 1980s, for certain American cities."
-Flavia Zanetti, Casabella
"The practice's aim was to provide an exemplary form of new urbanism that prioritised the provision of fully accessible public space. While specifically related to this place and this brief, the scheme also incorporates architectural strategies tested on other projects, merging and morphing ideas about circulation and connectivity seen at Holl's student residences at MIT and the pedestrian-oriented Linked Hybrid complex in Beijing ... With 75 per cent of the site area reconfigured as an open landscape, the practice's strategy has been extremely well received."
-Rob Gregory, The Architectural Review
"The amalgamation of disciplines into a Gesamtkunstwerk continues right down to the smallest detail. It's fair to say that not one building or park in the whole of China is as precisely designed as this one. The scale of the complex may be enormous, but everything is of an exclusive and impeccable quality, including the door handles: miniature aluminum models of the building. "
-Femke Bijlsma, Mark
"The design for the Vanke Headquarters takes care to use renewable and recyclable materials. All the doors, floors and furniture are made from bamboo, which is easily available in the area and quickly renewable, and the carpets throughout the building are made from completely recycled material. Special windows are designed to keep the building cool by blocking solar heat while still allowing plenty of sunlight, lowering the cost of air conditioning. In addition, the Vanke Headquarters' roof is covered by solar panels, which will provide up to 15 percent of the office's electricity. And, in preparation for the future, the building provides electric car parking and charging stations. "I think we design for the future; we cannot design for the past," Li says. "A good building always provides opportunities for the future.""
-Marcus Schulz, China Daily
'Amidst the galloping land privatisation in the outskirts of Chinese cities, the programme is built above the ground level, and by doing so the private lot becomes a public park. The project reconsiders the traditional concept of the isolated corporate campus and breaks away from the usual distribution of uses in different volumes, typical in these types of mini-cities. Here, one single container promotes interaction of uses and users with its semi-public indoor walk that connects the different programmes.'
-a+t
'A horizontal megastructure, lifted to a variable height of nine to fourteen metres off the ground, will stretch over an invented landscape designed - as Holl himself states - "like a scribble'.
-Rita Capezzuto, Domus 898, December, 2006
AWARDS

GREEN GOOD DESIGN AWARD, USA, 2010
AIA NY ARCHITECTURE HONOR AWARD, USA, 2010
ARCHITECTURAL RECORD CHINA, "GOOD DESIGN IS GOOD BUSINESS" AWARD, BEST GREEN PROJECT, China, 2010
AIA INSTITUTE HONOR AWARD, USA, 2011
AIA NY HONOR AWARD, USA, 2011
AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE AWARD, USA, 2011
FEDERATION INTERNATIONALE DU BETON, Switzerland, 2014
CREDITS

architect
– Steven Holl Architects
Steven Holl, Li Hu (design architect)
Li Hu (partner in charge)
Yimei Chan, Gong Dong (project manager)
Garrick Ambrose (project architect - SD/DD)
Maren Koehler, Jay Siebenmorgen (project architect - DD)
Christopher Brokaw, Rodolfo Dias (project architect - CD)
Eric Li (assistant project architect)
Jason Anderson, Guanlan Cao, Clemence Eliard, Forrest Fulton, Nick Gelpi, M. Emran Hossain, Kelvin Jia, Seung Hyun Kang, JongSeo Lee, Wan-Jen Lin, Richard Liu, Jackie Luk, Chris McVoy, Enrique Moya-Angeler, Roberto Requejo, Michael Rusch, Jiangtao Shen, Filipe Taboada, Manta Weihermann (project team)
Steven Holl, Li Hu, Gong Dong, Justin Allen, Garrick Ambrose, Johnna Brazier, Kefei Cai, Yenling Chen, Hideki Hirahara, Eric Li, Filipe Taboada (project team, competition phase)

associate architects
– CCDI

climate engineers
– Transsolar

structural engineer (SD/DD)
– CABR

structural engineer (CD/CA)
– CCDI

mechanical engineer
– CCDI

landscape architect
– Steven Holl Architects
– CCDI

curtain wall consultant
– Yuanda Curtain-wall

lighting consultant
– L'Observatoire International
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