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Civil Engineering Magazine THE MAGAZINE OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS

Mixed-Use Complex in China Blends Nature, Design

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

The fluid lines of a new, mixed-use complex in Shekou, China, will blend interior and exterior spaces to merge urban design and the natural world.

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A planned six-building, mixed-use complex and transportation hub in the Shekou district of Shenzhen, China, will incorporate rooftop gardens, open-air terraces, and facade details that are meant to merge nature with urban design. Courtesy of SPARK

September 16, 2014—The international design studio SPARK has unveiled its design for the Prince's Building, a mixed-use complex and transportation hub in the Shekou district of Shenzhen, China. The complex combines interior and exterior spaces using fluid lines that pay homage to the area's natural and urban surroundings.

The complex will be located at the southern edge of the Nantou peninsula in the Shekou district of Shenzhen and will be above a transportation hub that will include a 4,000 m 2bus terminal and a subway station. The U-shaped Shekou district wraps around two mountain ranges and, because of its location on the peninsula, has water on three sides. The interplay of urban life and subtropical oceanfront and mountain scenery within the district inspired the design of the complex, according to material provided by the architects. 

From afar, the complex is visually defined by a 27-story tower that is 110 m high and anchors the corner of the 71,600 m 2complex. At a human scale, however, five four-story pavilions take over as the site's anchoring force, offering interior and exterior spaces that evoke a layered, hilly landscape, according to the architects. The volumes merge and separate to form terraces, courtyards, rooftop gardens, and naturally ventilated retail spaces. 

Despite the complex's urban location, dedicated garden spaces will be highlighted. A sunken "arrival garden" will welcome visitors to the tower, the pavilion's rooftop gardens will offer office workers lush views, and plantings along the terraces will further blur the lines between built and natural spaces within the complex. 

Four of the retail pavilions will be clustered around a central courtyard, while the fifth, which is to be called the Lantern Pavilion, will be at the center of the courtyard. The pavilions will be joined to one another with upper-level terraces and walkways, and each pavilion will have curved upper edges and corners to maximize sight lines and spaciousness within the complex. The spaces between the pavilions will provide avenues by which residents of the surrounding neighborhoods can enter the central courtyard, and these avenues will also join the complex to the city, according to the architects. The retail pavilions will contain a total of 20,400 m 2of space. 

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Four of the complex’s five pavilions will be located around a central courtyard. The fifth will be known as the “Lantern Pavilion” and will be located within the courtyard. Upper-level terraces and walkways will link the pavilions to one another. Courtesy of SPARK

The 47,200 m 2office tower will feature column-free floor plates, each encompassing 1,100 m 2, and the tower's exterior glazing will extend the full height of the structure to maximize ocean and mountain views. The upper levels of the tower's facade will be accentuated by slender aluminum louvers that will catch the sun to create a visually layered, shifting exterior, according to the architects.

The facades of the retail pavilions will offer a counterpoint to the vertical metallic flourishes of the tower, their horizontal layers of stone inspired by the rock strata of the nearby mountains. Metallic accent strips alluding to the mineral seams found in nearby rock formations will catch the light during the day and glow at night.

The stone facades of the pavilions adjacent to the tower will tie in to the tower's facade grid at the third-story level to bring visual continuity to the complex, according to the architects. (The highest terrace also will be located at the tower's third story so as to protect workers from the elements while providing direct access to the pavilion spaces.) 

Two facade systems were used for the complex, according to Xi Lu, a facade engineer in the Shenzhen office of the global engineering firm Arup, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineeringonline. A repeating unitized system will be used for the tower, and a so-called stick system will be used for the retail podiums. "The differences between 'unitized' and 'stick' are mainly about the function," Lu explained. 

The unitized system of glass and aluminum used in the towers is typically 1.5 m wide and 3.65 m high, according to Lu. The advantage of this type of system is that it makes it easier to incorporate continuous pressure equalization and to guard against vertical differential and horizontal movement, including that caused by seismic forces, Lu said. It also offers speedier construction because no exterior scaffolding is required, and better quality control is possible because the operation relies to a lesser extent on on-site workmanship, according to Lu. 

The stick system that will be used in the retail pavilions comprises a curtain wall, an aluminum panel wall, and a stone wall, Lu said. Stone panels are affixed to the frame via a back bolt that is stress free for the natural stone and provides a concealed but optimized position for the anchor, he said. The system also carries higher loads in the event of a collapse than is the case with traditional systems, Lu noted. One of the advantages of the stick system is that it is less complex than the unitized system. It also lends itself to the expected construction tolerances, and its installation sequence is adaptable and requires less lead time than does the unitized system, according to Lu. 

The complex is being built for the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Group, a state-owned transportation, investment, and property development enterprise.

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