Oculus - Spring 2013 - (Page 34)

feature ©ZHANG Si-ye Architectural Photography Studio Flows and Ripples: Shanghai Cultural Square Beyer Blinder Belle and STUDIOS Architecture confront breakneck scheduling, structural complications, and the forces of feng shui while working on a graceful new facility in Shanghai BY BILL MILLA RD f a piece of land can be said to have a distinctive energy, a superblock on Yongjia Road in Shanghai’s French Concession District has not been short on personality. In the 1930s, trumpeter Buck Clayton and his Harlem Gentlemen entertained at a ballroom on the site. Monkey jockeys rode greyhounds here during World War II, when the Canidrome racetrack’s management needed to boost the sagging gate. A few years later, the Communists hosted political events (including executions) at the location, giving it the respectable name Shànghăi wénhuà guăngchăng, a.k.a. Shanghai Cultural Square (SCS). “It also included the first space frame in Asia,” reports Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (BBB) Managing Partner Frederick A. Bland, FAIA, AICP, under which momentous speeches of the Cultural Revolution were made. Though it now hosts the new SCS, an ambitious complex placing a 2,000-seat theater in a new park, officials and BBB intended to preserve certain historical features. While the former Canidrome and other structures were demolished, BBB’s design, a curvilinear volume organized around a central infolding glassand-steel funnel from roof to lobby, preserved the adjacent space frame. Arriving to review progress in mid-project, however, Bland and colleagues discovered the frame had vanished anyway – local officials found the frame difficult to preserve on site. “The takeaway is that preservation in China has a completely different connotation than it does here,” Bland observes. “When historic elements got in the way later, they just got rid of them.” That Chinese policies can resemble those of New York in the scorched-earth urban-renewal era, before Jacobean-Huxtablean principles gained currency, was one of many discoveries for BBB I 34 Oculus Spring 2013 and the interior architects, STUDIOS Architecture of San Francisco. Everything in China’s architectural realm is in flux: design standards, codes, professional practices. The pace of construction is famous: despite circuitous paths of official approval, “it takes about half the time or less to realize a project than it does in America,” observes STUDIOS Principal Thomas K. Yee, AIA, LEED AP. Clients avidly pursue foreign architects’ ideas but never cede essential control. “Most challenging is that they let out the master planning and building design first,” Yee continues, “and the interior effort comes in much later.” “It’s not easy or predictable to work in China,” Bland concludes. “It’s a surprise a minute.” Yet both firms found the SCS an exhilarating as well as unsettling example of China’s obstacles and opportunities. Going into a project fully aware of the risks, a firm can also leverage China’s unique capabilities – wealth, speed, openness to daring ideas, a competitive desire for global icons – and achieve remarkable results. Inside is out, outside is in The Huangpu River flows through Shanghai, and the water table is just five feet below ground. It’s not an obvious place for subterranean construction. “The clients clearly wanted it to be very cutting-edge, contemporary world architecture,” Bland says, but since the French Concession area is low-rise, “they did not want it to overwhelm the lowish buildings around the site.” The building needed a capacity to handle classical operas as well as Broadway shows like Cats, Bland adds – and outperforming New York’s Metropolitan Opera in the scale and modernity of backstage facilities was a priority. Because China’s building Global Exchange http://www.aiany.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2013

First Words
Letter from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: Sandy’s Watery Wake-up Call
Global Waterfronts: Green Growth, Great Rivers, and Port Cities
Civics in a Shaky Paradise
Where Nature Meets Modernity
Green Retail in the Sky: Hong Kong’s Hysan Place
Flows and Ripples: Shanghai Cultural Square
In Print
49-Year Watch
Last Words
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Spring 2013