Text description provided by the architects. Meters/bonwe Headquarters designed by Isozaki + HuQian Partners is situated in the East Kangqiao Industry Park, Shanghai, with Huanqiao Road on its east and Zhoudeng Highway on the south. Located outside the established city, neighboring natural suburbs, the project has a total area of 83,000 square meters including an industrial plant, art center, brand show, residential space, and other functions. It is a mixed-use office campus with both practicality and artistic integration.
As an important development scheme initiated by the Shanghai Government, Kangqiao Industry Park sits next to the Pudong section of Shanghai Outer Ring Express Way, emphasizing the maximum convenience of logistics and transportation. The development is proposed as a multi-functional urban district that prioritizes modern industry, lifestyle, and commerce, with all-around urban functions including industrial production, housing, financial and commercial services, and territorial management. The rapid growth attracted many international corporations to invest and set up their headquarters here, quickly building up the density of the area. The starting point and original anticipation for this project were to explore the possibility of office spaces combined with living within such context. Despite modifications during the realization of this project, we managed to preserve our studies on the fundamental qualities of architecture.
There were three main clues to unravel this design:
1. As a part of the city, how can this project with such a pressing scale respond to the anticipation of both the client and the city?
2. How can the project contribute to and integrate with the most fundamental everyday activities, including clothing, food, housing, and transportation of its user?
3. How can the project stand out from the homogenous surroundings, from the stereotype of universal production spaces, and produce spaces that are essentially unique?
A landmark for the city, a billboard for the corporation. From an urban perspective, the east side is in close contact with pedestrians. The main office spaces are placed along the east side with a more intimate scale, allowing the pedestrians to observe the building comfortably from eye level and with walking speed. The building reduces its height from 32 meters to 24 meters as it nears the street. The expressway with mainly large vehicles on the west makes it unlikely for passersby to observe the architecture in a calm manner, and the massive scale of the headquarters remains an unavoidable oppressive factor for the city. Therefore, how this piece of architecture responds to adjacent urban environments and how it may contribute to the corporation is the first set of topics for the design. Based on our understanding of the brief, viewing the architecture as a regional monument with a certain height and emblematic appearance seems to be an appropriate design strategy.
As a large-scale mixed-use production facility, the Meters/bonwe Headquarters needs to provide many residential spaces for its employees. The original idea of placing residential spaces along the street is based on both practical considerations for an appropriate massing and on the consideration that employees of a casual apparel company, are likely to wear products of the company in their everyday life. This can be used as a natural and effective branding strategy as the everydayness of the outfits echoes with the spirit of the brand. By showcasing the product through people’s activities, the architecture marks itself as a living urban-scale billboard. Although not fully realized, we kept the core concept by creating open balconies for the residential units. We believe that the strategy of introducing theatricality into the design could be a significant contribution for both the company and the city if fully adopted. The project eventually takes shape of a sloped massing with height increasing from east to west.
Conflicts and Consensus Between the Client and Architects. As one of the first fashion brands in China, our client has led the trend among Chinese teenagers. The iconic casual feature of the brand roots from its close relationship with the consumers over the years. We tried to preserve this feature in the architecture by designing around the most fundamental everyday necessities, which have four aspects including clothing, food, housing, and transportation. As a facility for a clothing company, the element of clothing is inherent in the project. Meanwhile, the founder of the corporation has an affiliation with nature and gardening. We proposed a central courtyard with generous open space as a buffer between living and working spaces. The courtyard also led us to the study of food and agricultural production by introducing rice and other crops as part of the landscape. This results in a rudimental and simplistic natural space and provides additional outdoor event spaces for fashion shows and recreation of the users.
Housing is also an inherent element in the project as 70% of its employees will live on campus. As the supporting infrastructure for the daily activities of the employees, the campus has its main entrance leading directly to the main production spaces, which consists of two building blocks with different heights. The central lobby is connected to all the main spaces on the campus, keeping the circulation simple and legible. Smaller courtyards with waterscapes are inserted into the office spaces for the users to rest and relax. The sheltered passageway spanning across the central courtyard functions as the main circulation connecting the production spaces with office spaces, living spaces, and other supporting facilities. It also acts as a threshold between interior and exterior spaces, allowing nature to infiltrate into the interior, and provide flexible event spaces including showroom, gallery, and mechanic services as needed.
These interactions surrounding elements of clothing, food, and housing are important parts of the daily cycle of transportation. Working and living on the campus all contribute to the culture of the brand featuring everydayness. Despite the various modifications that occurred as the project developed, the natural stimulation of the four aspects of everyday life, especially the aspect of food, is appreciated and preserved by the client. Sometimes there are conflicts between the vision of architects and their clients, but there are times when the two can reach a consensus. It is a common strategy to place entrance plazas for other headquarters in the area. It is almost a natural mind-set for the corporation to create sublime open space as a necessary emblem of esteem.
For us, creating a plaza with a dimension of some 50 meters will not create the anticipated effect of sublime, and will only deteriorate the integrity of the central courtyard. Comparing to creating two unexceptional open spaces, it is better to concentrate on just the one which is more significant for its actual users. The central courtyard is closely connected to the user’s daily life. An internal landscape that is made interactive with agricultural production plays a greater role in curing and elevating people’s spirits. Architects try to give constructive suggestions on topics involving the city, the building, and its performance based on their experiences of the past and visions for the future. Clients on the other hand are more easily influenced by trends. Exchanging the monumentality at the entrance for a concentrated central courtyard that serves the well-being of the actual users is made possible because of the consensus we share with our client.
The Struggle for A Novelty in Space Based on the Study of Fundamentals. During our trip on the site shortly after the commission, we found that the constructions in this area seem to fall inevitably into homogeneity. Despite trying out different colors and materials on the exterior they were of little difference underneath the façade. With similar massing and scale, even though the actual programs may be different, the result is similar. Innovations are not easy. But the role of architects is to work through the constraints and present a project in which the city, the building, and programs work with each other in the best possible way. The project is a horizontal headquarters, with a parallel continuum of the office atmosphere, the standard frame structure is easy to present a modular space. Even so, we still hope to create novelties in the project based on our studies of the fundamentals. Currently, the project has not gone through interior furnishing, and waterscape and greenery featuring various crops are not fully realized. But due to its flexibility, the daily activities can be gradually introduced into this flexible system of space.
The interior spaces are based on functionality. By introducing different spans, different forms and densities of the beams and slabs, and different tectonic details of enclosures, the project takes the universal frame system steps further, creating various characteristic atmospheres in space. Without further detailing, the structures alone can have different effects on their users and are adaptive to various alterations in the future. With respect to the client’s preferences, the façade addressed the continuity of horizontal linear elements. We rounded up the profile of the façade with the intention to add dynamics to the stereotypic image that dates itself back to the time of Bauhaus. For the elevation of office spaces facing the interior water courtyard, we used external egress stairs as an important design element that regulates the rhythm of the façade. They not only provide shortcuts in circulation between levels but also help to activate the courtyard spaces with daily activities.
We hope to refrain from the homogeneity of the site, not by simply swapping the project’s appearance in a cosmetic way, but by reconsidering the essentials requirements of space. By responding to the city, extracting and interpreting the four fundamental elements of everyday life, focusing on the communicative potentials of the architecture as landmark and advertisement, balancing between the entrance and central courtyard, and setting eyes on structures and detailing, we managed to persist on our study of the fundamentals and carry them out in the final project.