A rendering by Safdie Architects for the Chongqing Chaotianmen project in Chongqing, China.
“Without much media coverage, one of the most unique and dramatic sites available in the whole of urban China has been sold off for...more than 1 billion US dollars to Capitaland, one of Asia's biggest real estate companies,” writes Bert van Dijk in a stinging architectural report from Shanghai this past Tuesday.
The site van Dijk is referring to is a much sought after 91,000 sq meters of Chongqing, soon to become the site of a $3 billion mixed-used project, the largest development project by Capitaland in China yet. Located at the tip of Chongqing where the Yangtze and Jialing rivers meet, the area echoes Manhattan not only in its geographical similarities but also in its dense arrangement of skyscrapers. Van Dijk fondly recalls Chongqing's unique fusion of old and new, describing a city of 33 million with budding skyscrapers and suspension bridges cast against the bounding hills of China's natural landscape.
However, the waterfront expanse that was once only home to kite flyers and wayfaring pedestrians has been tapped to become China's newest business center. Capitaland and Safdie Architects have proposed a project to transform the area into a massive, iconic skyscraper complex, marked by a total of eight towers, four of which support a sweeping roof garden and viewing platform, and all of which gently balloon outward, designed to evoke the taught sail of a ship.
The problem is, this complex is already iconic; its design is unmistakably derived from an earlier completed project by Safdie Architects, the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
Rendering of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore by Safdie Architects.
Daan Roggeveen, a Dutch architect stationed in Shanghai, is not surprised by this architectural deja vu (though apparently this doesn't curb the need for a few biting comments). He explained how China has historically looked to places like Hong Kong and Singapore as models of urban development, especially in the early eighties “when referring to the west was still too sensitive.” So now, not only have Chinese cities mimicked these developed island paradigms by investing in massive residential complexes, powerful infrastructure, and built up central business districts, but now uncannily similar architectural icons are being copied as well.
Dismissing the sail metaphor as “too cheap to be true,” Roggeveen says Safdie “did nothing to relate the building in a true way to its magnificent location in one of the most thrilling square kilometers of Asia.” Unfortunately, few top-down mega complexes do, especially in China. But regardless of whether or not the proposal is metaphorically weak or even contextually inappropriate, the biggest shame is in allowing an architect to overhaul such a cherished stretch of land (not to mention an exorbitant amount of money) with a blatantly one-trick-pony landmark.
Current view of the Chongqing skyline.
Find Bert van Dijk's full report from China here.