Photo: Steven Holl Architects
Last week, while we were celebrating the joys of Brutalism, Steven Holl's "Sliced Porosity Block" in Chengdu topped out to much celebration. Holl, whose recent string of quasi-megastructural projects in China are heavily influenced by Brutalism's aesthetic and ethic, imagined the complex of five skyscrapers as a "giant chunk of a metropolis," a geometric mass sliced according the strictures of code--in this case, the minimum sunlight exposure required by surrounding urban areas.
Holl's China projects--which also include the Linked Hybrid in Beijing, the Horizontal Skyscraper in Shenzhen, the Nanjing Museum of Art and Architecture--are all concerned with the creation of new urban, public spaces by means of designing "porosity" into planimetric and sectional compositions. Geometries are readily spliced to increase accessibility and visibility from the street, while breathtaking pieces of infrastructures-in-miniature such as daring bridges and staggering staircases not only facilitate circulation, but enable spontaneous interaction--an urban phenomenon usually taken for granted, but whose absence is immediately palpable when the affiliated spaces fails to sustain the effect.
The projects are also tied together by a commitment to a creative application of green technologies. The Porosity Block, for example, heated and cooled by 480 geothermal wells, while its planned ponds and water features will harvest recycled rainwater.
Holl has a considerable knack for infusing overarching, even theoretical concepts, with the tactility of local culture and building practice, while neatly resolving the whole into the canonical terms of architectural history. As Holl writes: "The large public space framed by the block is formed into three valleys inspired by a poem of Du Fu (713-770). In some of the porous openings chunks of different buildings are inserted. Our micro urban strategy will create a new terrain of public space; an urban terrace on the metropolitan scale of Rockefeller Center. This new terrain is sculpted by stone steps and ramps with large pools that spill into stepped fountains. Trees, plantings and benches are flanked with cafes. Roof gardens are cultivated through their individual connections to hotel cafes."