Steven Holl’s Signature Cutouts Define a New Cultural Complex in Shanghai

The landscape and the two public buildings come together under the theme of “clouds and time.”

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

Many of Steven Holl’s buildings are characteristically unique in that each new design takes inspiration from abnormal shapes and scales. His work maximizes available light through expansive voids, glass-curtain walls or hundreds of tiny windows in the façade. This week, Steven Holl announced a new project in China, a community complex that brings together his enthusiasm for social architecture and affinity for whimsical windows and site plans.

The Shanghai COFCO Cultural & Health Center is a 7,520-square-meter [80,900-square-foot] public space that seeks to unite a neighboring community of new apartment blocks. Sold as a “social condenser,” the site will include a cultural facility and a health center set within a public park.

COFCO, China’s largest food processing manufacturer and trader, commissioned the project last summer. The landscape and the two public buildings come together under the theme of “clouds and time.” The landscape is organized in large, clock-like circles forming a central public space. The buildings, according to the architect, resemble clouds in their openness, porosity and ability to filter daylight.

Both buildings are formed of white concrete. The cultural center, the larger of the two structures, appears to float on top of a transparent glass base that exposes the café, game and recreation rooms. As visitors walk up the gently curved ramp to the second floor, they can look over continuous views of the surrounding space. The center will house an exhibition space, library, gym and youth activity areas.

One of the most distinctive features of the cultural center’s design is the firm’s signature cutouts along the façade. Much like some of Holl’s other work, peculiarly shaped windows dot the sides of the structure. In fact, the Shanghai design is nearly identical to one of Holl’s soon-to-be-completed projects in New York. Hunters Point Community Library on the Queens waterfront also features bold, curvy cutouts. This effect brings ample light into the facility while showcasing movement and activity for outsiders looking in.

Scale model of the under-construction Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl, Queens, N.Y.; via Steven Holl

Scale model detail of Hunters Point Community Library; via Steven Holl

Shanghai COFCO Cultural & Health Center

The Shanghai complex health center is separated from the other structure by a tree-filled plaza and quarter circle reflecting pool that also doubles as a fountain recycling rainwater. The building itself resembles a boxy, concrete version of a traditional Chinese pagoda with an overhanging roof. The center will include a pharmacy, nursery, lounge, consultation and examination rooms.

Both buildings will be topped with green sedum roofs, further blending them with the surrounding landscape when seen from the nearby apartments. Both buildings will be geothermally cooled and also include large skylights that open up the interiors from above.

The project is expected to achieve LEED platinum certification and will be completed in 2018.

All images and renderings courtesy of Steven Holl Architects