A new definition of data centers and an interpretation of internet industrial culture in China
Digital industry is wildly expanding in China given 700 millions potential users and Guangzhou-based Cloud DCS (initials of Data Centers Services) is a major player in this industry providing internet services through data centers to the like of Alibaba, QQ and Baidu. Italian architect Alberto Puchetti director of Hong Kong-based design company Arboit Limited got briefed in late 2013 to design a company headquarter inside an existing 20.000 sqm industrial building including offices, rooms containing thousands of servers’ racks, areas to meet clients and multimedia show rooms introducing company services and envisioning internet culture and history. The construction of an Iconic brand identity is the ultimate goal of this project in order to let the company’s name standing out in a competitive Chinese IT market that has generally shown no interest in design, since all existing data centers in the country are mostly aseptic, functional, architectural concrete boxes. Because of its abstract nature internet services rarely got to have a proper brand image. The purpose of this project is also to translate into a figurative language the reality of internet as a truly important agent of change in our life and society. .
2 - Location
Nansha is part of Guangzhou municipality and is located at the center of the Pearl River Delta, very close to Hong Kong, it is one of China's fastest growing reality and is bounded to become a world-class seaport and a large-scale technology hub. Unlike other industrial areas the zoning plan for this region seems to keep a balance between green area and built. The building used for this project is located within an industrial park surrounded by green area. The development process of the region is recent as in the past this was a wetland area that never really got populated except for a few farms. Main area of the project concerns 1958 sqm, half of the ground floor area of the 20.440 sqm building. This space includes entrance lobby, offices, meeting rooms and control room to check the status of the server’s cabinets by technicians, a few pavilions for multimedia installations to introduce the services of the company within a 1050 sqm show room, a 180 degree projector room, product gallery to exhibit Cloud DCS’s accessories, 3d video screens made of plastic balls, interactive video pavilion and two display tables to present architectural models of the next Cloud DCS future own industrial parks designed by Arboit Ltd. The rest of the building is featuring manly rooms for hundreds of thousands of servers’ racks.
3 - Branding Strategy
The goal of the project briefed by IT company Cloud DCS to Hong Kong based design firm Arboit Ltd is to create an identity to the brand in communicating what the company is and how it works. Design of data centers’ architecture and interior is also an opportunity to define the web’s industrial culture, its crucial role in today’s reality, its past history and its future. Data centers are normally industrial buildings filled with thousands of cabinets containing server boxes, a power station, a cooling plant and a broadband center. Once the temperature inside the buildings is set rather low by air conditioning to compensate the heat produced by servers and once the electricity is provided to get machines running only a few security guards and technicians checking on the status of the servers are needed in the building. It seems to be a very high-earning and low-maintenance type of business. Interior appearance of these buildings is utterly impersonal and when visited the only impressive thing is the monotone noise produced by servers while working: a constant tone echoing the noise of airplanes when flying. The concept of ”flying through the sky” emerged naturally as figurative theme to translate in a design vision the idea of digital highway as a stream of data crossing the skies to serve our lives
4 - Concept: Walking in the sky
Taking in account the name of the company , Cloud DCS, the theme of the project is about the image of a stream of clouds containing knowledge carried by winds and defining in the sky flowing layers of fading tones of blue to portray today’s digital communication. Fluidity and dynamism of clouds shaped by winds, is expressed by a layered ceiling 30 meters long sculpture to epitomize digital communications across space and highlight its immaterial and yet powerful nature. This ceiling feature is made of metal profiles painted in seven gradients of blue, covered by Barrisol’s stretch fabric back-illuminated by neon lights. The same rarefied artwork defined by the ceiling is reflected on the floor as a gigantic painting printed on the resin creating the impression of walking on the sky . The aim of the project is a figurative celebration of internet seen as a stream of information crossing the space and people are involved in this unearthly reality finding themselves walking clouds. To reinforce this concept some other spaces like the product gallery or the meeting room are covered in clouds pattern designed in Illustrator software and printed out on a plastic film then laminated between glass panels, in order to get amazing results for an artwork on a floor both in terms of color resolutions and reflections. In the 30 meters long tunnel connecting the show room to the entrance lobby an aerial view of Guangzhou covered by a layers of clouds is projected on the floor, when visitors walk through, sensors connected to projectors open up the image of clouds to reveal the bird view vision of city as if the visitors were flying above it. All colors used interior design are exclusively white and seven tones of blue : these colors define the brand identity as also for the signage and the artworks. Most of design features are though to make visitors feel an aura of immateriality and positive energy at the same time. Inside the data center a new concept of factory is proposed: why not developing a cooling pipe room into a concept? The intricate design of the pipes painted different colors are balanced by the digital artwork printed on the wall. The theme of the project is changing the factory from a sad, depressing, productive place to a happy, positive, productive place . Hallways in between data centers rooms are defined by artworks, colors and graphic suggesting the concept of traveling through the skies. Along with some leisure areas for break time within the typical floor plan the intent of the project is to transform an impersonal work-place in a more joyful kind of work space to introduce maybe for the first time in a Chinese factory the vibe of the “work and live” : as for some of the notorious headquarters of American IT companies the vive of the office evolves from a serious and corporative look into an informal, cool, more human-like type of atmosphere.
5 - Entrance Lobby – Office Area
Lobby is designed to summarize in one space the vibe of the project and to present the spirit of the brand as this is the place where visitors are welcomed. The concept of the “Infinite Loop” is depicted in this room by having lines in the brand’s seven tones of blues alternated to white boards of resin turning seamlessly around all surfaces of the room. The juxtaposed layering of wall sections renders an image of magic maze and allows the installation in the hidden undercut areas of concealed small kitchenette, storages and small wardrobes. Side walls are covered by reflective glass laminated panels to multiply the depth of the room highlighting the concept of “Infinite Loop” in order to celebrate digital communication culture as a breaking walls and crossing boundaries force.
6 -Show Room and Office area
All architecture pavilions, rooms and built-in furniture in this project are characterized by a common theme of movement and are shaped in aerodynamic curves: these rooms and installations positioned in between ceiling and floor layered artworks seems to whirl and move along the colored lines as if they were navigating across the skies of intelligence’s digital highways.
6 - Meeting Room
Oval shape meeting room is located in the middle of the control room where technicians check 24 hours a day the status of the data centers through monitors. Given the large spaces and high ceiling of the building designer took the opportunity to build an architecture within a room. Gigantic windows overlooking the control room are part of an aerodynamic volume that seems to be travelling across the space. Theme of air-walking is expressed by the design of the floor clouds pattern printed into plastic film laminated between 900x 900 glass tiles. The interior space of the room is articulated by internal partitions upholstered in white leather to cut out from the main room a few smaller and cozier areas for small informal meetings, occasional work sessions and recharging batteries of devices. Material palette juxtaposes white Italian “carrara” marble with stainless steel, white upholstery leather with Sentry Glass Expression laminate floor in order to create an exclusive place for business discussion.
7 - Showroom
This installation is part of the show room presenting to the visitors all products and services provided by Cloud DCS. This space through different multimedia installations is also celebrating the history and culture of internet as well as the study of various social phenomena associated with internet and other forms of network communication, such as online communities, online multi-playing, wearable computing, social gaming, social media, mobile apps, augmented reality and texting. It’s a needed critical all-around investigation on nowadays digital culture including issues related to identity, privacy, and network formation.
8 - Product Gallery - Showroom
This gallery is an exhibition space to display the Cloud DCS collection of creations including hard drivers, small servers and internet-usage related accessories. These objects are placed in the back illuminated shelves. The gallery takes shape of a spiral to emphasize the theme of the movement and energy as essential common feature of when digital technology fits in our reality. Floor artwork is once again highlighting the “sky walking theme” and thanks to the reflective nature of laminate glass floor it manages in achieving an incredible color resolution as well as a reflective surface to mirror the curved geometric lines of the spiral. The end of the spiral is a full surface video monitor and is dedicated to interactive screenings around the theme social networks’ cultural opportunities.
9 - Video Pavilion- Show room
Small installation dedicated to illustrate the development of Cloud DCS becoming over a few years one of the power player in Chinese IT industry and history of digital technology in the last twenty years and its impacts in our economic, cultural and social life. The pure-white space inside the pavilion defines a strong contrast with the strong colors of the show room around thanks to the cuts of the architecture’s open structure. Oval aerodynamic shape suggests the idea of an object travelling along the sinuous lines of floor artworks as if transported by a windmills to bring a its content into the digital space.
11 - Projection Room- Show room The projection room is placed almost in the center of the show room A “panoramic” screen allows a 180 degree projection screen as well as a multiply projections setting. A movable bridge allows the access to this room from a second floor balcony. When pulled the circulation at the ground floor of the show room is allowed.
12 - Cooling water machine room and factory hallways.
Inside the data center a new concept of factory is here proposed: why not developing an interior design concept into a pipe room? The intricate design of the pipes painted different colors are balanced by the digital artwork printed on the wall. The theme is changing the factory from a sad depressing productive place to a happy, positive productive place. Hallways in between data centers rooms are defined by artworks, colors and graphic suggesting the concept of travelling through the skies. Along with some leisure areas for break time within the typical floor plan the intent of the project is to transform an impersonal work-place in a more joyful kind of work space to introduce maybe for the first time in a Chinese factory the vibe of the “work and live” : not just an efficient place but also friendly and positive to create a more human type of atmosphere.