Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sea Carnival - Street Shopping Mall in Qingdao, China . 2012

Project done for Benoy Architects (Hong Kong) Under Construction

Build First (Re) Design Later *

In China sometimes “western logic” is challenged and the right order of things gets a little twist. This project is a good example of it: even before we had time to draw the first line it had already started to be built on site…

The Starting Point . Located in the sea front of a satellite town of Qing Dao, a city located in the north of China, the starting point of this huge open air retail scheme was rather unusual. Our client had a previous project done by local Chinese architects based on a super kitsch and outdated mish mash of styles and preconceived images of old European architecture. It all went fine, construction got started but eventually one day the client changed his mind and put everything on hold... All over sudden he wanted to go in a completely different direction, this time for something “modern”. As retail specialists Benoy came on board… Just a couple of “minor details": 90% of the (previous design) structure was already built on site, the budget was tight and they wanted to restart building everything in 1 year... Welcome to China!

Existing Built Situation . The site comprises 250.000 sqm and is divided in two areas by an artificial water canal proposed by the previous architects. On the north side, we "inherited" the concrete skeleton of an organic small scale European lookalike village, strangely interesting, formed by 26 blocks of several sizes, configurations and lots of pitched roofs. On the south, half way built, the structure of a podium and 2 towers destiny to be in the future 2 Hotels and a Conference Center.

Architectural Concept . Due to the extreme project constrains we had to come up with a very pragmatic conceptual approach. We could not demolished everything so we rather took it as a massive “renovation project”... The goal, simple: to keep as much as possible of the existing structures, get rid of all the decorative elements already built, and recast all the facades according to contemporary architecture principles. In essence we brought the buildings back to its simple primary structure, simplified and retained its interesting skylines, namely the pitched roofs, and restarted from there. In order to test this approach and the client reaction to it we used the Block B, quite representative of the overall scheme, as our “concept sample block". We regroup the previous proposed small shops (6 m wide only) into bigger size units, applied a different material to each one of them according to a carefully chosen material pallet, extended its shop fronts and added in key locations parasite boxes and protruding elements that gave to its elevations a dynamic apparently random layout which, in fact, resulted from a rational subdivision of the grid lines into modules, resulting in a diverse kaleidoscope of facades and 13 types of material cladding… The client like it so we just applied the same principle to the remaining 25 blocks. In total we design more than 100 elevations for 70 different buildings... in 3 months.

Urban Concept . One of the best things about the existing built scheme was the chaotic randomness of its urban structure. As western architects, with rational minds, to design such a thing it would be very difficult, almost impossible. But, somehow, the previous Chinese architects were able to do it... In that sense our goal was just to enhance this rather awkward but interesting formal diversity, first with our architecture approach and second with the urban approach. We defined 4 different pedestrian routes according to the built hierarchized urban structure and we attributed to each one of them a different pavement material according to its function and the urban atmosphere that we wanted to create. For the main urban axis we proposed a “Shopping Boulevard” cladded in granite slabs, which connects 4 different squares with different functions: a “Welcome Square” - the arrival point, a “Central Square” - the meeting point, a “ Performance Square” - where all sorts of performances take place and a “Lookout Point” - for which we designed a special hybrid building, part building / par landscape, that allows people to enjoy the privileged setting and sea view. For the narrower secondary urban axis we proposed a more intimistic “F&B Street” cladded in cobblestone, along the water canal a series of areas for tables and chairs paved in wood deck and for the north side a “Linear Park”, which works as a buffer zone between the scheme and the adjacent highway. In detail, as special features, along the main shopping street we proposed a water stream, several fountains and crisscrossing linear LED lights on the pavement which link several iconic elements, main entrances and help people to navigate through the area.

Material Palete Concept . The carefully chosen material palete aimed for a balance and contrast between cold and warm materials. The roughness of the materials chosen took into consideration both conceptual and financial aspects and a minimalistic architecture approach, giving to the overall scheme its seaside semi-industrial modern atmosphere. In that sense warm materials like corten steel, red brick and wood were extremely important to this scheme and balanced the coldness of materials like aluminium, glass and metal meshes.

And the Outcome . This project restarted to be built in the beginning of 2013. Everything now is in the hands of the LDI (“Local Design Institute”), the Chinese local architects, and of the contractor. Our scope was just until Detail Design (DD) so we just can hope for the best and that people come here to shop around… In an extreme consumist society like the Chinese has become I guess it shouldn’t be too difficult…

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