Good Design, Good Business in China

Preservation, environmental awareness, and community were paramount for winners of this year's BusinessWeek/Architectural Record China Awards

Architects and businesspeople often seem to speak different languages. Architects love to talk about space, light, and "transcending morphology." Businesspeople use phrases like "return on investment" and "risk management."

The goal of the BusinessWeek/Architectural Record Awards is to create a dialogue between these two worlds and honor examples of architects and their clients working together to further each other's goals. Two years ago we brought the awards to China on a biannual basis, believing the message "good design is good business" would find fertile ground here.

This year we honor 13 building and planning projects including a small house in Hong Kong, a new railway hub, an architect's studio in Shanghai, and Finance Street, an 860,000-square-meter, mixed-use development in Beijing.

Far and away the most awards were handed out in the Public category, to buildings that serve a community or unite a neighborhood. Many of these awards went to cultural institutions, such as the Dafen Art Museum in Shenzhen, which attracts tourists to a district already thronging with art-school graduates, and to I.M Pei's design for Suzhou Museum, which juxtaposes the ancient collection of precious ceramics, paintings, and jade with a stunningly elegant exterior. AREP Ville's design for the South Station in Shanghai features a huge, dramatic, flying-saucer shaped roof, which shelters the thousands of daily commuters. The roof's design is not merely about being aesthetically pleasing: its perforated panels filter and diffuse the sun's rays, spreading a soft glow around the waiting hall and reducing the need for electric lighting.

An Eye Toward Preservation

Environmentally sensitive principles are being applied in China too, and a few projects were recognized for their attempts to apply green design on a huge scale. Another transit hub, Sunny Bay Station in Hong Kong, takes advantage of sea breezes to cool the building. And architects Arup and Aedas designed the building to allow hot air to rise along a curved ceiling while cool breezes sink down to the boarding platforms and the waiting commuters. Plans for Chongming North Lake District, meanwhile, include the ambitious sustainable "eco-city" of Dongtan, along with a "green" highway linking the island with Shanghai and Jiangsu province.

As China goes through a period of enormous change, with growth and an astonishing surge in new building projects, the judges of the awards, including editors from both BusinessWeek and its sister publication, Architectural Record, were also keen to recognize preservation projects. The Shanghai office of Horizon Design occupies a building that was General Electric's (GE) first factory in Asia. The architects changed as little of the original industrial exterior as possible.

Two structures were created for the interior: a large glass box enclosing workstations and an elliptical conference room made of salvaged bricks. In an area undergoing a huge transformation, where entire neighborhoods are razed to make way for new development, this design was noteworthy for updating an original structure in an elegant and respectful manner.

Each of these projects highlights the kind of quality to which architects now working on the mainland aspire to attain. See here for a narrated slide show (BusinessWeek, 4/22/08) of the winners.