Once construction is completed, Shanghai Tower (pictured on the right) will be the tallest building in Shanghai's Lujiazui Finance and Trade district and the second tallest building in the world.
There is perhaps nothing more symbolic of contemporary China’s rapid development than the mega projects being built in this country. To that point, China Central TV (CCTV) just aired a five-episode documentary series titled “China’s Mega Projects” to showcase the building process behind several of China’s mega projects, all of which rank among the biggest in the world today. Among the five mega projects in this series is the Shanghai Tower designed by Gensler. Almost three years into construction, the Tower stands at a height of 390 meters with 80 stories completed as of the end of September. The hour-long episode featuring the Shanghai Tower has attracted much attention across China, so I sat down with Jun Xia, the project’s Design Director, to discuss the documentary and the project itself.
JS: Why do you think CCTV included Shanghai Tower as one of the five mega projects in this series?
JX: I think there are three reasons. First of all, Shanghai Tower will stand as the tallest building in China when it’s completed in early 2015, and it is considered a symbol of the country’s super-tall building boom. Secondly, this project is located in a very important area – Shanghai’s Lujiazui Finance & Trade zone, which is the heart of China’s ambitious strategy to create an international financial center on a par with the City of London and Manhattan. Thirdly, the Tower is a unique building itself in terms of its form, meaning, functions, and sustainability program. It does not seek to be the world’s tallest, to be sure, but it certainly aspires to be the tallest green building. Given these three factors, I think the Tower’s scale and sophistication symbolize the country’s rapid vertical development and have a very strong social impact on the city and even the nation.
JS: What impact does coverage on CCTV have on the project?
JX: Well, this will be the first time that a mainstream TV channel presents a relatively complete story of this project. CCTV is the country’s biggest and most authoritative media outlet, so the scope of the project’s influence will certainly expand as a social phenomenon. It’s definitely the best platform to educate the general public in China about the design, engineering, economics, sustainability and culture behind the Tower, when there is so much misunderstanding about super-tall buildings. I believe this will reach a much broader audience, which in turn will help us design better buildings.
JS: Being closely involved with the project from the beginning, what does the Shanghai Tower mean to you?
JX: First of all, I think this project proves that Gensler has the capacity to design the best super-tall building in the world. Secondly, it demonstrates that Gensler, as a design firm, has a culture that is strong enough to cultivate design talent and to assemble design teams capable of realizing some of the world’s most challenging designs. The credit goes all the way back to Art Gensler when he created the firm with such a vision. Thirdly, as a global design firm, our team also emphasizes localization. Shanghai Tower demonstrates the integration of teams from across Gensler’s global network of offices coming together as a cohesive whole in the creation of the building. Additionally, the building’s design is a wonderful representation of Chinese and Western cultures. Skyscrapers are mostly Western in concept, born of architects from Western countries. We didn’t want to design just another Western-style super-tall project in China. Shanghai is, and for most of the twentieth century has been, a place where the East meets the West, so from the very beginning we envisioned Shanghai Tower’s design as a harmonization of the two cultures. While its verticality and methodology come from the West, its sky-gardens, spiraling form, the Yin-yang harmony of hardness and softness, etc. all come from the Chinese culture. And finally, on a personal level and as a Shanghai native, I view the Tower with a huge sense of pride for our city and China as a whole.
JS: The documentary shows much construction work. What’s your view on construction quality and the design implementation?
JX: I’m really impressed by the quality of the construction work so far. With so many materials and people involved on the site, everything has been moving forward on schedule and in an orderly fashion. The various teams are working together to ensure quality and the implementation of the original design. On top of that, the modern construction technologies are really making a difference. Time will testify to how great the quality is, and seeing what’s been happening gives me confidence that the Tower will be a superb building when it’s completed.
JS: What impresses you the most when you watched the documentary yourself?
JX: My biggest takeaway was the vivid documentation of the challenges we have faced thanks to the project’s scale and complexity. I’m also deeply impressed by the documentary’s focus on the myriad people working behind the scenes and on the site. At the end of the day, it’s the people who make this project great, so I’m pleased to see that the hard work of the teams from design, engineering, construction, management, etc. are all captured, and that we also see how the teams work together to make a super-tall skyscraper happen, in real time.
JS: How is Gensler working with the client now that the tower is already almost 390 meters high?
JX: Right now we are working closely with the client to ensure design development is in line with construction. Be it materials or other small details, we work with our colleagues on other teams to guarantee the construction is proceeding to plan both economically and aesthetically. Since we are also designing the project’s interiors, we are working with the client as we launch the interior construction portion of the project. We are also looking to the future and leveraging our experience and resources to assist the client in attracting tenants and identifying ways to build up management quality and enhance user experiences of the finished building. The ultimate goal is to make sure Shanghai Tower will be a truly world-class platform for business and culture.