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Shanghai | Research and Development Centre | Morphosis Architects


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words Douglas Murphy

In Songjiang, a suburb of Shanghai, Morphosis Architects has completed a research and development centre for Chinese entrepreneur Shi Yuzhu's computer games company, Giant Interactive Group. The campus is situated in the centre of a manmade lake, with a "bar" building containing offices and meeting rooms, and a series of more independent spaces including a library, hotel, auditorium, swimming pool and clubhouse all located under a green-roofed structure.

The strategy was to create both density and a variety of internal and external spaces through the interaction of different elements. "We wanted to keep the landscape as an integral part of the design," says Ted Kane, project architect at Morphosis, "but we also wanted it to have an urban feel."

The site is dissected by a public road, so to unify the campus the building has a continuous roof plane and a series of elevated walkways that connect the two sides of the site. A series of large "cone" geometries give form to the various programmes under the landscaped roof; within these spaces, a smaller set of inverted cone forms envelop columns and hide mechanical services from view.

It is an example of what Morphosis founder Thom Mayne calls "a systematic approach" to design, whereby a series of simple design rules help to organise the complexity of the scheme. "They're spaces that you can't pre-imagine" says Kane. "A certain set of rules establish the geometry, and then you're just working those rules throughout the whole project."

Indeed, the conical geometries have created a satisfyingly rich plan for the building, and with the interactions of the raised office building, the undulating roofscape, the walkways and the green roof, the distinctions between landscape and building start to break down into something more spatially complex. Along with the ample recreation facilities, this will hopefully provide a stimulating atmosphere for the skilled labour designing Giant Interactive's products.

This low, wide, heavily landscaped type of building is a world apart from a project like Morphosis' "vertical campus" for the Cooper Union college in Manhattan (Icon 075), and it seems that in China there is an appetite for contemporary architecture in campus contexts – Steven Holl's Vanke Centre in Shenzhen (Icon 084) is another large corporate headquarters spread out over manufactured landscape. Is it an approach we'll see more of? "There are only certain projects where you can actually do this," says Kane. "But the client was really open to new ways of thinking about how you use an office space, how you adapt a campus. It gave us a lot of responsibility, which allowed us to experiment."

top picture credit Sergio Pirrone

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