Sunday, March 8, 2009

Steven Holl Strikes Again- Shenzhen’s Vanke Center Aiming for LEED Platinum

Steven Holl didn’t stop with the Linked Hybrid in Beijing, he is also the architect for the Vanke Center in Shenzhen, a new mixed-use “horizontal skyscraper” aiming for LEED Platinum. I was lucky enough to visit the construction site last week, and this post will describe the unique concept and display some of my photos.

(Quick caveat: most of this info was provided to me in Chinese... I’m pretty good with the language, but I might have missed something...)

“Horizontal Skyscraper” Maximizes Open Space
The Vanke Center, despite being only 35m tall, is one of the largest skyscrapers in the world. It just happens to be horizontal. In fact, if the Vanke Center were stood up vertically, it would be as tall as the Empire State Building. The building houses apartments, condos, offices, and a hotel, and will be the new headquarters for China Vanke, one of the country's largest real estate developers.

And in addition to just looking cool, this interesting form actual has multiple green functions.

Open space
The building essentially has zero footprint on the ground, which creates more space for social interaction as well as more greenery. Although this landscaping could create additional environmental pressures, the designers have thoughtfully minimized this impact through the use of a rainwater capture system. Shenzhen’s wet, tropical climate provides plenty enough rain to keep the plants green, and rainwater gutters on the roof collect this water and use it for irrigation and filling the several fountains throughout the grounds. Moreover, the additional green space means there is more opportunity for rain water to percolate into the ground before running off into local sewers, lessening the strain on municipal water infrastructure.

rain water collection

Second, the raised building creates a cool microclimate beneath it. The building is sited at the foot of a fairly large hill, and the raised structure allows cool breezes from the hill to pass through the open area. This cools the building and reduces the need for air conditioning during the hot Shenzhen summers. It also creates for a more comfortable outdoor experience, encouraging more occupants and visitors to take advantage of the extra open space.

Third, the raised structure creates the largest possible number of views. Since the building’s lowest floor is at the same height as an average building’s third floor, more occupants have views to the outside. When coupled with daylight sensors, this means less energy used for lighting the indoor spaces. Moreover, the raised structure also creates “floorlights” on the first floor, whereby light bounces up from the open space below to provide additional natural light. Significant skylighting on the roof provides additional light, and louvered windows and double-paned glass allow in maximum light while minimizing glare. The result is a highly productive and comfortable space that uses less energy and is better connected with it’s outdoor environment.

"floorlights" to be

windows with louvers shown blocking out glare

skylighting on the roof can replace significant indoor lighting

Fourth, the horizontal design creates much more rooftop space. Holl takes advantage of this roof space in two ways. First, the building has a significant rooftop solar panel installation. These PV panels provide 12% of the power for Vanke’s offices. And where PV panels aren’t installed, the rest of the roof sports a roof garden. This green roof will reduce the building’s cooling load and keep additional rainwater from entering the sewers.

Housing for solar panels

All these green features that flow from the building’s interesting design, as well as a few more interior features like underfloor air distribution and thermal energy storage, contribute to the building’s lofty green goal: LEED platinum. (Note: the building is actually split into 4 different buildings, and only Vanke’s offices will be going for LEED platinum. I’m a bit confused about the split and will try to find out more.) The building was originally scheduled to be completed in mid-2009, but has been pushed back to late 2009 or early 2010. I guess that means the race between the Vanke Center and Parkview Green is on to be the first LEED Platinum building in China.

Vanke Center
Link to full photo slideshow of my site tour

This building represents another step forward for Vanke, one of the biggest developers in China. Vanke was the second company to list on the Shenzhen stock exchange in 1991, and was the most valuable company on the exchange in 2006. It develops residential real estate all over China, accounting for about 2% of China’s residential real estate market. That may not sound like much, but is huge for a market as fragmented as Chinese real estate. As a result, what Vanke does sets a tone for the entire market.

This is not Vanke’s first green project. Vanke has been exploring prefabricated housing to cut down on materials waste, and received an Architectural Record Best Client award in 2008 for their commitment to good design. This makes sense, since Vanke manages all its properties, which gives them incentive to make their properties profitable over the long-run.

Vanke is an established leader in the real estate market, and I think the cutting-edge Vanke Center will really get other developers thinking about how they can implement green principles into their own projects. Cheers to Vanke for pushing the envelope. Let's hope other developers follow suit.


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Jason V said...

Interesting approach to tackling the staggering carbon footprint of today’s high rise structures. Many green projects adopt a "campus" like approach to their layouts which works well when you have the space, but are not feasible in congested areas with high real-estate costs. Another set back to the campus approach is the surrender of green space for the development. It will be interesting to see the approach of green designers in China's most populated cities.

Ben Cooper said...

I'd like to see the structural plans on this development...must be crazy complicated!

Two thoughts:

1. There's definitely a trade-off going on in the project. The large, raised footprint of the building allows usable space beneath, which has its environmental and social advantages, but at the cost of using a lot of structural steel and concrete which has very high embodied energy and therefore carbon.

2. Are they implementing solar hot water or just PV? One knock on high-rises is that solar hot water on such buildings serves a relatively low percentage of the load demanded by the building and its occupants due to its compact footprint (i.e. - small roof space) and high FTE. It seems that this building can further set itself apart from the traditional vertical skyscraper by effectively implementing SHW - which, has half the payback period of PV.