Horizontal Skyscraper | The Plan
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Horizontal Skyscraper

Steven Holl Architects

The Vanke Center, otherwise known as the Horizontal Skyscraper, is in Shenzhen, a city growing at break-neck speed on China’s subtropical coast not far from Hong Kong. The complex stands as a quality landmark in a landscape bristling with skyscrapers where urban dynamism is expressed in terms of quantity. Winner of a competition limited to invited submissions from internationally acclaimed architect firms, it  combines architectural prowess with sustainable construction and energy-efficiency. 

That the building sets out to put theory into practice is clear from its name, “horizontal skyscraper”. Its dynamic articulation is in deliberate contrast to the sequence of skyscrapers ranged on the city’s edge, doggedly concealing the view of the mountains further inland. In contrast, the Vanke Center runs parallel to the mountain range, following its horizontal profile. The views allowed by, and from within the building help connect landscape and city rather than the contrary. Nor is the multi-purpose character of the complex a mere functional declaration of client use. It is a more complex statement about architecture’s purpose within the urban context, one that is completely at variance with the super-specialized usage to which buildings of this size are usually put.

The centre’s huge footprint (60,000 sqm) makes the multi-component programme possible. The complex comprises a series of interlocking horizontal blocks set at different angles. All volumes stand off the ground. The landscaped areas under and around the buildings are both pleasing to the eye as well as functional to environmental sustainability. Stairwells and lift shafts are concealed in huge translucid parallelepiped enclosures. Vertical and oblique stays emphasise the material quality of the imposing steel structure. These, along with the elegant steel fire escapes, are the only connection the building mass has with the ground. The lower...

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