Tales of the booming Chinese economy in the period after the introduction of forms of free economy to the People’s Republic have already assumed mythical proportions. Even those who usually show scant little interest in things economic can repeat the sound bytes that tell us that, already, China’s participation in international capitalism has changed things.
But, for all the awe-inspiring figures and hazily distant facts, nothing brings about a real understanding; an internal mental processing of the reality like taking a closer look at a very tangible example. In issue 30 of Mark, Yen Ping Chua’s article ‘The Giant Out There’ provides just such an example.
There’s nothing particularly discursive or controversial about it. In fact, it is pretty much an informed and factual overview of one particular architecture project in the New China, namely Morphosis’ new headquarters for the gaming corporation Giant Interactive Group. But, what a project!
Founded in 1972 and since then something of a sprawling creative design and architecture firm, Morphosis’ multidisciplinary nature would naturally make it one of the few companies that could undertake such a project. In one sense, obviously ‘industrial’ in scale, yet needing to provide for the functions and activities of a specialist technology concern, the options for such a brief soon prove fairly limited. In short, very few practices would have what it takes for the size of the project.
Yet, when confronted with the completed reality, this is hardly the gargantuan industrial shed that one might envisage purely to accommodate the scale of Giant Interactive Group’s needs. On the contrary, the result may be gigantic – an entire campus is accommodated within one building approximately the size of eight football fields or 2.3 hectares in measurement terms- but it also has a thrusting poetic elegance to how it takes up a central coiled position besides an expansive body of water on the massive site just outside of Shanghai.
Even if he had merely relayed the facts, Yen Ping Chua’s article accompanied by Sergio Pirrone’s photos could not have failed to impress. But, fortunately for us, he also relates the new project to some of Morphosis’ founder Thom Mayne’s previous comments on building in China that, when matched up with the images of the project in reality, now make complete sense.
Aptly nicknamed ‘the dragon’ for both its physical form and connotations in Chinese culture, the building is a highly distinctive example of the Chinese economic boom made manifest. And the article is a fascinating read for anyone who is both interested in architecture and just how it fits with that boom.