A Twist of Nature

CapitaLand’s ‘Green for Hope’ project is roping in students to do their part for the environment. And the response is heartening! Taking the river as inspiration and twisting it with contemporary design results in the perfect combination of form and func

Issue: Apr 2009

Aerial view of Raffles City Hangzhou

Each year in autumn, the Qiantang River in Hangzhou, performs a "dance". The tide surges inland from the broad sea, mixing salt and fresh water in a frothy wave that pushes upstream, twisting and narrowing in the process. Using this flow and motion as a muse, Ben van Berkel, Co-Founder and Principle Architect of UNStudio, an Amsterdam based international design company, has given the Raffles City Hangzhou development a softness of form that understates the complexity of its design. "The element of movement in the river is reflected in the structural qualities of the project, which is seen in a wave-like motion. These concentric waves increase in their dynamism, starting with a calm movement and building up to a more vigorous wave along the vertical axis. Elements of flow and motion are hereby incorporated into the building as an integrated whole," explains Berkel.

Transformative Design Principles

Berkel describes the design of the building as "transformative". Indeed, in terms of its form, the building's transformative elements are expressed through the movement contained both in the vertical form - from the plinth and voids to the two towers - and through the twists in the horizontal planes of the towers. The building has a slender and sculptural quality which can be viewed in many ways from its surroundings, but which will also offer an equally changing array of views for its occupants. In this way the project communicates on many interesting and varied levels. The design of the building also invokes warmth and an understanding of the human condition. The placement of community spaces and landscaped gardens at intermittent heights throughout the building's exterior, provide that indispensable connection with nature and the human spirit that is expected of great architecture today.

Smooth and soothing interiors.

While the design from the outside excites the spirit, the spacious inner atriums and connecting corridors are calm and put the mind at ease. As though a river has run its course through the centre of the building, walls arc and sharp edges are smoothed into tranquil curves. The bright interiors persuade the eye to explore the open space in the horizontal and vertical plane. 3 In terms of function, the project is also "transformative" starting with retail, moving to office spaces and then to residential and on to hotel. The site's strategic location near the Qiantang River enables the building to work as an anchor point within the Qianjiang New Town area, marking the site of a cultural landscape strip. "Placement and the mixed-use concept were used as drivers behind the design. The programmed mix creates a dynamic, continuous 24/7 cycle of activity. Raffles City Hangzhou is a point of confluence, a hub for business conduct, a new destination for visitors and residents alike. Raffles City Hangzhou will become an "all-in-one" destination for working, living, leisure and entertainment," says Berkel.

The long lines of Raffles City Hangzhou
The graceful tapering towers

Green Design Principles

Building responsibly was an important part of Berkel's design philosophy. The design team seeks to receive the gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating system, the industry standard for rating of the eco-friendliness of buildings. "The incorporation of natural ventilation principles and the ways in which materials are employed, all work in concordance with one another to lower the energy and material demands of the building," he says. With the mixed-use approach and commitment to the environment, the architects are defining the skyscrapers of tomorrow.

When Raffles City Hangzhou is completed in 2012, after four years of planning and construction, it will reach 60 stories into the sky presenting amazing views both to and from the Qiantang River and West Lake areas. Raffles City Hangzhou will provide a total floor area of almost 300,000 square metres. Berkel says of the building, "I believe it will have a sizable impact, as it is a project with a very strong identity and an individual character, which means it will become a place to which people would like to return. In the chain of events and attractions of Hangzhou, like the West Lake area and the commercial centre, the Raffles City project will be at the core of the Qianjiang New Town area and contribute to the recognition of this area as a new destination in Hangzhou."

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