Marrying New Design To Traditional Industry: The Building On The Water, Huai’An, China

1 Posted by - September 10, 2014 - Architecture, Asia, Design
The Building on the Water

The Building On The Water took five years for Álvaro Siza to complete. Photo Credit: Fernando Guerra.

It often appears that the relationship between traditional and new industrial design is a tenuous one. In the past, and still generally followed, industrial designers created the old FFF, or Form Follows Function idea, often attributed to Mies van der Rohe, but actually said by the American architect Louis Sullivan. Misused though Sullivan’s quote has been, his idea was grounded in 20th century practicality: that the style of architecture should reflect its purpose. But now, newer industrial design is evolving, and in this project, has taken on a different cast.

As can be so well seen in the first image, the difference between old and new is obvious. On the mainland are buildings that reflect the FFF philosophy. But out in the water? A new design entirely.

The Building On The Water took five years for Álvaro Siza, the 81-year-old Pritzker Prize architect, and his co-designer, Carlos Castanheira, to complete.  It is built on a reservoir in Huai’An City, in Jiangsu Province in China, about 400 miles northwest of Shanghai.  The building, opened August 30, 2014, is a graceful, almost serpentine-like white concrete structure.  Perhaps because of its semi-circular, curvilinear geometric form, it looks buoyant.  Indeed, the whole structure appears to have landed gently on the surface of the 100,000 square meter reservoir, which serves to supply the manufacturing plant with water. As can be seen in the images, Mr. Siza created an unusual form, one whose function combines industry with a deep design aesthetic.

Adminstrative offices, Building On Water

The lower level contains administrative offices in the Building On Water. Photo Credit: Fernando Guerra

The lower level of the building contains offices, meeting rooms, an employee restaurant and an auditorium, while the upper level contains VIP and executive areas that overlook the complex. In addition, two footbridges create walkways across the building. It covers two square kilometers, almost a square mile, and its curvilinear form measures almost 300 meters or 984 feet, and comprises two levels above water and a total built floor area of about 11,000 square meters, or 118,000 square feet.

The Building On The Water is located in the New Salt Industrial Park, and is owned and operated by the Shihlien Chemical Industrial Jiangshu Company — one of the world’s largest chemical/industrial plants that processes locally mined salt into ammonium chloride and soda ash – a crucial ingredient in glassmaking.

Over-water construction was an entirely new venture for Siza. He has done just about everything else, and has won many prizes in addition to the famous Pritzker. The Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture, the Prince of Wales Prize in Urban Design from Harvard University, the Alvar Aalto Medal; the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the Praemium Imperiale; the Wolf Prize; the Urbanism Special Grand Prize of France 2005 are just a few.

In 2009, Shihlien Chemical Chairman Por-Shih Lin envisioned creating an office building over the already existing water reservoir of the Salt Industrial Complex. He invited Álvaro Siza to head the design team, and he explained his two part original vision: first was to create a building that would blend seamlessly with the most important element in the manufacturing process of glass, which is water.  And the second was to establish a world-class, one of a kind, architectural profile for the Shihlien Company.

As Shihlien Chemical Chairman Por-Shih Lin explained recently, “Mr. Siza has always upheld the design concept of establishing harmony between man and the environment. This building ingeniously blends with the waterscape and plant grounds. As the first project in China by Mr. Siza, it will be an inspiration for future industrial plant designs in the country and is truly significant for that reason.”  The idea of inspiration is a necessary one, as inspiration derives from seeing just one of the many components of Mr. Siza’s design: how the building plays with the reflections, a never-ending chiaroscuro of waterlight.

Mr. Por-Shih Lin added, “Whether viewed from land, water or air, this elegant building conveys a quiet beauty, achieved when the concrete and substantial comes in contact with the fluid and ethereal.”

It is hoped that future industrial plant designs will be envisioned in such a meaningful way.

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