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April 21, 2010

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Cruising along the Bund

THE latest and soon-to-be iconic addition to the iconic Bund is the glittering and flamboyant Shanghai International Cruise Terminal that will open next month.

The new development, which adds another 800 meters of intriguing waterfront to the North Bund, was built to accommodate international cruise ships that are soon to dock.

As in Shanghai's 1930s heyday, the Bund will again be the first sight greeting international passengers as they draw into the city.

But in the 21st century they will be greeted not by neoclassical buildings, but by a self-consciously modern creation of glass and steel, vibrant colors that change as day fades into night, and innovative green technology.

Designed by English architects SPARCH, the 260,000-square-meter project shows that China's era of iconic buildings is far from over. Visually, it had to be a worthy addition to the Bund, capable of holding its own and standing alongside enormous ships that are to dock at the development - up to three 80,000-ton ships at one time.

Thus, its six low-rise buildings are wrapped in a "fluid steel and glass solar skin" that looks like the transparent skeleton of a sea creature from a distance.

Internally the government specified an ambitious, complex mixture of almost every type of space imaginable.


The terminal had to accommodate a strip of public parkland stretching from the Bund to the World Expo site. At the same time transport hubs must incorporate interesting retail and entertainment spaces, so 50 percent of the development had to be underground. Moreover, 80 percent of the development was to be commercial offices for cruise companies.

The solution was to designate lower levels as retail space with offices above. An underground pathway wraps around the buildings with public event spaces on the other side. A honeycomb of sunken gardens connects lines of vision with greenery above.

SPARCH had gained a reputation for flamboyance at home, exemplified by their "floating architectures" of the Blizard Building in Whitechaple, London. There they mounted oddly shaped architectures on four legs to "float" at different heights creating "more interesting experiences" of space, according to John Curran, Shanghai director of SPARCH and terminal project director.

Curran says their projects in China are an opportunity to innovate.

"Our passion is to push the boundaries in creating high-quality public spaces and find new ways for people to interact with their surroundings in interesting ways," he says. "In China there's a fun-loving license to push it further."

The terminal advances the floating architecture idea. In what Curran calls the most innovative and challenging feature, an arch called the Shanghai Chandelier stretches over two underground tunnels that could not be built over.

Instead, the architects suspended four architectural eggs, each weighing 750 tons, on a cobweb of steel wires. The engineering feet required expertise of three firms, one in the United States, one in France and one in Hong Kong.

The eggs are resistant to storm-force winds and seismic forces, while also appearing light and sculptural.

They allow visitors to pass through six different environments in one evening as cafes, shops, clubs and bars are all housed in the four pods. Changing views of Pudong, the Bund, and into north Puxi are revealed as people move.

Then there are the invisible green technologies. An innovative river water cooling system sucks up 4,500 cubic meters of the Huangpu River every hour and passes it through the entire development, absorbing heat during summer.

This simple solution is rarely seen anywhere outside Canada, yet it can reduce energy bills by 25 percent every year. Double-skin facades trap ultraviolet heat in the glass screen to prevent overheating, and the buildings are shaped like donuts to allow natural light and ventilation to travel through its large floor plates.

"A development has to stack up in many ways - it has to be socially sustainable, a regeneration device that allows the mix of commercial, cultural and public spaces," says Curran.


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