Blog featuring artwork of Wes Freese

On Architecture

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This summer, the Shanghai World Financial Center is scheduled to be completed.  The aesthetic look of the building is gorgeous in its simplicity and sleek design.  This is perhaps the most attractive looking building I have ever seen in my life.  I am transfixed by the strength of the design of the building, which leads me to view the building as a heck of a big sculpture, in addition to it being a functional dwelling.  The design of the building is fresh and impeccable.  I’m wondering how other artists’ sculptures might have informed the architects design sense while developing the project (e.g.,  what were the influences that led to the creation of the design?)  I love the trapezoid opening at the top (which will be the highest functioning, outdoor observatory in the world).  For me, the completion of this architectural piece is a big art story of 2008.  I assume people will focus on the technological marvels, the amenities, the amazing developments regarding the safety and security of the building, which are all stunning, but to my sensibilities, the design of the building is the most striking of all these.

The building was designed by William Pedersen at Kohn Pedersen Fox in New York, along with East China Architecture and Design Institute.  Kohn Pedersen Fox state: “[t]he overall redesign and programmatic configuration of the Shanghai World Financial Center will support the building’s role as a major Asian landmark and a symbol of redevelopment in the area.  The uniqueness of the WFC will establish it as a powerful new icon for the City of Shanghai.”  At 460 meters, it was first planned to be the world’s tallest building when it was designed, and construction began, in 1997.  Yet the financial crisis that hit China in the late nineties halted construction until 2003.  By that time the 508 meter Taipei 101 in Taiwan had begun construction.  Plans for the Shanghai WFC were changed in 2003, but the building could not be constructed any higher than 492 meters because the foundation put in place in 1997 could not support a structure any higher than that.

A very interesting evolution to the design of the building occurred during construction, which involved what was at first intended to be a circular opening at the top of the building, instead of the trapezoid that is now in place.  The design for a circular opening at the top had a distinct function to it, which was to allow the building to better withstand the typhoon winds in the area that usually occur in the summertime in eastern and southern Asia.  The circular design was agreed upon by the two architectural firms.  Yet when the Chinese government learned of the towering circle atop (what was intended to be the world’s tallest building) they objected to such an image in Shanghai on the grounds that the symbol would bear striking resemblance to the red circle in the Japanese flag.  This was not just an objection based on pride.  Shanghai, China has a long, particular history of being invaded and occupied by Japan, and a landmark building meant to symbolize Shanghai’s independence and triumph over such a long history could not have such a symbol towering above the citizens of Shanghai, and rightly so.

Thus the trapezoid shape atop the building was decided on.  It doesn’t quite embody the original intent of the circle, which was to be more in harmony with nature (wind), but the opening of the trapezoid shape still allows for any such strong winds to travel through an opening rather than pushing up against the surface of the building, even if it does so slightly less gracefully.  But from my aesthetic point of view, the current shape is more striking, and is more memorable.  People will be able to show a picture of that shape and immediately remember the WFC.  The building’s square base, its sloping, triangular rise upward and rectangular trapezoid apex are a picture of graceful movement upwards.  While the function of the building, it’s bells and whistles and all the gadgets inside the building will serve human needs and business, it is the design of the building that will be recognized around the world.  It is the design of the building, what people see first, which announces China’s arrival as a preeminent superpower around the world, and it’s growth and evolution from the past.  (People have been talking about the emergence of China as a superpower for years, but this seems to crystallizes it, makes it a fact rather than a future expectation.) 

The building, to me, is Art, and what it is communicating shows the power and effectiveness of art in real, everyday ways.  With the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Taipei 101 and the International Financial Center in Hong Kong, Asia is making a big statement about the future of the world in terms of its ambition.  They’re saying it with panache, and the aid of strong design sensibilities in their architecture.  I’ll be sending a correspondent to Shanghai this summer to get a view from the ground.  More to come on this blog in terms of art and architecture from China.


Written by Wes Freese

April 30, 2008 at 7:41 am

Posted in Architecture, China, Sculpture

Tagged with ,

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