Text by Nate Berg
When Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) won the competition to design the first major building for a business district in the southeastern Chinese city of Nanchang, the architects in the firm’s Chicago office felt a dual set of responsibilities: As a potential new landmark, the office and hotel tower had to make a statement, but the building—and, by extension, the new district—shouldn’t steamroll older parts of the city.
“We wanted to try to make visual, physical, and mental connections with the old city, and to unify that new district,” says SOM’s Mark Nagis, AIA, senior design architect on the Jiangxi Nanchang Greenland Zifeng Tower. “Instead of turning its back on the old city, it was trying to celebrate it.” That sentiment led to the design of the 56-story tower’s signature element, a semi-triangular void carved into opposite sides of the tower’s top third. The designers call it the “Great Window,” and Nagis says it acts as a large aperture “that looks west toward the old city, but also looks east towards the new city, toward the future of Nanchang.”
The carving of the Great Window had symbolic results, but was initially inspired by the practical need to slim down the floor plates on the tower’s upper levels, which are occupied by a luxury hotel with smaller spatial needs than the offices below. And, as it turned out, the large indentations had other benefits: “We found that carving into it actually created more surface area oriented to the best views,” Nagis says.
Though the Great Window helps the building stand out, a more subtle design element reveals itself closer up. Wrapping around almost all of the tower is a triangulated grid of aluminum fins, each about 1.5 feet wide and suspended off the building’s sheer glass walls. These fins serve as shading structures, and their depth and diagonal orientation help to reduce solar heat gain from the building’s east-west exposure as well as the strong sunlight from the south. The nodes that connect the diagonal fins have been embedded with high-intensity LED fixtures that provide the tower’s lighting expression. By night, the tower glows in a dot matrix of light.
At ground level, the triangular geometries inform the design of the retail podium that anchors the tower. The podium’s roof and the large public plaza outside the building, designed by landscape architect SWA Group, echo the geometry of the fins in a series of triangular segments of turf, skylight, and hardscape.
By connecting the tower to the landscape and thus connecting it to the city, the team answered the pressure of designing a new landmark with a thoughtful attention to detail. “This project was going to kick off that entire new development,” Nagis says. “We knew that we wanted to create a large civic gesture.”
Project: Jiangxi Nanchang Greenland Zifeng Tower, Nanchang, China
Client: Greenland Group Nanchang
Design Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago . Jeffrey McCarthy, FAIA (managing director); Ross Wimer, FAIA (former design director); Luke Leung (M/E/P director); William Baker (structural partner/director); Michael Pfeffer, AIA (project manager); Mark Nagis, AIA (senior design architect); Gregory Smith, AIA, Yue Zhu, AIA (senior technical coordinators); Henry Chan, AIA (technical coordinator)
Landscape Architect: SWA Group
Lighting Design: Kaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting
Fire Protection Engineering: Jensen Huges (formerly Rolf Jensen & Associates)
Vertical Transportation: Edgett Williams Consulting Group
Façade Access: Lerch Bates
Acoustic Engineering: Shen Milsom & Wilke
Wind Engineering: Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin
Size: 209,058 square meters (2.25 million square feet)