Project DescriptionSite: Hillside in Dongsheng District, Ordos, China.
Program: Master plan, landscaping, and design for multitenant commercial office space.
Solution: Regularity and repetition are the hallmarks of speculative office buildings. Historically, tenants prefer innocuous spaces, which they build out to suit their needs. Cambridge, Mass.based architect Preston Scott Cohen’s office complex in Ordos, China, a city of 1.5 million in Inner Mongolia, manages to be both original and uncomplicated. The architect’s scheme divides the 232,000-square-foot program into four freestanding buildings, which descend down the side of a hill. Each building is wrapped in a neutral glass-and-aluminum envelope with vertical fenestration.
Cohen interrupts this uniformity with a single horizontal datum, seemingly suspended in air, which penetrates each building at a different elevation relative to where it sits on the slope. Programmatically, the view line forms a ramped corridor, which splits the main core of each tower diagonally as it rises to match the topography. Juror Dan Rockhill was impressed with the overall continuity, which is both visual (sight lines) and spatial (internal ramps). “It’s quite inventive, just in the minimal quality of it. It’s quite striking,” he said.
At the termination points of the ramps, voids are created around the core of each building, and these voids—which soften the monumentality of the complex as a whole—continue into the office floors above and below. Juror Zoë Ryan acknowledged that “The buildings have a lightness about them, even though they’re large structures in the landscape. They do have a transparent nature, so they’re not blocking views entirely.”
The fire stairs, while providing code-compliant egress, act as a strong vertical counterbalance to the horizontal ramp datum that splits the cores of all four buildings diagonally. One stair is enclosed in a typical rectangular stairwell. The other forms a triangle in a twisting vertical shaft, open to a central void. The result is staggered floor heights on either side of the core. Space can be leased as half-floors or as full floor plates connected by ramps.
The formality and directionality of the ramps, which lead from the landscape into exterior voids carved in the buildings, create covered spaces for the public, as well as employees, to commune. Rockhill summarized the overall effect: “Here, the architecture is, in some way, a manifestation of the plan and the way a human would interact with that cut and that horizon line. It’s a very strong comment and a very strong urban design.”