Project DescriptionCategory: Work
For the jury, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)’s new U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, sends an important message: “The consulate building is representative of a quality that we want to continue to see in foreign projects, where our soft culture can be embraced,” juror Sheila Kennedy said.
The 150,000-square-foot building’s unfussy massing and frank expression lent it a degree of candor and simplicity that propelled it to the top of the heap. Where so many diplomatic buildings abroad seem to deploy heavy-handed rhetoric, SOM’s shoots for understatement, using local materials and brightly lit façades at either end of the tube-shaped main structure to give it a sense of warmth and welcome. The jurors also expressed their admiration for the building’s “softening-edge component,” the extensive use of wood and joinery that frame many of its interiors and that are visible here and there behind glass plates on the exterior.
Occupying a 7.5-acre lot in the city’s Pearl River New Town district, the project is as important for the extensive landscaping that surrounds it as for the building itself. Though the compound is necessarily separated from the surrounding streets by screening facilities—one of the rigors of the security-heavy brief—the gardens and paved areas are decidedly public in character, the pathways lined in a locally quarried stone that also clads the body of the consulate. Even the perimeter buildings, through which visitors must pass to enter the consulate area, are given a sensitive, urban character, each topped with a long green roof and a broad marquee that extends toward the sidewalk.
Kennedy praised the project further as an “idea-driven” workplace, one that brings “ideas about the public nature of the workplace into the site.” The consulate, she concluded, is an office with “soul.” —Ian Volner