Weitzman News

Posted January 23, 2022
  • Archi-Tectonics' design transforms a once-barren site in one of China's fastest growing cities into a sustainable, ecologically conscious public space.

    Photo courtesy Archi-Tectonics

  • The design places the two stadiums on opposite sides of the plot to anchor the site; they are connected by a pedestrian valley.

  • The park was designed as a “Sponge City” that collects, filters, and reuses rainwater for water features, irrigation, plumbing, heating and cooling, and wetlands generation.

    Courtesy Archi-Tectonics and !melk Landscape Architecture and Urban Design

  • The design invites recreational uses like nature walks, picnics, waterfront dining and more, long after the Games have concluded.

    Photo courtesy Archi-Tectonics

  • Photo courtesy Archi-Tectonics

Winka Dubbeldam on Designing the 2022 Asian Games Park

This September, Hangzhou, China, will host the 19th Asian Games, the world’s second-largest sporting event after the Olympic Games. The two-week event, which has been held every four years since 1951, will take place at a new 116-acre park built especially for the Games. In 2018, the Gongshu District City Village Reconstruction Department invited five international architecture firms to compete for the chance to design the park. Ultimately, it selected a team led by Archi-Tectonics, the New York-based firm founded by Miller Professor and Chair of Architecture Winka Dubbeldam. Collaborating with !melk Landscape Design and the structural engineers at Thornton Tomassetti, Archi-Tectonics designed an “eco-park” with two primary stadiums connected by a sunken “valley village” pedestrian mall. The park is meant to be incorporated into the daily life of Hangzhou, one of China’s fastest-growing cities, after the Games are over. Archi-Tectonics is also the subject of a new book from Actar, Strange Objects, New Solids and Massive Things.

In this interview, Dubbeldam talks about thinking creatively to win the invited competition, incorporating sustainable components into the district, and working collaboratively in a virtual environment to design the park and monitor construction. The conversation has been edited. 

How does this commission compare to others you’ve gotten in terms of the scale and the unique purpose of the site? How do you design something for a specific event and then have it become part of urban life after the fact? 

It’s the biggest built project we’ve done, by far. We have done large master plans, but we’ve never done a master plan that turned into a gigantic eco sports park that has seven buildings and gets built in such a short time! We designed everything three-dimensionally in the computer and it went straight into Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM was used for all the technical, mechanical and landscape work, but also for coordination in construction. Working this way facilitates working in other countries, but also fast integration of different disciplines into one holistic, very well-integrated building. It wouldn’t have been possible many years ago, but it’s possible now. 

In this case, the clients asked us to make the buildings hybrids. They didn’t want the buildings to be “a white elephant”—a huge structure that might be beautiful but is never used again. They wanted the buildings to be in continuous use, so they invested more time, more energy, more meetings, more money in designing them. It was a very thoughtful set of discussions and optimizations and a very involved client. It was very interesting in the sense that we started to think about the future of the city.

Where did you begin when you were thinking about the design of the two main buildings? 

Probably the most substantial decision we took was to go in on equal terms with the landscape architect and the engineer. We went in as three equal partners, and it made our team much stronger. It was really beautiful how we literally designed the whole thing together. We had three incredibly smart offices working closely together to deliver fully calculated structures. We made a whole book, a film, and massive amounts of drawings, so our proposal was definitely the most developed. 

We decided not to follow the rules of the competition. They asked that the stadiums be right on the middle road together. But that doesn’t give these two big buildings any breathing space and  also makes the park into the backyard. We felt that that was not a good decision, so we put the stadiums more in the middle of the two halves of the park and connected it with the valley village, the shopping mall. And I remember our team saying, “This is why we’re going to win or why we’re going to lose.” We took that decision together, and it ended up being the winning one. 

What are some of the sustainable aspects of the design, either for the individual buildings or the district as a whole? 

If you look at it from the air it looks like a park with two buildings, two stadiums, but there are actually seven buildings. They all have green roofs. Most of them have a facade with natural ventilation and natural lighting and open-able skylights so that you can have natural ventilation and light. You can peer into buildings here and there. 

We restored the wetlands. There are islands in the river that will help speed up the flow, filter the water and give it more oxygen. The wetland vegetation is really important to filter and clean the water as well. 

We use natural cooling systems for the buildings. We only cool the seating areas of the stadiums but not the whole stadiums, so that’s a really great way to reduce energy consumption. We designed natural ventilation in the stadiums, and windows that open automatically to let the hot air out. We used solar-panel awnings over the valley village that generate energy so that lighting for the park is created by the sun. It’s a big park—116 acres, a mile long—so there were a lot of different methods we used. 

I didn’t want a building with columns, because it was ellipse-shaped and I wanted it to be flexible. So I asked the engineer for a suspendome. It’s a roof system that supports itself, so it’s really deep in the middle and then it’s really thin in the ends. The whole structure sits on the inner dome and then cantilevers out to the outer edges. And then the façade is carried by the roof, so it’s hanging down like a curtain. That saved 1,100 tons of steel, which the contractor and the client loved! 

How did the pandemic affect the construction and your ability to oversee the design? 

The funny thing is, I was done with my site visits in November 2019. We were always supposed to work [virtually] from then on. Our local architects flew drones over the site, and if I had questions, we could zoom in on the façade detail. As far as construction, there are 400 people on the site working there. And they went two weeks on, two weeks off, so they could really see who was healthy and who was not healthy. There was an automatic quarantine period. They did it amazingly well.

Were there any other unusual challenges to doing this from a distance? 

Actually, if you looked at photos of the buildings, or stand in front of it, you couldn’t see the building like we saw it with drones. You could fly in front of a detail on the facade and have a really close-up photo and say to the contractor: You know the way that sits there, could you tuck that further in? There were ways to keep an eye on things, to see the whole site, the building itself, and its details in a way that would have never been possible walking through it. When we did our site visit, we had to go by car from building to building because it was so big.

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

It was one of the first projects in China that was really coordinated on all levels using 3D BIM modeling. The architects, engineers, contractors, landscapers, and subcontractors and we were all in the same model. That was really exciting! We could literally adjust a little duct somewhere—just push it over a little bit—and then send a 3D model back and highlight it and say, “What do you think?” It’s like sculpting space! We learned a lot and were super impressed with the willingness of the client and the contractors to entertain our questions. 

That collaborative, virtual dynamic—does that seem like something like that will be more typical in the post-COVID era design firm? 

Yes, I think that’s the future. Definitely for us. I loved it. It was really great to have so much say. It really changes the dynamic. Everyone takes a bit more responsibility, I think, and you feel more included. Everyone felt more tightly connected to the discussions, the design and the execution of the details. We were more able to explain design intent and then get them on board with the thinking. It was kind of an amazing process.