Forms of Energy #4

A Matter of Nature. Let's shift scales. After discussing buildings and components, let us now turn to urban form. In other words, the design of a new part of the city: the headquarters for Meters / Bonwe.

The headquarters for Meters / Bonwe, one of China's leading fashion companies, is being planned by Vudafieri Saverino Partners and Consalez Rossi Architetti Associati and Enrico Scaramellini (with the consultancy of Alessandro Rogora) in Shanghai's Pudong area.
The project area is approximately 13 hectares (about 13 soccer fields or 32 acres) and has the goal of creating offices for 7,000 employees. With this data in hand and in response to the client's brief for a project that would be able to express environmental awareness but also create the possibility for the harmonious development of the existing territory, the designers propose the creation of a campus in which industrial activities are integrated with new services such as restaurants, bars, libraries, sports areas, hotels, museums and shops for use by employees but also by the neighborhood and city.

What makes this project extremely interesting is how programmatic intensification and diversification is supplemented by a formal choice to maximize green areas. The project could be defined as a project for the ground plane; rather than a system of volumes clearly superimposed on the ground, it is a system of folds and topological deformations of a ground plane that is lifted, stratified, hybrided with volumes that "come up" for air and light to overlook parts of the natural-artificial landscape that they themselves helped create. We are not talking about underground buildings but rather of constructed geographies: the design of the ground plane rather than design on the ground plane; the design of earthworks rather than pure volumes under the sun. But the sun still continues to shine more than ever on these new areas which do not block its path but rise gradually like large ramps allowing the creation of continuous roof surfaces conceived of as green areas, parts of a vast park representing a different level of landscape. Leisure functions are located in this stratified and raised ground plane, arranged in continuity with the system of gardens, playgrounds and a water course that organically distributes and defines different uses, dividing the area of services in the south from the industrial area to the north. Here the offices are hosted in a system of towers modeled by a soft geometry that - through small height differences, inclinations of the different planes and porous wall treatments - renders the complex a sort of rocky counterpart to the slopes that occupy the rest of the area.

Various energy strategies are proposed - starting from the benefits deriving from the bioclimatic roof gardens (in the services area) with their photovoltaic pergolas along with an irrigation system that recovers and recycles water – still in the planning stage. The strategy continues with the towers' brise-soleil grids characterized by a vertical irrigation system for mitigating temperature through evaporation. Also included is a proposal for a system that balances energy use between the different functions in the urban complex (offices and services) and their schedules of operation. Even though, from this standpoint, the project is in the preliminary stage, it is very interesting that thought is being directed at this issue since the differences and the complementarities of the energy requirements of different functions can enable significant savings within an integrated project. For example, offices and cafeterias and restaurants work on different schedules (and therefore different heating and cooling needs) while a pool and a supermarket have needs that could be usefully coupled by using appropriate systems solutions insofar as the first requires more heat and the second more refrigeration (for which, as we know, energy is dissipated in the form of heat).
There is a shift in logic at play here: from the design of local solutions (an industrial plant or individual solutions for single buildings) to the design of an integrated system which produces optimal overall performance. This systems logic guided the strategy for the project's mechanical systems in which a ring of water mirrors the course of surface water linking the various buildings' HVAC systems while two large underground reservoirs act as thermal storage to respond to energy requirements at different times of the day and night.
As the designers write, "The headquarters is designed using all the devices that allow not only the production of energy from natural sources, but above all the containment of energy consumption and the compensation of different activities."

It is disappointing that there is no data or calculation to substantiate these affirmations. Because of the project's interest and its logic of efficiency, we take this opportunity to invite all designers to consider substantiating projects that work on sustainability scenarios with numbers and data that can help provide an objective measurement of their sustainability. This data primarily regards the system's energy balance-sheet or the relationship between energy required and energy produced (locally and from renewable sources). This is not something of "mere" technical interest that can be provided a posteriori but rather constitutes a response to a social demand for architecture that will work in new ways – and is thus the project's credibility and strength.

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