Innovative government buildings: “rebellious”?


Innovative government architecture

Art and Design magazine (CN11-3909/J) is the recognized “high-end” erudite magazine which deals with innovations in the eponymous field as well as art-related photography, books and information.

The May issue, though, concentrates a little on “civil society” and in its back pages a feature about “innovatively designed” government buildings.

The editors have picked buildings which go down a “rebellious route”, for example the People’s Court of Zhujiajiao (朱家角) in Shanghai (left; top), the Harbin Science and Technology Development Center and the Songshan Lake Management Committee project in Dongguan.

Interviews with several of the architects and building planners were conducted, and below is a translation of one interview.


Songshan Lake Management Committee, Dongguan

Dongguan Songshan Lake Management Committee project (2005)

Interview with project planner Zhu Rongyuan (朱荣远)

Q: This project at Songshan Lake is very interesting: it is unlike the government, or yámèn (衙门) buildings in the traditional sense: large and prestigious. Instead it has the feeling of being scattered. Please tell me why you decided to design a governmental project in this way?

A: These were risk-taking ideas because it went against “convention”. Convention is the accumulation of experience, whereas innovation is where you must take a certain risk.

The new city in Songshan Lake area has architectural forms that are non-traditional and in line with the macroscopic environment of Songshan Lake. It was also encouraged by the new city’s management committee - innovative systems and environments.

Q: This kind of change in design and planning - does it have anything to do with the government?

A: Their needs are two-fold: function and uniquety to that city. The innovation that came with the city aspect was an important opportunity for the planner and the architect, given to us by the government. The government is using the opportunity of building a new part to the city to encourage innovation, and from this achieved the Songshan Lake project. This is also the result of hard work by the planners and the government.

Q: What were their ideas on the planning and design of the project? Did they still want to show some kind of “authority”?

A: It’s function, this is a basic necessity. As for “authority”, that is only the expression of a conventional government building. Songshan Lake new city has its own planning and design ideal, and a dialogue between nature and the demands for a materialistic space of the humanities. And in terms of the model there were certain demands.

The current government office building is the consensus between the government and the planner and architect.

Q: When the other party didn’t agree with your thoughts, how did you “mediate”?

A: “Mediate” is the wrong word to use here. The planning and building process of the Songshan Lake new city was the process of value systems reaching a consensus. There was not a question about forcing conventional values, and the architect and planner had the right to make their values stand out, because this is the normal actions of the profession. We had a rational and understanding counterpart.

Q: Some voices say that during the project they had to obey the “superior’s will” sometimes. Is this true?

A: I don’t understand what you mean exactly by “obey”. Perhaps “consensus” means to compromise. From the point of view of city planning, the best way would be for [decisions to be] single-faceted; no it wouldn’t be the best way. The best way would be to reach a consensus: that would really be the best way.

Q: What do you think the problem is with traditional government architecture is? I mean, why should we innovative on the traditional aspects of government architecture?

A: I don’t know where the value rests in that question. How is traditional governmental architecture wrong? Balanced, dignified, with authority, these are the expressions of government architecture, and is an architectural culture and standard that has been established by usage.

If the government office buildings of the Songshan Lake new city are going against tradition, then this is a special case, it is a consensus between the decision-making mechanism, the designers’ ideas and the philosophies of the architect. It is putting into practice what has been born from the natural environment, and does not represent the idea that there is a problem with conventional government buildings, and does not mean that this will be the direction for the designing of government buildings.

This “rebellious” architecture also presented its own problems, which are new: for example, the economics of building from the graphics, and the practicality of the design etc. But these problems, with the inspiration of innovation and planning of the macroscopic environment and the success, are positive.

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