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Ordos Office Complex in Dongsheng District, Ordos, China by Preston Scott Cohen
March 22nd, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal
One essential aspect of the modern office tower is the efficient, open plan found on each level. An office building which attempts sculptural exuberance risks undermining this tried and true logic.
However, simple extruded rectangular boxes lack the iconic presence corporations seek as well as the spatial interest that occupants appreciate. The Ordos Office Complex employs an economical formal idea, avoiding sculptural excess by deploying a hot and cool approach. A neutral skin and efficient floor plans are intensified by spatial incidents deep within the building as well as social spaces that multiple tenants can share.
The Ordos Office Complex represents a new permutation of the “horizontal skyscraper” idea. It is as if a single office tower were cut into four buildings, with their lobbies arrayed horizontally across the site. Because of the topography of the site, this new horizontal datum is suspended in midair.
This interior/exterior, landscape/architecture condition extends horizontally from the hill top to the neighboring buildings, which descend gently down the slope. In Building B, this open space in the air is 1/3 of the way up the building. In Building C (the conceptual mirror, horizontally, of Building B), the void has migrated another 1/3 up the building, all the while remaining at the same altitude. In Building D (the mirror of Building A), the plaza has reached the roof level. This intense formal element, spanning horizontally across the buildings, is linked by a single ramp, which cuts through three buildings as a single line. Then, after an abrupt turn necessitated by setback constraints, it continues through the top of the last building, conceptually unbroken. Thus, from the entrance of Building A, a clear visual path cuts through the very center of three buildings. At a point on the plaza of the third, the continuation of this line of sight can be experience by a ninety degree turn of the body, clockwise.
The intense interior condition registers on the exterior envelope, but it does not disturb the cool composure of the flat, vertical façades. Subtle skewing of the upper and lower edges of the façade – following the internal circulation – creates the perception of formal dynamism. For a pedestrian strolling through the park, enjoying a respite from work, the complex takes on an illusory transformation. Carefully calibrated changes in the spacing of window mullions heighten the sense that the buildings possess angles, corners, and distortions that cannot be found in their simple, spare floorplans. Thus the facades, while remaining resolutely linear and efficient, take part in the spirals found at the buildings’ cores.
Interior office space takes place on split levels stacked efficiently through the buildings. The split levels allow space to be both neatly subdivided and easily aggregated. Each half-floorplate can be rented separately, or several floors can be rented together, acting together as a continuous space thanks to the level-splits that connect them perceptually. A Vierendeel truss allows minimal columns and fixed walls while providing the stability needed to cantilever the floorplates from the building’s core. The upper levels of the buildings are cantilevered from the central core. A series of Vierendeel trusses eliminate fixed interior walls while providing needed structural stability. Lower levels retain a typical column grid.
A double-helical stair provides efficient egress. To meet fire codes, each stair is separated from the other. One stair is completely enclosed within its own helical tube; the other exists within a twisting vertical shaft, open to a central void. While each floorplan remains regular, the overall stairway form registers the intense torque at the center of each building. The tower’s central core is split in two by the ramp that ties all the towers together. One half of the core holds elevators and washrooms; the other half holds the double-helical fire stairs.
The interior/exterior torroidal public space not only links the buildings together, but sets up a spatial trajectory by which the floors of each building are connected to each other. The voided ramp through the center of each building continues around the edge of the torroidal plaza and into the office levels below and above. This sequence continues upward and downward, connecting the levels of each building by a continuous ramp. This connection between floors also allows a stackcooling effect in the summer: opening a skylight in the center of the roof allows hot air to be drawn upward and out, pulling in cool air from below, through air intakes at basement level.
Only at two moments – at the ground and at a perceptually-continuous void that opens up within each building at the same altitude – does cool neutrality succumb to formal pressure. At the ground, a topographical meeting of landscape and architecture draws the urban environment within the influence of the complex. The way in which the buildings open up to pedestrians is an important part of their public presence. The highest of the buildings (Building A) is voided at its ground level, creating a condition in which the landscape wraps upward to become a canopy. The exterior environment becomes a valuable interiorized space, offering a shaded vista at the top of the hill, to be enjoyed in the spring and fall when the weather permits.
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