The shape of the Guangzhou Circle Mansion in Guangzhou, China, was inspired by ancient jade discs. AM project
An Italian architect defies conventional thought to design a landmark building along the bank of the Pearl River in Guangzhou, China.
January 21, 2014—For many people, particularly those in the Western world, the notion of an iconic building conjures visions of towering skyscrapers. But when Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale set out to design a landmark building in Guangzhou, China, he intentionally avoided the skyscraper. His goal was to design a building that would be relevant to Chinese culture while also being different from any other building in the world. The end result is a circular building that recalls ancient jade discs.
The Guangzhou Circle Mansion, as the building is known, is located on the north bank of the Pearl River, where it stands as a gateway along Guangzhou’s southwestern edge. The 138 m tall building’s defining feature is a 50 m diameter void directly through its center. Around the void, the building has 85,000 m2 of gross space arranged over 33 above-grade floors. The first six floors house retail space, while the eighth through 30th floors are rentable office space. The 31st through 33rd floors house the headquarter offices of Hongda Xingye Group, a privately owned chemical and energy firm, and the seventh floor—directly below the void—is the trading hall for the Guangdong Plastic Exchange, an electronic stock exchange for raw plastic materials. Several balconies are located throughout the building and within the void. A helipad crowns the structure, and parking and mechanical spaces are located beneath the building.
Di Pasquale conceived the idea for a circular building after meeting Zhou Yifeng, the project client and owner of Hongda Xingye Group. Yifeng invited architects from China and Italy, including di Pasquale, to participate in a design competition for a building that would serve as the headquarters for his company and as the centerpiece of a larger development, which will also eventually include hotels, a museum, and warehouses. “I specifically asked the client what his desire or main expectation for the project [was],” di Pasquale says. “And the first thing he said to me was he wanted to have a landmark building—which means a building that can become memorable in the minds of the people. He also asked me to design a building that could be a symbol for his company and the city and could be an interpretation of both Western and Chinese cultures.”
The building’s defining feature is the 50 m diameter void that cuts
directly through its center. AM project
For inspiration, di Pasquale visited a museum in Guangzhou and learned about the jade discs that are prevalent in Chinese culture as well as the numerological traditions of feng shui. Di Pasquale was particularly intrigued by a double jade disc known as bidisk, which was a symbol of royalty in southern China more than 2,000 years ago. It was then that di Pasquale realized that a circular building and its reflection in the river would create a double disc, directly connecting it to the history of Guangzhou and southern China. Additionally, the building and its reflection would form the number eight, which is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture. The client was captivated by the imagery and selected di Pasquale as the architect for the project. “From the beginning, the client said the idea was coming from him because he had this feeling [that it was meant to be],” di Pasquale says.
As he worked to fit functional space into the circular form, di Pasquale realized that the design also reflected Western culture by symbolizing a problem posed by ancient mathematicians and geometers known as the squaring of the circle. While it may be impossible to form a square with the same area as a circle using only a compass and a straightedge—the so-called squaring of the circle—di Pasquale made the building functional by creating blocks of space within the form. He then designed the facade to extend beyond the blocks—the key to the building’s round shape. “I always invite people to look at the building from the side,” di Pasquale explains. “If you look at the building from the side, you can see there are blocks. This design always makes me think of this old question of the squaring of the circle.”
Cantilevering blocks around the building’s perimeter provide
functional space within the circular form. The blocks are supported
by the building’s structural facade. AM project
Framed in concrete-filled tubular sections, the building’s construction began with two towers—one on either side of the void. As the towers rose, their floors cantilevered in opposite directions. To balance the structures and support the blocks, which cantilever as much as 25 m from the primary floor plates, temporary framing was erected to a height of 40 m on the site and remained in place until the towers could be joined together. A great deal of monitoring occurred throughout construction to ensure that the towers’ floors remained level with one another and would line up precisely at the time of connection. Once the towers were joined together at the top of the void, the building’s structural facade provided enough rigidity to support the cantilevered floors and blocks. “When the hole was finished, the structure got to be balanced by itself, and then in that moment it was possible to take out the provisional structure sustaining the cantilevers,” di Pasquale says.
Despite delays caused by the 2008 global financial crisis, the project advanced as planned and a completion ceremony was held in December 2013. Di Pasquale says he is proud that his design changed very little from concept to completion, and he hopes it will serve as inspiration for other landmark buildings in the future. “The main purpose of my approach was just to avoid the Western stereotype of a landmark building, which usually means developing the building in height and is basically a skyscraper,” di Pasquale says. “The skyscraper is really famous only if it’s the tallest building in the world, but it’s a temporary record because in a few years someone else will build another building taller than yours. To find a way to be famous without becoming the tallest building is a direction that should be taken, because sooner or later we will have to stop going up in height.”