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Sky “Streets” Connect Dual, Linked Towers

A rendering of the new corporate headquarters of Shenzhen, China-based Tencent Holdings Limited, an Internet company, will boast two towers connected by three sky “streets.”
The new corporate headquarters of Shenzhen, China-based Tencent Holdings Limited, an Internet company, will boast two towers connected by three sky “streets.” The urban campus will use these connection points for circulation and as places for employees to meet and chat, much like college quadrangles. NBBJ

In Shenzhen, China, construction is under way on a vertical urban campus for Internet giant Tencent Holdings Limited.

February 25, 2014—Creating a sprawling campus with green spaces for a corporate giant is relatively easy in the suburbs, but less so in a dense, urban environment where space is limited. The Los Angeles-based architecture firm NBBJ has managed to do just that, however, designing a vertical urban campus, complete with quads and garden plazas, in Shenzhen, China, for Internet giant Tencent Holdings Limited. The company’s new 270,000 m2 corporate headquarters comprises dual towers that are connected by three massive sky “streets,” each topped with its own rooftop garden plaza.

The urban campus, located in Hi-Tech Park in the Nanshan District of Shenzhen, will provide space for up to 12,000 employees at the Chinese company, which provides similar services to the Mountain View, California-based Internet company Google, according to Jonathan Ward, AIA, LEED-AP, a partner of NBBJ, and the lead designer of the structure.

Tencent was founded in 1998 and is currently the third-largest Internet company in the world, ranking behind only Google and Amazon, according to material provided by NBBJ. Its current headquarters is also located in Shenzhen.

In this new complex, the 248 m tall southern tower will contain 50 stories, while the 194 m tall northern tower will contain 41 stories. Both towers will have rectangular footprints. In addition to office space located throughout the towers, the three large-scale sky bridges will act much like streets in a suburban campus, offering internal access to various levels, and will also provide meeting points for employees. A bus station will be located underneath the towers so that employees can easily travel to work from all over the city, much as Google buses bring their employees to work, Ward says. “It’s kind of like a minicity for Tencent,” Ward says.

In rendering the typical horizontal, suburban campus as a vertical, urban space, the design took “a fairly large floor plate and we split it in half, so there are two buildings that are kind of talking to each other,” Ward explains. “And then we took three very large-scale, [long-length] bridges and tied the two towers together.” By doing so, the design team was able to move the circulation elements and shared spaces typically contained at the base of a building and elevate them to positions between the towers.

“All the amenities, all the public spaces, all the shared spaces, all these things that are large-volume, large people-flow—they are always at the ground level,” Ward says. “And the problem with that is that it disconnects people from people in the tower. So we took those things, and we spread them out into these three bridges that meet the tower in three different spots, the lower portion, the [center] portion, the top portion.”

“So what happens is, as you go up through the tower, suddenly you go horizontally and vertically at these bridge links, and they become like campus quads,” Ward says. “They become like the big crossing points in a wonderful campus where [people] meet each other across these paths, and chance encounters happen.” Those spaces “generate that feeling of a campus in a vertical tower,” he explains. 

Rendering of the three sky “streets,” which are clad in copper-colored louvers as a visual counterpoint to the silvery-white glass and metal faCade of the towers

Underneath the towers will be a bus station for employees. The
three sky “streets,” are clad in copper-colored louvers as a visual
counterpoint to the silvery-white glass and metal faCade of the
towers. NBBJ

The lower bridge, which the architects call the “urban link,” will include an auditorium, a exposition space where people can learn about the company, a cafeteria, and an outward-facing public cafe. The center bridge, dubbed the “health link,” will include a full-scale gym and fitness center, a swimming pool, gaming space, a juice bar, and a cafe. The uppermost bridge, called the “knowledge link,” will include a training space dubbed “Tencent University,” libraries, and a conference center.

The circulation system of the vertical campus is much like the New York City subway system, Ward says. There will be “pit stops”—express elevators that stop only at the bridge links—as well as transfer points, he says. Escalators will also link the bridges and various floors within each tower.

Structuring the circulation system with transfer points at the three bridges not only moves people to their destinations more quickly, Ward says, it also works as social engineering because people who stop off at one of the bridges will meet others from different areas of the campus. This provides the opportunity to “meet somebody from the other tower, and have a chat and come up with an idea about a new product or a new development,” Ward says.

Both towers are formed from composite frame structural systems with metal decks and reinforced concrete core walls, according to Jacky B.W. Lo, CEng, MHKIE, the technical director of China building engineering at the Shenzhen office of the global engineering firm AECOM; Lo is serving as the project manager for the project, and wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

Together, the towers and bridges act as a rigid structure against seismic loading. “The two towers are connected rigidly at their weak direction by arrays of steel trusses [that] form the sky bridges,” Lo explained. “Specially designed diagonal bracings are added to improve energy dissipation of the building during an earthquake,” he said, and to enhance the buildings’ lateral rigidity.

Both towers are founded on bedrock with large-diameter reinforced-concrete bored piles, according to Lo.

Because of Shenzhen’s climate, Ward says, “We had a pretty aggressive energy-reduction target for the building. Taking advantage of the dual-tower format to create a passive, energy-saving system, both towers were faced toward the south so that one tower could shade the other through most of the year, he says.

Additionally, the south, east, and west facades of the towers are serrated as a series of two-story, angled modules that lean outward from the buildings to shade them. “So rather than adding a bunch of louvers, we just modulated the facade itself to lean and shade,” Ward says. To the east and west, a series of saw tooth elements shade the sun when it is low in the sky. The angled glass of the two-story modules also helps to bounce light deep into the building without causing undue glare for the computer programmers who will work there, Ward says.

The copper-colored bridge facades act as counterpoints to the silvery-white glass and metal towers, Ward notes. The copper color is created by louvers placed on the bridges in order to provide sun shading to the floor-to-ceiling glass of the bridges. Highlighting the bridges with these louvers “gives some visual power to the bridges,” Ward says. “[It] makes them important as points of interaction as you travel around the city.”

Foundation work for the towers has recently been completed, and the steel work on the buildings has begun. The new campus is anticipated to be complete by 2016.



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