A day in the World's largest building - New Century Center, Chengdu, China
The world's largest building is located in Chengdu, central China.
Chengdu is a city of 14 million inhabitants, situated close to the mountains in the Sichuan province. It is famous for three features: pandas (one of their main natural reserves is here), their spicy food and - unfortunately - a devastating earthquake that happened in 2008. Due to this catastrophe the inhabitants of Chengdu have developed a particular attitude to life, made of a relaxed and enjoyable lifestyle: the Gucci Store in Chengdu currently invoices more than the Shanghai and Beijing ones.
It is in this mindset that the huge New Century Global Center was born in 2013, scoring the record of the largest building in the world; more precisely it has largest amount of over ground usable surface, 1,760,000 square meters within a simple parallelepiped of 560 by 480 meters, 100 meters high. It is located near the road that connects, north to south, the city center with the most recent urban expansion, mainly for offices and commercial areas.
This is the impressive planimetric comparison with a European city (in this case, downtown Milan):
It is practically impossible to miss it, if you are in the city: you can see it from the cockpit of your car materializing in the distance, isolated, like a stadium. The regular and monolithic shape is softened by an inclination of the facades near the corners and by a wavy decoration on the top. The facades are glazed and continuous.
The building develops around some internal courtyards necessary for light and ventilation, and the program is summarily divided into four main functions: a shopping center, a hotel (currently managed by Intercontinental), a number of offices to conclude the rectangular shape and, in the center of the building, a massive aqua park.
Intrigued by the hugeness, I decided to spend a day there. To reach the building I took a taxi, which left me at the east entrance, the one of the shopping center, which is symmetrically located in the center of the facade. Entering the building I found myself in a full-height atrium with a design rich of marble and decorations, where an escalator takes the visitor to a higher level from which you access the shopping areas on both sides.
Behind the shopping center, the visitor will find himself beneath a glazed vault, where the water park and a garden with bars and restaurants are located, surrounded by a somehow tropical vegetation (in Chengdu, despite the geographical position, palm trees naturally grow). This space is also accessible from the hotel and many of the rooms overlook it, through a zig-zag balcony design.
The room number that I photographed is a good example of how much, in this project, numbers and dimensions are highly exaggerated. Beneath the vault there is also a small chapel.
The offices, are designed as a series of independent buildings, side by side seamlessly, each one with its own entrance visible on the facade every 80 meters and its own vertical circulation core. To reach the shopping center and restaurants located there, employees must go out on the street.
Ascending to the upper floors (thanks to a not very diligent porter), the offices floorplans are very standard, with a central corridor and offices arranged on both sides, many of which are still vacant. Since that the construction was completed in 2013 and therefore 6 years ago, one could talk about the Chinese real estate bubble, and its anomaly of "not exploding". The view from the top floors is objectively beautiful, also due to the presence of a nearby park.
Finally, I wanted to measure this "Chinese miracle" through another "Chinese miracle": the bike sharing services, that have multiplied exponentially in recent years. Find one, I cycled the entire perimeter of the building: It took me 9 minutes, and in doing so I counted three different Starbucks!
Few Final Words
This is a building that, despite the primacy of its size, possesses very few of the qualities of architecture, such as particular aesthetic solutions, of articulation of form or space, innovative construction techniques. Indeed, it is precisely their absence that makes this construction interesting for an analysis.
it is a monotonous and somewhat alienating building. There is a strong discrepancy between the cheap and simple design of the facades and the opulent internal decorations, in the commercial areas. The building creates a void around itself, is questionable from an urbanistic point of view and is boring from an architectural point of view. Yet it was made and, in some way, "It moves!", As Dr. Frederick from the film Frankenstein Junior would say.
Probably are precisely the world-record dimensions that, ensuring enough visibility ( both physical and in the media) to the building, have made superfluous, in the eyes of the client, to invest other money into architectural beautifications. Quantity vs quality, or perhaps Quantity as an alternative to Quality? I'd wonder about it, if I had this view from my 20th-floor office.