Project: Xiyuan Entertainment Complex

Preliminary project stages for an entertainment complex in Beijing P. R. China, 2004
Total Built Area: 180.000 m2
Ground floor area: 56.000 m2
Basement area on –6 level: 56.000 m2
Basement on –9.6 level: 50.000 m2 (car park) + 6.000 m2 (units)
Road and external circulation: 12.000 m2
Estimated Construction Cost: 526.000.000 Renminbi (approx. 51.538.430 €)

Client: Beijing Xinjing Yihe Real Estate Development Ltd
Design: marcosandmarjan with Jia Lu
Competition stage: with Jia Lu and Steve Pike
Collaborators: Nat Keast, Shaun Siu Chong, James Pike, Sirichai Bunchua
Renderings: Mark Exon, Samuel White, Kenny Tsui, Tamsin Green, Jessica Lee)
Model: Sirichai Bunchua, Keith Watson, Andy Shawn
Engineering: Beijing Design Institute
 The Xiyuan Entertainment Complex is located in front of the gates to the Yiheyuan Royal Summer Palace in the Haidian district in north-west Beijing, China. The concepts of splinear volution and 2D convolution were adopted to confront the main challenges of the competition brief: to design a large complex with various functions and complex circulation systems with an extreme low-rise typology, and to re-address Chinese architectural traditions. In fact, the proximity to the Royal Palace, a World Heritage Site, constrains the building height of the commercial intervention to one floor over ground. The design was conceived as a 2D convoluted garden landscape capped by a fragmented yet smooth roof surface of stone and green areas, simultaneously permeable to light and sight.

The programme convolutes three hotel units, eight commercial unit buildings, eight cinemas, a KTV karaoke bar, an indoor games area and an exhibition area. Most of the facilities are located underground. The roofscape has been developed by applying 2D circular convolution patterns. Due to the limit of the building’s height, the roof is understood as the ‘fifth’ façade of the building. The rippling of the water surface on the Kunming Lake, and the curvature of the Royal Palace’s roofs inspires the concept. Imagine letting a drop to be fallen at every important point of the site, creating a sequence of ripples that intertwine with each other. The big ones symbolise the more important parts of the building, such as the main entrances, whereas the smaller ones represent secondary areas. The volumetric appearance of the complex thus resembles that of a village.

Such procedure seems contextualised in consideration of the proximity of the project to the Garden of Clear Ripples. Moreover, such technique develops roof tectonics that remind of traditional Chinese roofscapes. The whole project acts as a carpet to the Summer Palace. The proposed architecture attends to the historical development of China’s socio-cultural space, and focuses on the employment of groundbreaking technology that could combine high-tech manufacturing processes (China’s growing industrial know-how) and low-tech assemblage (China’s available labour). A thoroughly contemporary and advanced structural and material building solution is envisioned that incorporates Chinese sensibility into a technological state-of-the-arts computerised design and construction process.

Three particular design and manufacturing technologies could be adopted: CAD/CAM milling technologies of different stones (perhaps traditional Jinshanshi, shanshi, black qinshi, and Nudoushi sandstone) are proposed for the vast roof surfaces and façades. As demonstrated in the recent achievements on Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain, such CAD/CAM technology would provide an adequate and economic solution for similar design preoccupations. The result would resemble the sensibility of jade and red lacquer carvings, and of the marvellous marble carved stone in the Forbidden City. In fact, due to the proximity to such an important heritage site, the roof landscape of the proposed buildings (constructed in different phases) is considered a vast, contemplative, stone carpet that introduces the Summer Palace.
CAD/CAM laser, plasma, water-jet or oxy cutting techniques could be used for the manufacturing of the main steel structure and some façades screens, as well as internal secondary structures and division walls. Because these technologies are long established in the shipbuilding industry and strongly expanding, such strategy would allow a precise and uncomplicated manufacturing of the structural skeleton of the buildings. On a smaller scale, the timber construction technique of the NURBSTERs  is proposed, whereby notched laser cut elements can be assembled without the need of nails or screws—similar to Chinese traditional timber temple structures.

CAD/CAM Rapid Prototyping techniques would enable the manufacturing of specific pieces, as well as the production of precise scaled models. Thanks to the advancement of 3D engineering and hi-tech computerised design and manufacturing process, expensive skilled labour during assemblage would less be required. 
Aspects of splinear volution were adopted to develop a series of access systems through the intervention. A 500-metre-long and 16-metre-wide road strip, Xiyuan Avenue, through the middle of the site intersects each unit building, dividing it into a northern and a southern sector. All individual units have direct car access on the front façade (from either the South thoroughfare or Xiyuan Avenue). In many cases there is also a pedestrian access provided on the floor underneath or above the duplex unit. Internal circulation nodes within the duplex units integrate staircases, escalators, toilets and/or small office spaces in a mezzanine floor. Crossing staircases of two neighbouring units allow for a visual interchange between users of different units. The vertical organisation of the whole intervention follows the required proposition of three juxtaposed layers: the sunken ground floor at –1 metre, the basement level at –6 metres and the car park level at –9.6 metres. All buildings guarantee a maximum of 3.3-metre eave height along the whole site, with the exception of the eastern cinema and KTV volume which grows to 6.6 metres from the ground. This height is important to create a more urban scale along the busy eastern thoroughfare.

Initially, the competition brief demanded to cover the whole building with a series of traditional Chinese upturned tiled roofs that would give this intervention a conspicuous Chinese face. Here, the ‘Big Roof’ was a mask, a powerful symbol that would link a modern programme to the historical past of the Summer Palace.
Due to uncertainties regarding the financial viability of such programme — so common in contemporary China — the project went through considerable design changes. From an open and very permeable multi-purpose intervention with retail areas, conference facilities and public entertainment in the first stage, the project transfigured in the second stage into a mono-programmatic, large-scale shopping mall. In the later stages it turned back into a multi-programmatic entertainment complex with hotels, shop and entertainment units, KTV and cinemas, exhibition/culture facilities. Although the idea of a highly marketed intervention under the brand name of a Western architect, characterised by the fake image of a ‘Big Roof’, was abolished, the roof controversy remained. Yet it was turned into a large accessible green area allowing a variety of recreational and sports facilities, which afterwards turned into a large stone surface. 

In the third stage the analysis of the immediate environment revealed localised rhythms of massing, distinct primary circulation flows, numerous secondary itineraries and clear orientational landmarks. The location of the Royal Palace and its resultant tourist pedestrian traffic draws a street (Xiyuan Avenue) through the site. In order to achieve the required 30% percentage of green area, all buildings and roads are grouped into a dense cluster bounded by a green belt. 

A longitudinal urban park integrates external parking, pavements, recreation spots and several water pools. It intrafaces tourists that walk along the Boulevard and the facing building façades and brings natural light and ventilation to the dining rooms and reception of each hotel in the –6m level.