Corporate office buildings used to offer architects the chance to tap into fat construction budgets and make serious design statements. Think Mies van der Rohe and Seagram or Eero Saarinen and General Motors. Today, only a few U.S. corporations are investing in significant architecture, and some (such as the New York Times) have been criticized for spending too much on it, while others (such as Bank of America) have kept quiet about their new buildings for fear of being criticized. Corporate China, though, is starting to flex its muscle and sees architecture as a fine way of showing off its bulging profits. Many of the new office buildings rising in both urban and suburban China scream wildly for attention, but a few are taking more sophisticated — if no less bold — approaches to shaping the workplace and expressing the role of capitalism in a nominally communist society.
Flashy, famous, and fearless, Yuzhu Shi, the chairman and founder of Giant Interactive Group, represents a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs. With his face on the covers of glossy lifestyle magazines and an executive suite stocked with female assistants who could model clothes in those same publications, Shi had no interest in commissioning dull architecture. So he hired Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis to design a headquarters for the interactive, online games division of his fast-growing group of companies, knowing full well that Mayne had made even the California Department of Transportation and the United States federal government look sexy in sleek new office buildings in Los Angeles [RECORD, January 2005, page 120] and San Francisco [RECORD, August 2007, page 96]. Although Giant had offices in a number of buildings in central Shanghai, Shi decided to build his new complex on the city’s outskirts where it could spread out.