Shenzhen, China

“Sustainability goes beyond a collection of technologies,” explains Zhao Liang, chief architect of China Vanke Co, the largest residential developer in south China today. Its new headquarters in Shenzhen, designed by Steven Holl Architects, exemplifies this idea. “Our building is a manifestation of who we want to be—a company that is open and is green,” says Zhao. These values start with the company’s chairman, Wang Shi, who has also built a reputation as an outdoorsman and mountain climber. The 120,445-square-meter building, which hovers above the lush landscape like a horizontal skyscraper, has been pre-certified as a LEED platinum building, the first such designation in China.

Li Hu, partner and director of Steven Holl Architects in Beijing, credits his client with giving the project its grand idea. “Wang Shi is committed to public welfare. He wanted to return something to the community. That’s the basis for this project.” With its new headquarters located on an idyllic property in Shenzhen with views to the nearby mountains, lake, and ocean, Vanke decided to open the site to its neighbors. The structure, as long as the Empire States Building is tall, sits on eight legs, creating a large public space below it and around it.

In addition to offices and facilities for the company’s staff, the center contains apartments and a hotel above ground and a conference center, spa, and parking underground. Li explains, “The design is not specific to the program. The building is a flexible armature and can be changed in the future.” Still, he set specific programs into the structure. He wanted to position the company dining room on the top floor so employees could enjoy the view of the ocean. Vanke accepted this idea, as well as many other design proposals.

Vanke Center uses renewable bamboo, recycled carpeting, PVC-free fabrics, and low-flow plumbing fixtures as parts of its sustainable-design strategy. Special coatings on its glass windows work together with aluminum louvers to reduce solar heat gain. A gray-water processing plant, roof garden, cooling pond, geothermal wells, and 1,400 square meters of photovoltaic panels all work to reduce the building’s dependence on outside sources of energy. Sunken gardens, courtyards, ponds, permeable pavement, and restored wetlands function collectively as a bioswale that filters, aerates, and irrigates the landscape.

Li thinks these green design features should go without saying, “Why should we talk about the building being green? These are fundamentals. They should be included in the building code.” But until that’s the case, Vanke Center shows that green design need not be applied to buildings but rather can be integrated with the core values and identity of a growing business.