Developer Dai Zhi Kang, chairman and CEO of the Shanghai Zendai Group is a small, gentle man with a super-sized vision—to create a world-class multi-cultural center for art and commerce in his hometown’s Pudong district.

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“In China, art is mixed with daily life,” explains Zhi Kang. “I want to interpret this tradition into a new aesthetic for Chinese architecture.” So rather than erect a stand-alone museum, a concept he deems foreign in China (therefore not likely to be embraced by locals or investors), he worked closely with Japanese architect Arata Isozaki to develop a contemporary hybrid that would fuse cultural and commercial venues.

According to Zhi Kang, Isozaki really grasped his idea, interpreting the country’s traditions in a modern way. The architect, who has been working steadily in China over the past ten years, took his cues from nature and the rhythms of a Chinese village—incorporating feng shui throughout his design. The structure reflects the imagery in Chinese poetry and ink paintings, and the landscape. Amorphous concrete pillars mimic trees and form an open 103-foot-high central court around which activities will flow. And a 54,000-square-foot roof garden will bridge box-shaped retail and hospitality wings.

Dubbed the Himalayas Center for its linking of lofty ideals with more grounded pursuits, the near 2 million-square-foot project—under construction since 2006—is about to be realized. A gradual rollout is scheduled to begin with the June 2010 launch of two hotels, the Zendai Hotel Yin and Zendai Art Hotel, shortly after the opening of the nearby Shanghai Expo. Conceived by the interior design team at KCA International, the hosteliers will showcase Zhi Kang's private collection of Chinese art and artifacts dating back 1,100 years.

The remainder of the complex will open over the latter half of the year: the Himalayas Art Museum, intended to rival such institutions as the Guggenheim; a shopping mall, which will feature the goods of both established and emerging designers plus provide additional gallery space for local artists; and the DaGuan Theater, a 1,650-seat film and performance space slated to become the official home of the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2011.