Shanghai, China

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.

When Mayne and his team first visited the site, they found farms and a flat landscape. Other architects might have seen a featureless setting, but Mayne envisioned the land playing an active role in the project. Since learning about Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, and other “earth artists” in the 1980s, Mayne had designed a number of projects — including the Crawford Residence in Santa Monica (1990) and the Diamond Ranch School in Pomona (1999) — that dug into and engaged their sites. “Giant is the culmination of this train of thought,” states Mayne. “In all these projects, we tamper with the figure/ground relationship and turn the land into an active component.”

Working with the landscape architecture firm SWA, which had master-planned the 44.5-acre site as a parklike setting with a new lake connected to existing canals, Morphosis designed the building as a series of snaking forms burrowing under and through the land. Almost all of the western half of the building (containing shared elements such as an indoor pool, a gymnasium, and a hotel for corporate guests) sits below a 164,000-square-foot green roof, which reads from afar as a faceted hill or folded meadow. The east half of the complex (containing the general offices, executive offices, auditorium, cafe, and library) jumps over a highway bisecting the site and reaches out to the lake. In a dramatic flourish, the east wing cantilevers out 115 feet, hovering above the lake with a glass floor offering views of the rippling water below.

“When we showed the client the design for the cantilever, he asked, ‘Is it big enough?’ ” marvels Mayne, contrasting this bravado with the risk-averse approach of most American companies. “We couldn’t do anything like this in the U.S. today.”

While the enormous green roof, the lake, and a series of plazas and courtyards carved into the building offer employees ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, Mayne’s approach to nature is anything but naturalistic. “It’s an augmented landscape,” says the architect. He and his team designed the building as a “multiplicity of components” acting on and responding to the folded land, the highway running through the property, and major programmatic needs. The goal, says Mayne, was to “attack singularity” and echo “the messiness, the ad-hoc-ness that we love in cities.” Finding the right balance between “coherence and chance” was critical to during the design process.

The 258,000-square-foot headquarters represents a new, magnanimous approach to employee relations emerging in China. Extensive recreational facilities and outdoor spaces reflect Giant’s strategy of using perks to attract talented staff, inspired by the approach used by Google and U.S. software companies.

The steel-frame building took two and a half years to build and required some sophisticated coordination between the Morphosis team generating 3-D computer models and the steel fabricator in China. In some places — such as the curving, sloping bridge that spans the highway and connects the east and west wings — the design borders on the excessive. But the architects kept other parts of the building — such as the area under the green roof — fairly simple, in part to allow flexibility in how it is used. While Mayne’s attitude to landscape began as an artistic concept, it led him to a design that has important green benefits. For example, burying so much of the building in the ground reduces heating and cooling loads. In addition, an enclosed and ventilated (but not conditioned) walkway runs along the south side of the west wing, buffering offices from the sun, and a double skin on portions of the north facade also creates more temperate interior spaces.

Mayne says he didn’t want to design “a perfume bottle,” a building as icon. Instead, he created a sprawling complex that captures the restless energy of 21st-century China — a place that may have too much going on, but that nevertheless impresses us with its daring and its indomitable will to keep pushing forward.


Project Manager
Tim Christ
Paul Gonzales

Project Architect
Hann-Shiuh Chen
Ted Kane
Mario Cipresso (through Design Development)

Project Designer
Leonore Daum

Project Team
Andrew Batay-Csorba
Adam Bressler
Marty Doscher
Patrick Dunn-Baker
Graham Ferrier
Chris Herring
Debbie Lin
Kristina Loock
Yichen Lu
Scott Severson
Mohamed Sharif
Suzanne Tanascaux
Chris Warren

Project Assistant
Qing Cai (site assistant in Shanghai)
Soohyun Chang
Kyle Coburn
Guiomar Contreras
Laura Foxman
Joe Justus
Michelle Siu Lee
Hugo Martinez
Mark McPhie
Brock Hinze
Sunnie Lau
Greg Neudorf
Christin To
Jose Vargas
Dana Viquez
Mike Patterson
Nutthawut Piriyaprakob
Aleksander Tamm-Seitz
Kuo Wang (site assistant in Shanghai)
Jing Xu
Jian-Jia Zhou

Design Institute
MAA Engineering Consultants (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.

Local Architect
SURV (Shanghai)
Managing Director: Alexander Moh

Director in Charge: Thomas Chow

Project Manager: Leo Huang, Mel Tang, Jie Zhu,

MEP Coordinator: Hai-Tao Hu

Structural Engineer
Bao Ye
MAA Engineering Consultants (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.

Thornton Tomasetti Group, Inc. (concept design)

Mechanical Engineer
IBE Consulting Engineers (concept design)

MAA Engineering Consultants (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.

Electrical Engineer
IBE Consulting Engineers (concept design)
MAA Engineering Consultants (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.

Interior Design

Landscape Architect
SWA Group

Local Landscape Architect
 TOPO Design Group

Architectural Lighting Design
Heather Libonati, LC, Luminesce Design

General Contractor
China State Construction Engineering Company 3rd Bureau



Structural system:
Steel Frame,  Concrete

Exterior cladding:
Description: Fiber-cement Panels
Manufacturer: Swisspearl
Product: Xpressiv
Color: Dark Grey 8220
Area: Office Building Skin

Description: standing seam aluminum metal roofing system
Manufacturer: Corus Kalzip
Color: Dark Grey 
Area: Office Building Roof

Door Hardware
Description: Glass door Hardware and closer and locks
Manufacturer: Dorma
Product: Dorma SG

Interior finishes
Suspension grid:
Description: Metal Welded Wire Mesh Ceiling Panel - painted
Manufacturer: DEKO
Product:  Custom
Thickness: 1.5mm diam. Rods

Paints and stains:  
Description: Multi-surface Paint
Manufacturer: Benjamin Moore - ECO-SPEC
Product: Interior latex enamel
Area: Gymasium, Hotel Entry

Plastic laminate:
Description: Plastic laminate
Manufacturer: Wilsonart Laminate
Product: Wilsonart ® Fire-Rated Laminate
Thickness: 0.81mm ± 0.13mm

Solid surfacing:
Description: Solid Surfacing
Manufacturer: Cesar Stone
Product: Quartz coutertop
Color: Blizzard 2141

Resilient flooring:
Description: Rubber Rolled Flooring
Manufacturer: GerFloor
Color: Black
Area: Gym, Dance Rooms

Manufacturer: Interface Flor
Product: Menagerie 26Z
Size: 610 x 610mm
Color: Storm #4949
Properties: Antron Lumena solution dyed nylon 23 oz, Tufted Tip-Sheared
Area: Open Office, Private Offices, Conference Rooms

Raised flooring:
Description: Modular Raised Flooring System
Manufacturer: Lindner
Product: Nortec – calcium sulphate panel
Size: 600 x 600mm

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Interior Ceiling reflective ceiling panels:
Description: Custom light reflectors
Manufacturer: COSA International PTE LTD
Product: Barrisol Membrane
Color: transulcent white

Glass Fiber Reinforce Gypsum Interior Panels
Description:  Wall and Ceiling finish panels
Manufacturer: EGROW International
Product: GFRG
Color: White

Interior Wall Paneling:
Description: Fiber-cement Panels
Manufacturer: Swisspearl
Product: Carat
Color: 7090 Ivory
Properties: Integrally colored fiber cement panels
Area: CEO Office

Manager Office furniture / seating:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Zody
Color: Black

Open Office furniture / desks:
Manufacturer: Plan Moebel
Series: m-pur / custom
Color: White

Open Office furniture / storage:
Manufacturer: Onlead

Private GM  Office furniture / manager seating:
Manufacturer: Vitra
Serie: Meda
Color: White

Private Office furniture / secretary seating:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Zody
Color: Grey

Private Office furniture / lounge seating:
Manufacturer: Vitra
Serie: Monopod (leather)
Color: Avocado

Private Office furniture / desks:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Allways
Color: White

Private Office furniture / desk storage:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Allways
Color: White

Private Office furniture / office storage:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Equipe
Color: White

Conference rooms furniture / seating:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Very
Color: White

Conference rooms furniture / tables:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Planes
Color: White

Break rooms furniture / tables:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Premise
Color: White

Cafeteria furniture / lounge seating:
Manufacturer: Quinze & Milan
Serie: M2 Straight, M2 Corner and M2 Flat, Round
Color: Lime green and Anthracite

Cafeteria furniture / tables:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Premise
Color: White

Cafeteria furniture / chairs:
Manufacturer: Vitra
Serie: Tom Vac
Color: Translucent

Library furniture / tables:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Planes
Color: White

Library furniture / chairs:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Very
Color: White

Library furniture / lounge:
Manufacturer: Quinze & Milan
Serie: Round Cake
Color: White

Auditorium furniture / chairs:
Manufacturer: Hayworth
Serie: Very
Color: White

Exhibition room furniture / seating
Manufacturer: Quinze & Milan
Serie: Infinity Straight XL
Color: Lime green and Anthracite

Reception furniture / seating:
Manufacturer: Vitra
Serie: Meda
Color: White

Hotel lobby furniture / lounge seating:
Manufacturer: Quinze & Milan
Serie: Round Cake
Color: Anthracite

Manufacturer: Quinze & Milan
Serie: Round 2
Color: Custom (Benjamin Moore Tawn Day Lilly - 2012-10)

Hotel bar furniture / seat pads:
Manufacturer: Quinze & Milan
Serie: [custom pads]
Color: Custom (Benjamin Moore Tawn Day Lilly - 2012-10)

Hotel room furniture Sofa/chairs:
 Manufacturer: BoConcept
Color: White

CEO private hotel suites and loft / Lounge, tables and lighting:
Manufacturer: B&B italia
Manufacturer: MDF italia

CEO private hotel suites and loft / desk and side chairs:
Manufacturer: Vitra

Downlights, Task Lights, Exterior lamps, pendants and soffit lighting
Manufacturer: Thorn

Manufactuerer: ThyssenKrupp Elevator

Toilet, Urinal
Manufacturer: Duravit
Product: Starck

Faucets, Showers fixtures
Manufacturer: TOTO

Hand dryer, towel dispenser
Manufacturer: DLINE