Super HQ Base: a vision of Shenzhen’s future

Architect Claude Godefroy takes us through the thinking behind the design of the Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base, a world-leading project for shaping the urban landscapes of tomorrow. 

The saying, “If you want to see the future of China, go to Shenzhen”, will soon need a corollary: “If you want to see the future of urban design, go to Shenzhen Bay.” 

It is not hyperbole. In this city of tomorrow, a vision is being built of how cities of the future will look. It is called the Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base.

Located in the city’s southern coastal area, looking out across the Pearl River Delta toward Hong Kong, the 117-hectare project is a new kind of CBD. It is where all of the city’s major companies will be housed, a hub for modern service industries where information, creative ideas, and high-technology will mix and match; where Fortune Global 500 companies and smaller, up-and-coming enterprises will rub shoulders.  

It will be to Shenzhen what Canary Wharf has become to London, and what La Defense is to Paris. Only a lot more futuristic, and a lot more cutting-edge. Because this is Shenzhen. 

It was only recently that the design for the area was finalized, after an intensely competitive bidding process. Late last year, the government-backed Shenzhen Center for Design launched an international design competition for the new Headquarters Base, with the winners sharing a total prize of RMB20 million. Henning Larsen, an architectural from Denmark, was one of three chosen. Its creative director, Claude Godefroy, stands before us explaining the project’s significance.

“The sole purpose of this Super Headquarters Base is to attract the talents of tomorrow,” says Godefroy. “What the Shenzhen government cares most about is if the Base will be able to attract the talent it wants, so our main goal is to create a public realm that facilitates a better living and working environment; in other words, a more livable city.” 

Coming from Copenhagen, the Danish capital that comes out on top of almost every global livability ranking, Godefroy knows what he is talking about. “A livable city is a city entirely devoted to the well-being of its residents,” he says. “A lot of care is given to the public realm and great efforts are made in creating a green and pedestrian-friendly city.”

Eco-friendly requirements

In its brief, the center requested design firms to “achieve the goal of developing Shenzhen Bay into an intensive, efficient, ecological and people-oriented ‘future city’,” stretched out along Binhai Avenue. The city’s ambition is for the Base to become nothing less than the most exemplary and forward-thinking new urban district in the country. 

“Shenzhen Bay has a natural coastline that was never utilized, as the traditional business districts were built away from the water, first in Luohu and then Futian,” says Godefroy. “The competition has provided us with a unique opportunity to reconnect Shenzhen with its historic seafront and this was the foundation of our design.” 

Since 2001, the China Academy of Urban Planning & Design has been working on a masterplan for the area. It has the Sand River golf course to the west, the renowned retail and entertainment complex OCT Harbor to the east, and an inner lake wetland to the north. 

Based on an existing layout of the roads and the transportation nodes, Godefroy and his team came up with a renewed site strategy, complemented with layers of design related to sustainability and accessibility. 

Contrary to the area’s original masterplan, where a Central Park was elevated over a number of footbridges and the road to the bay was interrupted by Binhai Avenue, Godefroy and the team have brought the park back onto the ground level, surrounded by an array of arts and cultural landmarks, to provide a focal point of connectivity with the city. 

Meanwhile, Binhai Avenue, which runs along the coastline, will be taken one level down, submerged into plaza-like basement, teeming with commercial activities, where traffic can pass through and connect to the city’s highways. 

“Throughout China, you can find buildings sitting on a huge indoor acclimatized retail podium, which is not a sustainable urban configuration,” Godefroy says. “We bring the retail elements to a sunken plaza instead and leave the ground floor with smaller scaled structures, so that they are more porous to ventilation.” 

To maximize the site’s waterfront potential, the team carved out a one-kilometer-long canyon that serves as a spine to not only link the underground transportation and retail network, but also visually connect the bay in the south with the inner lake wetland park in the north. 

Emerging out of the canyon, one will find a cluster of iconic towers, anchored by a 680-meter skyscraper that is set to become the world’s third tallest building after the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Elevated podiums are linked by footbridges to form a central transportation hub. 

Nature will play an important role in this new urban landscape. “More than 10,000 trees will be planted throughout the area, with a mangrove habitat along the coastline as well as 12 public sky gardens on top of the building towers,” says Godefroy.

Sustainability is another key element in shaping this new urban landscape. White building material will be applied to the facades, pavements and streets. Efforts have also been made to create more ventilation and bring down the temperature by five to 10 degrees in the public realm, so that people can enjoy outdoor spaces more.

Millennials come first

In order to attract the talent of tomorrow, much thought has been given to building a smart city driven by technology. “Shenzhen is home to some of the world’s leading drone makers and it was part of the brief for us to figure out how to incorporate passenger drones into urban planning,” says Godefroy. 

The sharing economy is also part of millennials’ way of living in China. The Henning Larsen team has, therefore, placed plenty of public work stations around the area. “We also believe that millennials prioritize upgrading themselves, therefore we have envisioned the city to function as a university where one can easily attend a class or join a seminar during lunch breaks or after work,” Godefroy says. 

The local government has already required of the developers that they allocate five to eight percent of each building’s gross floor area to arts and culture. To Godefroy and the team, this needs to be a curated effort in order to create an overall coherent experience. “We’ve proposed that the galleries in the top floor of the towers are made accessible to the public and this can be a key element in the identity of the city.” 

A large part of the infrastructure in the area, including roads and metro stations, are being built. Half of the plots are under construction, with some beginning operation next year. “Everything will be gradually put into full function and it will probably take another five or six years to be fully completed,” says Godefroy. 

The firm is also bidding for another urban renewal project at the Shenzhen/Dongguan border. “It is particularly exciting because China is doing a lot of urban masterplans these days and we are taking part in shaping the country,” says Godefroy. “Everybody in our business can see that the Greater Bay Area is probably the most interesting region to build right now because it is really receptive to innovation and has a fantastically optimistic approach to the future.” 

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