Fang Yuan Building: a critique


C.Y. Lee, the architect who got public approval and vitriol in equal measure with his Taipei 101 skyscraper project in 2005, has his own architectural philosophy and he has done much research on eastern and western culture.


Taipei 101

He can be considered as one of those who represent the practice of “Architecture with Chinese style”.

However, the way he puts his architectural theory into practice was questioned when two successive projects — Pangu Plaza and Fang Yuan Building were completed in tandem. These two buildings were highly controversial and even named in the list of the “Top 10 Ugliest Buildings in China” in 2010 and “Top 10 Ugliest Buildings in the World” in 2012 respectively. Judged from this perspective, neither Pangu Plaza nor Fang Yuan Building can really be considered success; in architecture or in authenticity. This article will discuss the Fang Yuan Building in detail.

Fcity viewang Yuan Building, a 24-storey office block with a total floor area is about 48,000 m2, is located at Shenyang Financial Trade Zone in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, 200 km from the North Korean border. In his design, Lee shaped the building to resemble an old Chinese coin with square cut-out, representing the implication in traditional Chinese culture that business will be smooth and money will be rolling in. Additionally, at a more profound level, it illustrates the hope of harmony between people.

Although the intention behind the design itself is fine, the methodology used in the fusion of eastern and western style was really disappointing. Lee is always stressing the importance of the shape as he believes that the intrinsic spirit should be expressed clearly and directly through the building form. He insisted that this was his initial intention in this design. However, the result is not as expected in his philosophy. internalIn my point of view, this building is too figurative and he just chose the most convenient method to figure this question out by merging the prototype of Chinese traditional entities with modern materials. It’s not just that the circular design looks incongruous but the plate glass windows and concrete base are depressingly run-of-the-mill. Consequently, it would better if Lee could translate his thoughts into a building in a slightly more abstract way. Ironically, this Chinese traditional coin shape didn’t bring many benefits to those working in the interior spaces: because of the uniformity of every floor the experience inside the building is clearly monotonous.

That said, this extraordinary shape and facade didn’t affect its value in use. This is simply because most Chinese still believe in buildings that have connotations of good fortune, and this simplistic symbolism is encouraging Western architects do exactly the same thing but for cynical reasons.

GuangzhouHere, for example, is the Guangdong Plastics Exchange nearing completion in Guangzhou designed by Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale of AM Progetti. At 138m tall and with a 47m-diameter hole in the middle, one of the contributors on the project was the School of Architecture of South China University of Technology. I guess that it may take a while for things to change!