Serie Architects has been awarded first prize by the competition Technical Committee for the Wuxi Xishan Civic Centre in China. Serie saw off strong competition from a high-powered international shortlist which included NihonSekkei, GMP Architekten, AS Architecture-Studio (AS), and Arte Charpentier.
Wuxi, with a rapidly growing population of six million, lies approximately 100 miles to the west of Shanghai. The Civic Centre is situated on a 27 hectare site and comprises two towers of 80,000sqm which house all the regional governmental functions, a cultural centre of 30,000sqm, 25,000sqm of auxiliary buildings and an office district of 58,000sqm.
The scheme is oriented around a large public plaza which is intended to form the centre of public life and expression within the Civic Centre. This unadorned open space hosts public gatherings and events, government displays and temporary exhibitions. The importance of symmetry within the composition of the plan is expressed in the strong axial relationship to the main entrance.
Marking the centre of the scheme, the two towers of the main governmental functions stand symmetrically astride the main axis. At the base of the towers, facing the plaza, the façade describes a long arc, forming the entrance to the civic centre from the main plaza. At the top of the tower this curve is reflected in plan, allowing the façade to sweep subtly towards the sky creating an impressionable and dynamic figure within the city. The tower fenestration is a thick masonry grid heightening the towers' monumentality and definition. The grid also acts as façade louver, cutting solar gain on the glazing thereby reducing heating and cooling costs.
The facades of the main civic centre auxiliary building and cultural centre are created with a grand colonnade. Throughout the history of architecture for political activity, the colonnade has been a consistently present. From the classical Greek stoa, to the ancient Chinese palaces, a sheltered but not enclosed area adorning the facade has been a space for meetings, discussions, negotiations, and announcements. It is crucial in defining the soft edge of a building which in turn activates the space around it, inviting people in and creating a much more open building.
The separate buildings of the Civic Centre are linked together by the use of common roof design made from suspended GRC pillow forms. The roof also is a key feature for our sustainability strategy. Not only does it provide shade to the buildings below, reducing solar gain and thereby lowering cooling and heating costs, it also provides a large surface for photo-voltaic cells. The architecture of the roof is drawn from the eaves of classical Chinese houses rooting the design further into local architectural traditions.
The landscape in the central area is a formal extension of the grid of the buildings. Trees form part of the compositional elements of the plan and help define the plaza and larger symmetry of the plan. As one enters along the main axis, a grand walkway leads up to the plinth on which the civic centre is situated. The plinth creates a common surface that connects the buildings. Framing the plaza on the left and right flanks are a grove of trees providing a shaded green area.
The scheme sets out a Civic Centre for Wuxi that is more than a collection of governmental buildings, but is a true civic space in the original sense of the word, a space that strengthens the relationship between people and government. The design achieves this by creating a tightly bound composition with clear and inviting public spaces. The architecture is dignified and modern yet draws from a long tradition of Chinese and western precedents.