More and more I’m coming to believe that Modernism as a mode of architectural design exists only in China. BIG’s new project, the Shenzhen Energy Mansion, is technologically acute, as all Modernist objects are, but formally subdued. It doesn’t evince the great Modernists’ desire to rethink form inside and out. The BIG building is basically an updating of Edward Durell Stone’s Aon Center in
Chicago, retaining the older building’s formal purity while integrating, in a tentative way, green technology into its form.
BIG founding architect Bjarke Ingels boasts that the building represents “the first specimen of a new species of office buildings that exploits
the buildings interface with the external elements – sun, daylight,
humidity, wind – as a source to create maximum comfort and quality
inside.” The origami folds in the façade suggest a massive building opening up to the elements, like a plant. However, behind the façade office workers are
still stacked in a climate-controlled environment, looking out upon a highway and Shenzhen’s desultory skyline. For the people in the cubicles, nature is
abstracted into one element: sunlight. Only the building is allowed to
relate to nature, not the people who use it.