ResidentialBy Clifford Pearson
A city within the city, Jian Wai SOHO combines highrise residential buildings, commercial space, shops, parking, and landscaped courtyards to create a sophisticated, mixed-use complex near the Tonghui River. Like most projects developed by SOHO China, Jian Wai targets an affluent group of Beijing residents—the people who are energizing the economy with new enterprises and global vision. Understanding the needs of these people and how they live has been a major reason for SOHO’s success. The company’s name stands for Small Office Home Office, which expresses its philosophy of creating places where a new kind of lifestyle can flourish.
The developer also likes to build on a grand scale, even if the individual apartments it creates are designed for people who may be starting small companies. So Jian Wai will encompass more than 700,000 square meters of floor space and 2,110 dwelling units when all seven phases are completed in the next year or two. (The first three phases were completed in spring 2004 and include 295,000 square meters of floor area.)
After an international design competition, SOHO hired the Tokyo architect Riken Yamamoto to design the master plan and the apartment towers. Yamamoto brought in two young Japanese firms—C+A to design the “villas” (midrise office structures set between the towers), and Mikan to design the retail space on the lower floors of the apartment buildings and along the perimeter of the complex. Jian Wai replaces a 1950s steel factory and is part of Beijing’s transformation of industrial and low-scale neighborhoods into mixed-use developments.
Having designed innovative residential projects such as Inter-Junction City in Yokohama, Japan, and Block 1 of Shinonome Court in Tokyo, Yamamoto had developed a talent for rethinking housing architecture. His master plan for the Jian Wai site, which achieves a density of 160 dwelling units per hectare, set the buildings on an orthogonal grid, but angled it 25 degrees off the north-south axis to maximize the towers’ sun exposure and bring daylight into all parts of the complex.
Yamamoto’s vision was to create a new landscape from which Jian Wai would grow. He separated automobiles and pedestrians, placing parking below grade and people on a landscaped ground plane where apartment towers alternate with lower commercial buildings to create a checkerboard plan. A series of sunken gardens scattered throughout the site brings daylight to the parking level and establishes a visually exciting rhythm of open spaces and levels.
One of the major attractions of Jian Wai is its range of apartment types, many of which offer flexible spaces that can accommodate small home offices. Some units have small office areas near the entrance, while others have moveable partitions or a connecting multipurpose room called an “atelier.”