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Tapered Towers by Louisiana's Victor “Trey” Trahan to Rise in Northeast China

By Fred A. Bernstein
This article originally appeared in the Chinese edition of Architectural Record.
August 21, 2012
Tapered Towers to Rise in Northeast China
Image courtesy Trahan Architects

Victor “Trey” Trahan may be the best-known architect in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (130 kilometers northwest of New Orleans), where his firm has built cultural, academic, and religious buildings of unusual clarity and grace. But an architect, he says, “has to go where the work is.” So last year, Trahan sent one of his employees to establish a small office in Shenyang—a "second-tier" city in northeast China, but one that is very large compared to cities in the United States and is 40 times bigger than Baton Rouge. (Trahan decided to skip Beijing and Shanghai, because they are already served by many other American architecture firms).

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Trahan's Shenyang-based employee, Teddy Tu, presented the firm’s portfolio to developers and local design institutes. Soon the firm was invited to participate in a paid competition to design a 408,775-square-meter, mixed-use development in Zhengzhou for the Henan Hongguang Industry Group. Trahan's proposal was selected and is now moving through the approvals process. The project is scheduled to break ground next year, becoming Trahan’s first in China. It is projected to cost $880 million.

Trahan’s elegant plan calls for three tapered towers—a 47-story hotel and two 27-story condo and office buildings—rising from a seven-story retail podium. In the gaps between the towers, the podium steps back from the street so that its planted terraces can draw visitors up to a park-like inner sanctum. Design influences on the project include not only New York City's Rockefeller Center—which is famous for its roof gardens—but also the terracing seen in rural areas of China.

As they rise from the podium, the buildings swoop gracefully - an effect that Trahan says will be accomplished by modifying the formwork from floor to floor, as the concrete is poured. The idea he explains, is to make each level—and the views from each level—unique. "If you live here and visit another unit, or if you return to the hotel for a second time," he says, "you should have a richer experience than just being a few feet higher or lower.”

The development is on a triangular site, near the Erqi Tower, a 27-floor double pagoda built in 1971 that is popular with visitors to Zengzhou. Trahan's trio of graceful, snow white towers, could soon join the double pagoda as one of the city’s most important attractions.

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