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Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center

The Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center, designed by Steven Holl Architects and completed in 2009, is a mixed-use building that includes offices for the Vanke Co., a conference center, restaurant, an auditorium, a hotel, apartments and a large public park. By raising the 1,296,459 sf building on eight cores — as far as 50 meters apart and positioning the building right under the 35-meter high limit of the area — Steven Holl Architects was able to create the largest possible tropical garden on the ground level of the site. In addition, the raised building allows for sea breezes to flow through the public gardens, reducing the temperature.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-02-Hufton-Crow-759x539 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Hufton + Crow

The Horizontal Skyscraper is an innovative example of the large-scale, hybrid use building, which challenges the usual developer typologies. The building hovers above a tropical landscape, freeing it for public use and for a unique scheme of ecosystem restoration. People in the surrounding community have already begun inhabiting this new type of public space for leisure. By lifting the building off the ground, the project is both a building and a landscape, a delicate intertwining of sophisticated engineering and the natural environment.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-06-Hufton-Crow-759x638 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Suspended on eight cores as far as 50m apart, the building’s structure is a combination of cable-stay bridge technology merged with a high-strength concrete frame. The first structure of its type, it has tension cables carrying a record load of 3,280 tonnes. The project employs some of the most forward-thinking sustainable design strategies. It utilises greywater recycling, rain water harvesting, green roofs, dynamically controlled operable louvers, and high-performing glass. 1,400 sq m of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of the building provide 12.5% of the total electric energy demand for Vanke Headquarters. Renewable materials are used throughout the Vanke Headquarters for doors, floors, and furniture.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-08-Hufton-Crow-769x1200 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Additionally, the Horizontal Skyscraper Vanke Center employs some of the most forward-thinking sustainable design strategies. It utilizes greywater recycling, rain water harvesting, green roofs, dynamically controlled operable louvers, and high-performing glass. 1400 square meter of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of the building provide 12.5 percent of the total electric energy demand for Vanke Headquarters. Renewable materials are used throughout the Vanke Headquarters for doors, floors, and furniture.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-12-Hufton-Crow-759x389 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Design of the Vanke Center:

The Vanke Center Shenzhen hovers about 50ft above the ground over a lush tropical landscape. The floating structure allowed provision of the largest possible green public space below the building.

The design provides unobstructed views of the surrounding mountain ranges in the north and the South China Sea. It also allows free flow of land and sea breezes to all the individual elements of the building and the public gardens.

The structure underneath the surface is finished with bright colours. The sunken glass cubes (called Shenzhen windows) located below the floating structure offer panoramic views of the green landscape at the ground level.

The maximum height of buildings at the site was limited to 115ft (35m), necessitating innovative design solutions. If the horizontal structure is held up straight, it would be slightly taller than the Empire State Building in New York (1,454ft).

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© Hufton + Crow

Structure of the Vanke Center:

The main building consists of four or five storey individual buildings lifted at about 50ft above the ground. These branches sprawl out in one direction. The entire structure rests on eight cores to have a minimal footprint on the tropical gardens. Each core is about 164ft apart. A public sideway, supported by the cores, connects the apartment zones, offices and the hotel.

Construction of the floating structure required several new construction techniques and technologies such as hybrid construction technology. The structure combines both column-and-beam concrete systems and cable-stay bridge building technology. This eliminated the need for trusses, allowing large spans and unobstructed façade views.

The flexible steel membranes are enclosed in steel tubes to minimise the vibration effects and carry a load of 3,280t. The landscape under the building and the elevated sideways turns the entire site into a public park.

The site is a designated storm water management system for Shenzhen. It stores water and acts as a bio-swale for the nearby water creeks. A retaining wall was built at the waterfront to reduce the run-off and erosion.

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© Hufton + Crow


The 559,723ft2 of landscaping area consists of planted mounds, sunken gardens, courtyards and ponds to create a storm water circulatory system throughout the site. It also has semi-permeable materials such as gravel, local river stones, grass-crete, open-joint stone and sand pavers for absorbing and naturally filtering storm water. The water is used for irrigation.

The landscape design was inspired from the Roberto Burle Marx’ gardens in Brazil.

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© Steven Holl

Façade of the sustainable mixed-use building:

The façade of the building is designed with perforated aluminium, porous louvres and double low-e coating glass. It protects the building against impact of sun heat and wind. The building has 26 faces with each having its own elevation, which allowed determination of the fixed and operable louvres for maximum views and daylight penetration.

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© Hufton + Crow

Facilities at Vanke Center:

The horizontal skyscraper includes the headquarters of China Vanke Properties and offices, SOHO apartments, corporate offices, a hotel and public parks. The planted mounds of the public landscape comprise a spa with pools, a 400-seat conference centre, cafés, restaurants and parking areas.

The building incorporates several sustainable features such as 15,000ft2 photovoltaic panels installed over the rooftop, a greywater recycling system, rain water harvesting, computer-and-sensor-controlled system, automatically operable louvres and use of sustainable materials such as bamboo for floors, doors and furniture.

Low flow and efficient water fixtures, recycling of storm water for irrigation and native plantations for the green roof are some of the sustainable water management features.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-26-Iwan-Baan-759x503 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Iwan Baan

Maximizes Open Space:

The Vanke Center, despite being only 35m tall, is one of the largest skyscrapers in the world. It just happens to be horizontal. In fact, if the Vanke Center were stood up vertically, it would be as tall as the Empire State Building. The building houses apartments, condos, offices, and a hotel, and will be the new headquarters for China Vanke, one of the country’s largest real estate developers. And in addition to just looking cool, this interesting form actual has multiple green functions.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-32-Iwan-Baan-759x506 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Iwan Baan

Open space:

  • The building essentially has zero footprint on the ground, which creates more space for social interaction as well as more greenery. Although this landscaping could create additional environmental pressures, the designers have thoughtfully minimized this impact through the use of a rainwater capture system. Shenzhen’s wet, tropical climate provides plenty enough rain to keep the plants green, and rainwater gutters on the roof collect this water and use it for irrigation and filling the several fountains throughout the grounds. Moreover, the additional green space means there is more opportunity for rain water to percolate into the ground before running off into local sewers, lessening the strain on municipal water infrastructure.
  • The raised building creates a cool microclimate beneath it. The building is sited at the foot of a fairly large hill, and the raised structure allows cool breezes from the hill to pass through the open area. This cools the building and reduces the need for air conditioning during the hot Shenzhen summers. It also creates for a more comfortable outdoor experience, encouraging more occupants and visitors to take advantage of the extra open space.
  • The raised structure creates the largest possible number of views. Since the building’s lowest floor is at the same height as an average building’s third floor, more occupants have views to the outside. When coupled with daylight sensors, this means less energy used for lighting the indoor spaces. Moreover, the raised structure also creates “floorlights” on the first floor, whereby light bounces up from the open space below to provide additional natural light. Significant skylighting on the roof provides additional light, and louvered windows and double-paned glass allow in maximum light while minimizing glare. The result is a highly productive and comfortable space that uses less energy and is better connected with it’s outdoor environment.
  • The horizontal design creates much more rooftop space. Holl takes advantage of this roof space in two ways. First, the building has a significant rooftop solar panel installation. These PV panels provide 12% of the power for Vanke’s offices. And where PV panels aren’t installed, the rest of the roof sports a roof garden. This green roof will reduce the building’s cooling load and keep additional rainwater from entering the sewers.
Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-62-Steven-Holl-Architects-759x526 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Steven Holl Architects


As sustainability consultant, Arup focused on adaptation, low resource consumption and social benefits to generate cost-effective sustainable design solutions. Arup engineers made full use of the extensive roof space created by the horizontal design. Photovoltaic (PV) panels were installed and roofs with native plants reduce heat island effect and stormwater runoff.

The mixed-use development comprises apartments, offices and a hotel, with a conference centre, spa and parking facilities below ground. The building serves as the new headquarters for Vanke, one of China’s largest property developers, and epitomises the firm’s vision to promote sustainable and socially-responsive urbanisation.

Energy efficiency:

The centre is a striking example of energy efficiency. It employs passive and active energy strategies including optimised building envelope, controllable shading devices, daylighting, natural ventilation, underfloor air conditioning, heat recovery, ice storage, demand control ventilation and task lighting. PV panels generate around 26.8% of the building’s annual energy. Overall, the complex saves up to 46.8% on energy and up to 60.5% on operating cost.

Water management:

Arup developed and implemented water harvesting and recycling systems to manage water consumption. A rainwater harvesting system with a capacity of 1,200m3 is integrated with the landscape. A grey water treatment plant incorporated into ecological wetland can save up to 150m3 of water every day. The design also uses waterless urinal and low-flow water fixtures, reducing potable water use by 51%.

Social well-being:

The project also emphasises the social benefits of regional regeneration, community life and promoting sustainability. Easily accessible by the public, the centre serves as an urban oasis that encourages community interaction and public involvement. The scheme also boasts a multi-functional community playground and sustainable technology showroom – providing leisure facilities and a platform to educate on sustainable living.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-05-Hufton-Crow-759x676 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Hufton + Crow

  • “This project skips along from mound to mound and manipulates the landscape – it builds it up and shapes it into a powerful form above the land with inventive manipulation. The building is shading the landscape and letting it breath – integrated sustainability. A reinvented building type with the building floating over the landscape – dancing on the landscape.” – 2011 AIA Institute Honor Award, the jury commented
  • “Steven Holl, the center’s architect, is a major talent, with significant projects in Europe and America, but his most potent urban ideas have sat on shelves for decades. In China he was given the chance to dust them off, and the results are extraordinary. […] It demonstrates what can happen when talented architects are allowed to practice their craft uninhibited by creative restrictions. […] It is an architecture that opens doors to new possibilities. And it underscores why China’s experimental climate, when combined with genuine intelligence, can be so exciting.” – New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, June 28, 2011
  • “The challenge of this program in a small city with almost no urban experience inspired Steven Holl, Li Hu and their team to embrace the opportunity to exercise their greatest gift: by offering the city a building that could only be emulated and improved upon, which will encourage the children playing under its shadow to build themselves a more promising future. Executed with great attention to detail and environmental impact, it is a towering achievement to erect such a thoughtful and considered structure in this immense country in which so much of the built environment is merely instrumental. Its uplift is not only physical, but deeply human.” – Abitare, Yehuda Safran, October 2010
  • “In spite of of the architectural explosion, in Shenzhen some of today’s masters offer vivid evidence of their abilities. The American architect Steven Holl is one of them. His Vanke Center … contains a series of good reasons -including its highest level of LEED certification- to be considered a positive contribution to the architecture of the city. Like the Linked Hybrid of Beijing, the Vanke Center is the constructed result of the studies on large urban architecture developed by Steven Holl, starting in the 1980s, for certain American cities.” – Casabella, Flavia Zanetti, June 2010
  • “The practice’s aim was to provide an exemplary form of new urbanism that prioritised the provision of fully accessible public space. While specifically related to this place and this brief, the scheme also incorporates architectural strategies tested on other projects, merging and morphing ideas about circulation and connectivity seen at Holl’s student residences at MIT and the pedestrian-oriented Linked Hybrid complex in Beijing … With 75 per cent of the site area reconfigured as an open landscape, the practice’s strategy has been extremely well received.” – The Architectural Review, Rob Gregory, June 2010
  • “The amalgamation of disciplines into a Gesamtkunstwerk continues right down to the smallest detail. It’s fair to say that not one building or park in the whole of China is as precisely designed as this one. The scale of the complex may be enormous, but everything is of an exclusive and impeccable quality, including the door handles: miniature aluminum models of the building. ” – Mark, Femke Bijlsma, June 2010
  • “The design for the Vanke Headquarters takes care to use renewable and recyclable materials. All the doors, floors and furniture are made from bamboo, which is easily available in the area and quickly renewable, and the carpets throughout the building are made from completely recycled material. Special windows are designed to keep the building cool by blocking solar heat while still allowing plenty of sunlight, lowering the cost of air conditioning. In addition, the Vanke Headquarters’ roof is covered by solar panels, which will provide up to 15 percent of the office’s electricity. And, in preparation for the future, the building provides electric car parking and charging stations. “I think we design for the future; we cannot design for the past,” Li says. “A good building always provides opportunities for the future.”” – Marcus Schulz, China Daily
  • “Amidst the galloping land privatisation in the outskirts of Chinese cities, the programme is built above the ground level, and by doing so the private lot becomes a public park. The project reconsiders the traditional concept of the isolated corporate campus and breaks away from the usual distribution of uses in different volumes, typical in these types of mini-cities. Here, one single container promotes interaction of uses and users with its semi-public indoor walk that connects the different programmes.” – a+t, February 2009
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© Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl Architects:

Hovering over a tropical garden, this ‘horizontal skyscraper’ – as long as the Empire State Building is tall – unites into one vision the headquarters for Vanke Co. ltd, office spaces, apartments, and a hotel. A conference center, spa and parking are located under the large green, public landscape.

The building appears as if it were once floating on a higher sea that has now subsided; leaving the structure propped up high on eight legs. The decision to float one large structure right under the 35-meter height limit, instead of several smaller structures each catering to a specific program, was inspired by the hope to create views over the lower developments of surrounding sites to the South China Sea, and to generate the largest possible green space open to the public on the ground level.

The underside of the floating structure becomes its main elevation from which sunken glass cubes, the so-called Shenzhen windows, offer 360-degree views over the lush tropical landscape below. Covering the entire length of the building a public path has been proposed to connect through the hotel, and the apartment zones up to the office wings.

The floating horizontal building allows sea and land breezes to pass through the public gardens. The landscape, inspired by Roberto Burle Marx’ gardens in Brazil contains restaurants and cafes in vegetated mounds bracketed with pools and walkways. At night a walk through this landscape of flowering tropical plants will mix the smell of jasmine with the colorful glow of the undersides of the structure floating above.

As a tropical, sustainable 21st century vision the building and the landscape integrate several new sustainable aspects. The Vanke Center is a tsunami-proof 21st century hovering architecture that creates a porous micro-climate of freed landscape and is one of the first LEED platinum rated buildings in Southern China.

Horizontal-Skyscraper-Vanke-Center-By-Steven-Holl-Architects-01-Hufton-Crow-759x395 Horizontal Skyscraper - Vanke Center / Steven Holl Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Project Data:

Project name: Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center
Location: Yan Tian Qu, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Coordinates: 22.600749,114.299569
Type: Mixed Use
Specific Use of Building: mixed-use building including hotel, offices, serviced apartments, and public park
Project Area: 61,700 sqm / 1,296,459 sq.ft
Gross floor area: 121,300 sqm
Floor area ratio: 1.1

  • Landscape Area: 52000 sqm / 559723 sq.ft
  • Public Green Space: 47288 sqm / 509004 sq.ft
  • Conference center: 8292 sqm / 89254 sq.ft
  • Condominiums: 25704 sqm / 276676 sq.ft
  • Hotel: 11113 sqm / 119619 sq.ft
  • Soho offices: 13591 sqm / 146292 sq.ft
  • Vanke headquarters: 13874 sqm / 149338 sq.ft

Coverage Ratio: 23%
Building Height: 35 m
Project Year: 2005-2009
Construction started: 2006
Status: Completed
Completion Year: 2009


  • 2011 The American Architecture Awards
  • 2011 The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA New York State Award – Architecture – Honor Awards
  • 2010 The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – Architecture – Honor Awards
  • 2010 The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA New York State Award – Architecture – Honor Awards
  • 2010 Good Design Award – Green Good Design Awards
  • 2010 Architectural Record Awards – Architectural Record China – Good Design is Good Business Awards
  • 2010 BCI Green Design Awards – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Shenzhen Vanke Real Estate Co.
Architects: Steven Holl Architects – 450 West 31st Street, 11th floor, New York, NY 10001, United States
Design Architects: Steven Holl, Li Hu
Partner in Charge: Li Hu
Project Manager: Yimei Chan, Gong Dong
Project Architect:

  • SD/DD – Garrick Ambrose
  • DD – Maren Koehler, Jay Siebenmorgen
  • CD – Christopher Brokaw, Rodolfo Dias

Assistant Project Architect: Eric Li
Project Team: Jason Anderson, Guanlan Cao, Clemence Eliard, Forrest Fulton, Nick Gelpi, M. Emran Hossain, Kelvin Jia, Seung Hyun Kang, JongSeo Lee, Wan-Jen Lin, Richard Liu, Jackie Luk, Chris McVoy, Enrique Moya-Angeler, Roberto Requejo, Michael Rusch, Jiangtao Shen, Filipe Taboada, Manta Weihermann
Project Team – Competition Phase: Steven Holl, Li Hu, Gong Dong, Justin Allen, Garrick Ambrose, Johnna Brazier, Kefei Cai, Yenling Chen, Hideki Hirahara, Eric Li, Filipe Taboada
Associate Architects: CCDI Architects  – China Construction Design International – No.1758, Siping Road, Shanghai, P.R.China, 200433
Contractor: CSCEC The First Construction Engineering Limited Company of China
Climate Engineers: Transsolar Engergietecknik GmbH
Structural Engineers: CABR
Mechanical/Structural Engineers: CCDI
Sustainability Consultant: Arup
Landscape Architects: Steven Holl Architects and CCD
Lighting Consultant: L’Obseratoire International Lighting Designers and Consultants
Curtain Wall Consultant: Yuanda Aluminium Industry Engineering Co., Ltd.
Text Description: © Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects, Arup, designbuild-network, chinagreenbuildings
Images: © Hufton + Crow, Iwan Baan, Shu He, Steven Holl Architects, Steven Holl

Materials & Suplier:

Structural system: CSCEC steel tension cable
Metal, windows, skylights, doors: Yuanda (custom)
Glass: Southern Glass
Wetland: Shenzhen Academy of Environmental Science
Green roof: BaiYueTech (provided by ZhuMin) grass roof
Cabinetwork, furniture, and paneling: Dasso, Custom bamboo
Paints and stains: ICI-Dulux A975 white matte finish
Fixed seating (auditorium): Poltrona Frau Pitagora with bamboo and green mohair
Chairs: Vitra MVS collection
Surfacing: Dupont (Corian) kitchenette countertops
Elevators/escalators: Hitachi UAX 1000
Carpet: Interface FLOR Menagerie
Office furniture: CRC Logic workstation with bamboo desktop
Floor and wall: tile Cimic matte white ceramic tile
Plumbing: Sloan waterless urinal
Photovoltaics: Changzhou Trina Solar Energy TrinaSolar PV module
Lighting: NVC custom T5 pendent uplight, custom T4, and exterior LED
Chillers: Carrier

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