Business Standard

Barun Roy: Asia in wonderland

Some of the weirdest, ultra-futuristic urban space ideas are being tried out in Asia for the first time.

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Having lost to as the tallest building in the world, Taiwan has another boggling idea, a 390-metre observation tower in the central city of that will look like a twisted tree of free-hanging elevators. Sounds crazy? But anything is possible in the quirky world of today’s architecture, where buildings rotate, float, bend, or flow at the designer’s will; and some of the weirdest, ultra-futuristic new ideas are being tried out in Asia for the first time.

Take in Singapore, for example. Architect has hitched an entire ship deck of a park 650 feet up in the sky and slung it across three cascading, 55-storey hotel towers that resemble a deck of cards. At that height, the visionary architect has created 12,400 square metre of space, longer than four-and-a-half A380 Jumbo jets lined on end, where up to 3,900 people can gather at any one time, surrounded by 250 types of trees and 650 types of plants. There are restaurants and entertainment areas, as well as an infinity swimming pool three times the size of an Olympic one.

Or consider Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid’s Innovation Tower at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to open this year. Hadid, known for her “fluid” style that mixes interior space with outer landscape, has designed a slightly tilted pile of irregularly stacked and shaped plates, giving it the look of a massive, tide-sculpted, but uncannily weightless, pebble. The podium, the tower, and internal and external courtyards merge into one another, while, inside, the building becomes one continuous upward, interactive cascade of showcases and events.

The proposed Taiwan Tower, designed by DSBA of Romania, will have photovoltaic cells covering its entire façade and vertical axis wind turbines built into it, making it the world’s first-ever alternative-energy skyscraper. Eight propeller-powered and helium-filled observation “pods” will branch off and move up and down its stem, like floating bubbles, each able to carry up to 80 people at a time, giving the entire structure, and 1 hectare of parkland around it, a fairy-tale look.

But this time the Taiwanese authorities have more than just another isolated monument in mind. They are looking at the tower as the focal point of a major architectural redevelopment of 254 hectare of land around the former Taichung airport, which they believe will convert Taiwan’s third largest city into a liveable international metropolis. Liveability is the driving force behind a growing worldwide movement known as new urbanism, of which Asia is becoming increasingly aware, where the goal is not simply to create totems of individual architectural excellence, but uplift entire urban environments around them to give residents a wholesome living experience.

New urbanism is also the inspiration behind a new port and cruise service centre in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, where US-based architects Reiser and Umemoto will be converting a dull, staid port area into a vibrant, 24-hour arts, shopping, dining, recreation, and leisure district. And up in a country town called Au-Di, 50 km from Taipei, Zaha Hadid’s Next-Gen Architectural Museum, due to be completed some time this year, is going to redefine an entire hilltop with its seamless interface between architecture, landscape, and geology.

Hadid is the acknowledged high priestess of new urbanism and lyrical architecture. When the Dongdaemun Design Paza in Seoul opens as Korea’s fashion hub later this year, turning a dense neighbourhood into a green oasis, she will have set another benchmark for Asia and the world. In her design, buildings curve and flow, the ground rises and dips to lend drama and wonder, and parkland folds unobtrusively into shopping/dining areas underground. It’s architecture that inspires and reduces tensions, forming a “natural” habitat for residents within “hostile” urban surroundings.

Hadid follows the same concept of seamless fluidity at the newly opened Opera House in Guangzhou, China, which looks from outside as twin mounds on the ground overlooking the river and the dock area, engaged, so to say, in a whispered conversation with the surrounding landscape. The idea will be further amplified at another Hadid project in China, the 3.5 million square feet. Galaxy Soho office, retail and entertainment complex in Beijing, work on which has just begun. It’s anchored around five continuous, flowing volumes that adapt to each other in all directions, creating a panoramic architecture without corners or abrupt transitions. Once it’s completed by 2012, downtown Beijing won’t be the same again.

“Our clients are increasingly calling for innovation,” Hadid recently said of her Chinese projects. Asia is clearly ready, like never before, to embrace the new; and this passion for bold, futuristic architecture, combined with complex, fluid, organic geometries now possible to achieve through modern technologies, puts it – at least parts of it – on the verge of a magical transformation of its urban landscape.

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