by Jerry ElengicalFeb 13, 2023
Equipped with three above-ground storeys of offices and amenities within a stunning latticed envelope, the new UAD Campus in Hangzhou, China, is an experiment in contradicting stereotypes associated with prefabricated design and construction. Designed by The Architectural Design & Research Institute of Zhejiang University Co., Ltd. (UAD) as a hub for their operations, the structure is one of those earmarked as a demonstrative prefabricated architecture project by China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development back in 2019. The building occupies a site in ZITOWN - a base for the firm’s R&D headquarters, developed by Zhejiang University in association with the local government of Xihu district within the city of Hangzhou.
As the world’s most populous nation accelerates its already breakneck pace of urban development, efforts are being made to streamline the process of crafting high-quality architecture at lightning speeds. Prefabrication is currently one of the most viable methods to realise this lofty ambition. As a relatively newer manifestation of the evolving global canon of architectural tectonics, prefabrication has permitted designers to achieve unparalleled levels of precision and speed in the fabrication of building components across a plethora of scales. On the other hand, this machine-like efficiency is sometimes viewed as a method that sacrifices connections to local contexts and people in the name of technological progress.
With prefabricated rate and assembly rate of up to 85 per cent and 96.8 per cent respectively in its construction, the new UAD Campus has also achieved the status of a Class-3A prefabricated building as well as a national Three Star Green Rating as per China’s Green Building Rating System. However, in spite of all these technical achievements, the key values adopted by the architects at the outset of the design process were to respect the local context and integrate their creation into the surrounding urban fabric.
The team at UAD mentions in an official statement, “In the beginning, we put forward the idea of making use of technology to serve rather than dominate the design. We adopted a holistic approach that involved systematic integration and multi-disciplinary collaboration, to create a venue filled with human care.” For virtually any building, achieving a uniquely individualistic character filled with nuances tying it to its surroundings is of paramount importance, and hence, combining the best of technological precision with contextual and aesthetic sensitivity is usually the desired result going forward. UAD shares, “Architects need to balance technology and poetry in architectural design, and translate ‘poetry’ into a language that is visible and understandable to the public. Our design emphasises the poetry of industrialised construction, aiming to break the stereotype of general prefabricated buildings as rough, crude and cool.”
Preceded by a waterscape to the west at its entrance, the building’s massing is composed of three interlocked cubes - each exuding a different materiality that is innately linked to the industrialised processes that forged it. At the heart of the structure’s form is a triple-height atrium, while the volumes projecting from its sides house offices. Although the central volume is sheathed in perforated aluminium of a deep vermillion shade, the latter wings of the structure are clad in UHPC panels that either exhibit concave or convex profiles, which generate four different modular units across the façade design. In this manner, the unitised appearance of the exterior skin is replete with subtle variations, crafting a picture of vibrant colour and texture that speaks volumes of the ability of modular design to create truly stunning visual spectacles.
On the building’s eastern side is a landscape design element in the form of a rest platform made of volcanic stones and a prefabricated concrete board. After crossing the waterscape and moving past the building’s threshold, the vast spatiality of the atrium overtakes the senses - broken only by a dance of shadows across its floor as a result of the perforated aluminium exterior.
The architects relay, “In this project, we attempted to create a poetic scene reminiscent of the play of light and shadows in a bamboo forest, after navigating technological difficulties, in a bid to inject poetry into the prefabricated architecture. To realise that, we first pixelated a photo of a real bamboo forest on the computer to gain vector data, and then resorted to parametric design tools to convert the textures of the bamboo forest to the building's surface.” They elaborate, “Construction robots were leveraged to ensure the varied angles of the aluminum panels' perforations, so as to control the effect of the filtered daylight and create a poetic view of a ‘towering bamboo forest filled with mottled light.’
Besides its role as the point of convergence for circulation routes throughout the building, the central atrium is also its primary focal point and visual highlight, with a monumental staircase cutting across its span to link spaces across three levels. Its multifunctional program hosts a reception, rest areas, exhibition spaces, and other supplementary functional zones. To its west is a conference room, while its southern end connects to the UAD Café overlooking an outdoor leisure platform for recreation and congregation. This configuration intends to generate a dialogue between indoor and outdoor resting spaces.
UAD reveals, “People can communicate on the big steps of the main hall, take a rest in the UAD Cafe, stroll through the side hall to appreciate regularly updated architectural exhibitions, or stand in front of the prefabricated greenery wall and look up to the sky through the photovoltaic glass skylight. Those open public spaces form a fluid circulation path, which helps eliminate the boundaries between different areas.” White coatings and light wood textures constitute the majority of the finishes in the interior design, which expand the space and induce a delicate lightness in the spatial ambience. The architects explain, “The entire building is like a three-dimensional garden that offers multiple choices for vertical traffic to access workspaces on the south and north sides, to create enjoyable experiences while exploring the structure.”
Higher floors are primarily devoted to offices and meeting rooms, featuring prefabricated structural columns and beams to minimise the floor space taken up by cast-in-situ concrete. One particularly innovative element of the highly prefabricated design are the castellated beams across the ceilings which allow pipelines and other fixtures to run through them - optimising the efficiency of the service layout. The building’s roof has been reserved for agricultural use as a rooftop farm for employees to grow plants in their spare time. Automated irrigation methods and organic soilless culture techniques have been fitted into the cultivation modules made of environmentally friendly plastic, as per the architects.
Charting a future for sustainable and experientially-oriented spatial design through the efficiency and accuracy of prefabricated construction, the new UAD Campus is a stellar achievement of its own accord, within the domain of office architecture. The design team concludes, “Architectural design is no longer about purely rational thinking or perceptual output; and any technical decision or creation of perceptual experience is based on both sense and sensibility. Rational construction is not constrained by technology but instead, it emphasises the poetry of industrialisation.”
Name: UAD Campus in ZITOWN
Location: Xiyuan 8th Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Typology: Office Building
Floors: 3 (above ground)
Area: 8888 sqm
Client: The Architectural Design & Research Institute of Zhejiang University Co., Ltd. (UAD)
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: The Architectural Design & Research Institute of Zhejiang University Co., Ltd. (UAD)
Design Leaders: Dong Danshen, Yin Nong
Architectural Design: Wang Yuping, Lei Bin, Mao Hanxuan
Structural Design: Xiao Zhibin, Jin Zhenfen, Li Shaohua
Landscape Design: Sun Dongming, lou Xuantan
Interior Design: Chu Ran, Mei Wenbin
Curtain Wall Design: Xiang Chun
Engineering Principals: Xiao Zhibin, Mo Zhoujin
Construction Firm: Hangzhou Zijin Zhunqian Technology Development Co., Ltd.
General Contractor: Zhejiang Construction Engineering Group Co., Ltd.
Water Supply and Drainage Design: Wang Jinghua, Shao Yuran
Electrical Design: Wu Xuhui, Xu Songjie
Low-Voltage Electrical Design: Chen Jia, Ma Jian
HVAC Design: Pan Dahong, Yi Kai
EPC Team: Zhou Jiawei, Xu Quanbiao, Chen Haijun, Fang chaojun