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Architectural Insight: Behind China’s Circular Skyscraper

United Kingdom Architecture News - Mar 11, 2014 - 16:21   14511 views

An Italian architect has challenged the conventional vertical rectangular form of skyscrapers with the creation of a circular high-rise building in China. 

Joseph di Pasquale from AM Progetti S.r.l in Milan designed the round structure, entitled Guangzhou Circle, with the intention of creating an iconic landmark for the city with structural design that reflects ancient Chinese culture.

Glazed rectangular volume boxes

Guangzhou Circle rises 138 metres on the waterfront of the city’s Pearl River and has been likened to a donut due to the 48-metre-wide hole through its centre. The design, in fact, echoes the appearance of ancient Chinese coins.

There are construction challenges inherent in creating circular architecture, with French neoclassical architect Étienne-Louis Boullée’s 19th century design calling for a distinctive abstraction of geometric forms serving as a prime example.

Boullée’s cenotaph proposal

Boullée proposed a spherical cenotaph for scientist Sir Isaac Newton that would reach 150 metres high and would be embedded in a circular base topped with cypress trees.

While Boullée’s design never came to fruition, the project and its specifications are well-known in the architecture world. The completion of Guangzhou Circle is a global benchmark, rising only 12 metres shy of Boullées original vision.

Spanning 850,000 square metres of space, Guangzhou Circle will serve as the headquarters for the Chinese companies Guangdong Hongda Xingye Group and GDPE Guangdong Plastic Exchange.

Hole through the centre

“The architectural concept is for a building that will be immediately perceived as a native Chinese landmark using a closed and central structure instead of the usual western skyscraper stereotype,” explained di Pasquale on his website, who added that the building was inspired by the “strong iconic value of jade discs and numerological tradition of Feng Shui.”

The skyscraper’s facade was designed to reflect the eternity/infinity symbol in the Pearl River, while the structure itself reflects the fortune associated with the number eight in the Chinese culture and features a double disc of jade (bi disk), a royal symbol of ancient Chinese dynasty.

When asked of the difficulties of building such an unconventional structure, di Pasquale told Sourceable that the problem wasn’t technical, it was the psychology that challenged him. “When I proposed the design, the client was both attracted and hypnotised by the shape, but at the same time they were afraid of it,” he explains. “I won the design competition to build Guangzhou Circle because of it’s circular shape and multi-layered meanings…”

Di Pasquale also refers to the contrasting definitions of perfection when dealing with the Chinese and western culture. “For the western world, beauty needs to include a huge percentage of innovation… while Chinese confuscius principles see perfection as the infinitive repletion of an original model so in this case they were afraid to do something new.”

“I overcame this cultural obstacle because in the same days another circular building in Dubia was taking place and I invited them to visit it – it was this structure that encouraged the client to go ahead,” said di Pasquale.

Additionally, di Pasquale ensured the skyscraper design also made use of an Italian Renaissance tradition – “quadrature del cerchio,” or squaring the circle.

“The two circular facades in fact contain and support suspended groups of storeys that are actually ‘squaring’ the perfect circumference of the facades in order to make the interior space orthogonal and habitable,” said di Pasquale.


Two rows of rectangular volume boxes sit between the two circular copper-clad walls, with each box cantilevering outward. Atop several boxes are a series of elevated gardens.

While Guangzhou Skyscraper might only rank as the 87th tallest in the city, it stands out as what di Pasquale would like to see recognised as an “urban logo,” similar to ideograms that are used in Chinese writing instead of the alphabet.

“I think this building could be a way for the future of landmark buildings,” explains di Pasquale. “Not precisely the circular shape but the central and iconic composition of the shape.”

“The traditional race for the tallest building in the world will end sooner or later directed by the limits of the materials strength and mostly because of financial reasons. Then the competition will be moved from the height to the iconic value,” he adds.

Di Pasquale has also acknowledged the media coverage Guangzhou Circle skyscraper has recently received particularly as a trend direction thanks to it’s hole in the middle. “This is something that is going towards the direction to create a focus point in a building that can attract the attention, concentrate the sight and increase the symbolic value of the architecture.”

Di Pasquale is keen to further research this area and the possibility of designing future iconic projects globally. He has revealed his desire to exercise his architecture in Melbourne, Australia, a city he feels connected with since his father Raffaele lived in the city in the early 60′s.

So while di Pasquale’s skyscraper continues to gain global attention, it hasn’t been the first time architects have explored circular skyscrapers.

Aldar Headquarters

MZ Architects constructed the 110-metre circular building known as the Aldar Headquartersin Abu Dhabi in 2010.

“A perfect timeless geometry comes into absolute unity with Aldar HQ, a seamless whole evoking harmony and beauty, culture and technology,” ?MZ Architects said of the building which looks like a convex lens.

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Aldar Headquarter used a diagonal grid of steel – the first of its kind in the United Arab Emirates – which greatly reduced the requirement for internal columns for the building, offering “uninterrupted” views of the location.

Its façade, made up of 3,000 glass panels, reflects the surrounding Persian Gulf so people outside the building can also enjoy the view.

While that building is generally considered the world’s first circular skyscraper, there are round architectural marvels in Germany and China that were completed over a decade ago.

Shengyang Fangyuan

Fangyuan Mansion in Shenyang stretches 100 metres and, like Guangzhou Circle, its design was inspired by an ancient Chinese coin.

Completed in 2011, Fangyuan Mansion was designed by C.Y. Lee & Partners Architects/Planners, who are also responsible for designing the 508-metre Taipei 101 skyscraper – currently the third-tallest building in the world.

The mansion represents a stack of copper coins with a square hole through the middle of the building. Unlike many other circular buildings, the structure doesn’t feature a full circular façade – it sits atop a rectangular structure.

The Radisson BLU Hotel in Frankfurt am Main, meanwhile, is a concrete structure competed in 2005 that stands 87 metres. Designed by architect John Seiffert, the disc structure is made of glass and features cubes of structure between the front and rear facades.

Radisson BLU Hotel, Germany

There could also be a sustainable benefit to the round form with Rayco Technologies revealing that a circular footprint can create approximately more square footage than a square building, using the same amount materials.

While architects have taken a rounded approach to architecture in the form of domes and spheres, these structures demonstrate the viability of creating sculptures that are completely circular from floor to ceiling. In the case of proposed landmarks such as Guangzhou Circle, rounded skyscrapers can make just as much of a visual impact to urban skylines as their taller neighbours – and can even bring good fortune if you’re a Feng Shui believer.

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