Gallery: Shanghai Dragon: Futuristic Office by Morphosis


On the western outskirts of Shanghai, China, a dragon is coming to life. Constructed of concrete, steel and glass, the new corporate headquarters of Giant Pharmaceutical Corp looks for all the world like something between a sci-fi battleship landing on a highway, and a steampunk dragon frozen in time. L.A.-based architectural firm Morphosis is focusing on the building’s sustainability as much as its aesthetics, with a green roof, generous use of skylights, and advanced insulation materials like cement-fiberboard paneling and a double-layer, fritted-glass curtain wall.

Slated for completion in 2009, the project will house executive offices in the cantelievered “head” of the structure, while the remaining elements—additional offices, a boutique hotel, exhibition hall, auditorium, library, gymnasium and swimming pool—will be contained in the “body” which arcs over a four-lane highway. There is no doubt “the dragon” will be a hit, another notch in China’s architectural belt.

The past decade has seen a flurry of ambitious construction projects in China, the most visible of which held the spotlight this year at the Beijing Olympics;the Birds Nest, the Water Cube and the National Center for the Performing Arts to name just three. And while the architectural, technological and sustainable design merits of these structures cannot be denied, neither can the fact that they are now a part of China’s insidious self-mythologizing; an architecture of nationalism for a country with an horrific human rights record.

“In China, you can do things formally you just can’t do in the U.S. — aggressive, uncompromised, out-there ideas” said Morphosis principal and Pritzker Prize 2005 winner Thom Mayne, clearly implying that aesthetic and economic concerns outweigh ethical considerations. Sadly, Mayne’s is the prevailing attitude among today’s brand-name architects.

But last February architect Daniel Libeskind (controversial already) stated publicly that he “won’t work for totalitarian regimes,” a remark that reignited a debate as old as architecture itself. Does architecture ultimately transcend politics and ideology or do architects who design high-profile buildings that bolster their client’s international profile implicitly sanction their client’s politics? We think it’s time for architects and designers to take a serious look at the implications of working for clients whose politics and/or ethics are not in alignment with their own. What do you think?

+ Morphosis

Via World Architecture News


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  1. stylites September 30, 2010 at 12:17 am

    “Have you ever been to China? I’m so tired of hearing people talk about China’s human rights issues that have never even visited the country”

    If you do live in China, you will inevitably find this sort of statement unbelievably tedious. Not to say that the sentiment is completely wrong – merely completely boring.

  2. greenizen February 1, 2010 at 8:12 am

    as an expat in China I’d have to agree with the comment about visiting the place you are allowing the media to form your opinions of.

  3. gnmanzano October 18, 2009 at 2:26 am

    nice website

  4. Broc October 4, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    American Architect Writes Fun Book about Doing Business in China.

    “The Tragic Kingdom, or; “Prisoner in a Chinese Theme Park”, (found on all bookstore websites such as, borders, etc), is a behind-the-scenes look into the field of design and build in China. The book is a profile of the personalities, culture, and psychology of the world’s most massive looming superpower as seen through the eyes of an ex-pat American.
    I have witnessed a formidable decade in which China has commanded a modern presence on the world stage and have participated in the planning, designing, and building of mega-theme parks in Beijing, world-class aquariums in Shanghai, gigantic malls in the Pearl Delta, resorts in Tibet, and panda relocation projects in the foothills of the Himalayas.
    The stories and themes found in The Tragic Kingdom spring from one man’s journey. At the same time I believe they disclose truths about a globalization that eventually will impact every economy, lifestyle, and person on the planet.

  5. lattin1 March 23, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Have you ever been to China? I’m so tired of hearing people talk about China’s human rights issues that have never even visited the country

  6. Esser March 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    The “ethical” concern in China is not one of green architecture, but rather the ethical concern of human rights and equality.

  7. dianejwright March 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Having known Thom Mayne and the architects, designers, and project managers at Morphosis, I can happily report that Mr. Mayne likely did not mean to imply that “aesthetic and economic concerns outweigh ethical considerations.” His practice has long been a champion of sustainable architecture, well before “Green” became a bandwagon (see the San Francisco Federal Building, for one of many) and Morphosis is a firm that makes the “livability” of a structure in its native site a primary concern. I obviously can’t speak for him or his firm but I’m betting that he was referring to an openness to and acceptance of non-traditional form and design that exists beyond North American borders. Morphosis makes radical art and not everyone is willing to pony up for it. Many firms are finding that working in China allows them the freedom to construct their vision for all to enjoy (and yes, some people do go the wrong way with that freedom but Morphosis is most assuredly not in that group.)

  8. LEMAK March 11, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Fantastic all of it, keep going on.
    Jahn Leo Mac Ender

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