Kooky building alert: The Himalayas Centre

Founded on the delta floodplains of the Yangtze, Shanghai is really flat.  There is barely a hillock or mound, let alone an amazing mountainous setting like Hong Kong or one of China’s inland cities like Lanzhou.  But, it does have something that sounds like mountains – the Himalayas Centre. (If you don’t have it naturally, just built it!)

And a building blessed with such a name needs gimmicky architecture to match.  So, the developer engaged Japanese architect Arata Isozaki (kinda, but not totally, famous in design circles) to create what is called an “archisculptural masterpiece for 21st century China”.


These are the concept renderings released in 2008, showing the new building – a high-end hotel, arts centre, theatre, retail and stuff – with an “organic forest” contained within hard, symmetrical lines of “crystalline cubes”.  Even if that makes sense, it hardly evokes a feeling of “Himalaya”, which I picture as very large, treeless mountains.

And here is the real building, which mostly looks like the renderings (a rare thing).  I think this part, the lower bit in the middle of the building, is the “forest”.  The main difference – in my mind, at least – is the material used.  The renderings suggest some kind of folded metal, when in fact, it is just a dull rendered surface.  Granted, it was a very grey day when I visited, but it was nonetheless disappointing.

It blobs in and out all over the place (please excuse me for usual technical language), hanging out over the footpath and confusing pedestrians who are trying to use the building for shelter from the rain.

It also creates some very unusable, and thus unused, spaces inside the building too.  Luckily it’s an arts centre, where such extravagance is seen as “creative” rather than wastefulness.

The undercroft of the building is a bit more interesting, with the structure randomly landing on, and penetrating, the ground to form a big cave-like space.


Some technicians were mucking around with lights while we were there.

Such grand gestures, while perhaps exciting in concept, can be difficult to finish off properly.  Usually, they work OK when they are stand-alone structures (eg Bilbao’s Guggenheim), but when you have to marry one to more simplistic form, things can get tricky.

The junction between the organic, wilful “forest” and the more pragmatic “cubes” (containing the lower levels of the hotel, retail, loading docks, etc), is blunt.

Besides, the cubes have their own thing going on, with a facade pattern seemingly inspired by Chinese characters or carved woodblocks or something.

Inside, there are attempts to resolve the two competing languages.  But, the blobby bits get totally swamped in all the bling – multiple materials, chandeliers and spotlights, fancy fabrics, pot plants, artworks – found in a typical Chinese hotel.

According to the developer’s website, the Himalayas Centre is a “landmark building that combines nature, humanism and architect”.  It’s OK, but I don’t think it is the masterpiece they claim it to be.
If you don’t have it naturally, just build it!  And if you don’t have a masterpiece, you’ll need to build a marketing campaign too!


4 Responses to Kooky building alert: The Himalayas Centre

  1. natalie says:

    Love it Doctor. Your photos are fantastic and the narrative delightful.

  2. luKe says:

    One interpretation of this extremely ugly edifice is that Arata Isozaki was seeking to make a very clear statement that the divergent cultures of the Himalayan territories are at grave risk of being squashed out of existence by the unrelenting conformity of modern China.

    Anonymous grey and opaque office block elements surround, sit over and bare down upon the the free-form “Himalayan” component.

    (Has anyone else noticed that these interpretations of “Himalayan” landscape look like distorted faces drawn from Edvarch Munch’s eponymous painting, “The Scream” ?)

    The Chinese-like characters stamped into the giant grid / screen wall devices at each end of the composition reinforce the interpretation that (Han Chinese) conformity will prevail and that the sloppy communities of the empire will be brought to order.

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