Sanz Serif, a makeshift nickname earned as a result of my typographic likes, is the umbrella under which I present the diverse facets of my work: academic research on architecture and urbanism, design speculations, graphic design, curatorial and editorial work, and writings developed individually or collaborately, in institutional settings or independently.

Current focus: Workscapes.

SH2 / Shanghai World Gate


Project Type / Invited Competition
Team /  Jonathan A. Scelsa, Christopher Roach, Víctor Muñoz Sanz
Programme / Commercial Office HQ and Urban Design
Project Date /  Winter 2010


Shanghai has become the new center of the global shipping industry. Its new deep water port at Yangshan has surpassed Rotterdam and Singapore to become the busiest port in the world Yangshan capitalizes on container shipping’s increasing share of global trade, and China Shipping Group is at the nexus of this transformation, commanding over 120 vessels in 56 ports spanning the entire globe. At the center of this activity is Shanghai, whose importance as a leader in global trade, and culture, within East Asia has always been tied to its successful portShanghai was once the world’s gateway to China, and now more than ever, Shanghai is China’s gateway to the world. From the Huangpo, to the Yangtze, to the seven seas, water is the element that creates this gatewayand it is the shipping industry that has always tied Shanghai to the water and thus to the world. And now, with the relocation of the ports to outer Yangshan, more than ever Shanghai needs a landmark in the city marking its maritime heritage. The China Shipping Group headquarters will be this new landmark.

Shanghai is famous for the elegant historic buildings of the Bund, the daring modernity of the highrises of Pudong, and the majestic span of Nanpu bridge. In a context like this, how can this building set itself apart? How can we create a landmark in a city filled with landmarks?

The site chosen for China Shipping’s headquarters offers some clues. Sited at a bend in the river, the building becomes an optical device, capturing visual connections to the Historic Bund, the Pudong skyline and the Expo site. Its location in this transitional zone north of the Nanpu bridge makes this a site that links the more developed northern and southern areas of the waterfront. And its adjacency to a planned promenade along the Huangpo river provides an opportunity for the building to bring the Shanghai’s people to their waterfront. But this site also poses some challenges. Zoning restrictions will not allow a tall tower on the site, and current plans for the neighborhood envision it as one of many towers of the same size. No matter how it is articulated or skinned, the resulting mass is never quite elegant: a tower that is neither tall nor slender, and a tree that is lost among the forest. All of these challenges open the door to a new possibility: to make a landmark by making the building a cube. The cube is a perfect form, which achieves monumentality through repose and sheer presence in space; like a mountain in the city, monolithic, strong, and timeless.

It could create a street wall that serves as a backdrop to the promenade, or sit back within a park that allows the public to flow around it, but these still result in a stratified urban space, with public and private separated into distinct worlds. An atrium space could draw the public into the building, creating an internal miniature of the outside world. But, what if instead of a private atrium, China Shipping opened this internal space out to the people of the city, to the people of the world? The preservation of the drydock, an artifact of Shanghai’s shipping industry becomes the key to opening this project to the water.

By eroding the cube we can allow the drydock and the waterfront to connect into the atrium space connecting this new internal space to the waters of whole outside. This process of erosion can continue to open other portals to the city, capturing views, creating access points, orienting to the sun, and carving the land to extend the interior space to the outside, blurring the boundary between the world of work and public life.

Exposing the atrium to its surrounding context, creates smooth public space making China Shipping Headquarters the gateway for Shanghai’s people to waterfront and creates an inviting place for both workers and the public. A series of 7 portals are opened up from the central sphere, extending out toward strategic points in the city and beyond. The first portal creates an opening for the dry dry dock and carves a depression in the landscape, creating a sweeping plaza that connects the atrium to the water.

The second portal points toward the towers of the financial district, framing this spectacular view, and opening up the atrium to be viewed from upriver. The third portal aligns with the diagonal street, creating the buildings main entry lobby and connecting the public space through the building from west to east. The fourth portal points in the direction of the super-harbor, symbolically connecting the building to the new center of shipping activity, and offering a secondary means of entrance from the site to the south. The fifth portal opens up views toward the Nanpu bridge and the Expo site to the south, creating a terraced sky garden in the southern façade that brings light into the office block. The sixth portal points in the opposite direction toward the temple in the old walled city connecting this new public space to one of the historic people’s spaces in the Shanghai. The seventh and final portal points toward the sky, creating an oculus that brings dramatic sunlight into the building and connects it to the seasonal cycles of weather, sun, and stars. These seven conical intersections generate a complex geometrical space within the cube, a grotto on a massive scale that achieves the sublime through scale, materiality, and light.

This eroded cube sits like an ancient stone within a garden landscape, whose topography is also generated by the conical excavations. These excavations form hardscaped plazas that bring the public gently down to the retail boardwalk level and exposing storefront areas to daylight and views. The landscaped areas in between form a series of terraced berms that maintain a continuous ridgeline above the 100 year flood plain. This folding and terracing of the landform effectively forms a polder and dyke system, protecting the building site from flooding while creating a surface that is more easily traversed. No longer seperated into street seawall and boardwalk this project will create a new paradigm for connecting the city to its waterfront by blurring a hard line into a shifting edge allows the people to physically approach and experience the water and the cycles of tides and weather.

But what if this strategy did not stop at the property line? China Shipping’s headquarters could become a model for a new urban edge along the Huangpo, forming the basis of a new master plan for the Pudong south Bund.This new model would both suggest a new sustainable relationship with the river and enrich the public’s experience of the waterfront. By extending a series of sloped valleys along the south waterfront and landscaping them with riparian species and permeable surfaces, a kind of alluvial sponge can be formed which will both absorb floods and tidal surges, and filter polluted runoff from the city And if this architectural strategy is extended along the waterfront, creating a series of buildings that are eroded with public spaces, then as a whole this could create a permeable urban edge.

The China Shipping Group headquarters will be the vanguard project in the redevelopment of this area of the waterfront, and China Shipping has the opportunity to not only construct a landmark, but to initiate the construction of an entire new part of the city.