Excerpt: The architecture project Deji Plaza Xuzhou, by LMCA Design, is the 2023 Architizer A+Awards Popular Choice winner in the Landscape & Planning, Unbuilt Masterplan category. Rising from the heart of the Central Business District of Xuzhou, China, Deji Plaza Xuzhou is a 3,780,350 sq. ft. mixed-use work in progress that includes twin 60-story luxury residential towers, an 11-story retail podium, and extensive landscaped spaces to bolster Xuzhou’s urban green core.
[Text as submitted by architect] After sitting dormant for years following the halting of initial construction for a previous developer, LMCA Design was commissioned by the property’s new owner to intervene and complete the ambitious project. At that time, the twin tower foundations had already been set, and the podium was partially constructed.
Some structural restrictions were applied mainly to the foundations of the twin 60-story towers, which had already been set with columns driven deep into the ground. While they could not feasibly be altered, Li Min Ching was informed that anything above the 11-story height of the tower could be modified according to his own design, all the way up to the 60th floor. With respect to the retail podium, only the portion connecting to the towers had been built, with the bulk of the spaces still left to be developed.
Rebirthing the roots: Given the site’s prominent location as a gateway between the urban city core to the south and a central park to the north, LMCA endeavoured to visually connect the project’s front façade to the city’s green initiatives. That process extends the flow of green space through a public plaza on the ground level, where beautifully manicured landscaping forms part of an urban green space masterplan designed by Ohtori Consultants Environmental Design Institute.
In keeping with the theme of the city’s expanding green philosophy and the environmental sustainability goals of the China Green Star rating system (the project has received a 2 out of 3 star rating), Li Min Ching felt that the Deji Plaza Xuzhou project should reflect its surrounding natural elements in some shape or form. He began to imagine organic shapes and textures that could be architecturally adapted to the project and, in the process, embraced the Banyan tree as an ideological guide. Accordingly, LMCA’s new design would draw aesthetic and functional inspiration from the organic forms and actions of the Banyan tree and its complex root system.
Down to earth: Armed with the freedom to alter the structural, aesthetic, and programming plans for the podium, LMCA completely reimagined the space with new floor-to-floor heights and a re-programmed design that injects art and culture into its soul, reflecting the new developer’s status as one of the largest private art collectors in China. The resulting design will house designer boutiques, an art gallery, IMAX cinemas, exhibition space, and more, and pieces of the owner’s art collection will be interspersed in newly developed spaces throughout the project.
One of the biggest challenges the designers faced was determining how to optimize the programming and floor heights to align with the developer’s vision for their usage. They repositioned and repurposed most of the existing slabs and structure to save on natural resources and to ensure that they didn’t waste any of the embodied carbon already used in the previous construction.
With part of the foundation already built, the firm was restricted in terms of the amount of wiggle room it had for moving the perimeter columns. Nevertheless, they were able to make minor movements that opened the door to a new design approach that positions the entire pedestrian experience at the forefront, from the external entrance through to the main atrium. To position the latter as a central gathering space and focal point, the firm moved the original atrium to a more central position in the plan to ensure efficient retail circulation within a defined loop.
As a central core element dividing two defined wings of the podium as well as the twin towers rising behind it, alternating frosted and clear glass diagonal slats define the bulbous podium entrance and atrium, twisting upwards like the roots of a Banyan tree.
Flanking it on either side, a horizontal expression of earth-toned Italian travertine panels lines the podium façade, symbolising the strata of the soil around the roots of the Banyan tree. In all, 17,439 individual panels complete the podium’s natural stone façade, with louvres embedded in the design to enable airflow through gaps created by their rotation. Retail facades require a certain amount of ventilation, and this solution provided the designers with a sort of screen element. By rotating the panels and creating openings, they are able to create effective airflow.
A green light: As part of the complex’s master plan, the landscaping programming is an important element that will independently add botanical gardens, water features, art installations, an amphitheatre, and much more to the plaza area in front of the buildings. In keeping with the green spirit of the northern-facing cityscape, LMCA incorporated numerous green spaces into its design, including multiple rooftop terraces with unobstructed views on varying levels of the podium.
The original design was undeveloped for public terraces when construction ceased, so the designers will be creating seven unique spaces at varying levels of the podium. The terraces will provide a variety of unique experiences, and they’ve already had proposals for an outdoor food and beverage establishment, an artistic walk, an exotic garden, a sunshine deck, an observation platform, an aesthetic lifestyle space, and a visual pattern garden.
The sky is the limit: While the original plan called for one residential tower and one office tower, LMCA’s redesign will create two luxury residential towers comprising 1,326 units ranging from studio condos to much larger floorplans. Tower residents will also be able to directly access the podium complex through a private residential lobby on the ground floor.
Grounded in the aesthetic and functional organic forms and actions of the Banyan tree and its complex root system, nature is further reflected in the vine-like sunscreens that wind their way up the spines of the Deji Plaza Xuzhou residential towers, providing shade to their operable windows. In close collaboration with the building engineers, LMCA coordinated the strategic placement of ventilation louvres in the schematics of the towers to ensure fresh air circulation and natural ventilation, which reduces the energy consumption of the mechanical systems.
Facing a much more urban landscape to the south, the original design and build provided very few setbacks for the podium. In response, LMCA created some new setbacks to scale the podium down as much as possible and then designed an undulating façade that twists as it rises to break the massive street wall that had originally been proposed.
They also added a second atrium to the project to provide the south-facing retail area with a lot more natural light than originally proposed. It was originally designed like a back-of-house, and it felt like a loading dock, so they endeavoured to provide it with landmark characteristics that will give it an identity in the cityscape and provide occupants with a grand entrance.