Spaces For Collaboration, Always In Fashion

Beijing-based MAD Architects introduced open floor plans and multipurpose layouts to encourage collaboration through a recent project, the Xinhee Design Center.

In its work with clients, MAD Architects, a global architecture firm based in Beijing, China, has recognized that helping ensure staff retention is a hot topic when designing for Chinese companies. In response, MAD and its founding partner, Ma Yansong (protégé of Zaha Hadid), introduced open floor plans and multipurpose layouts to encourage collaboration through the firm’s most recent development, the Xinhee Design Center.

With green space on every floor, the Xinhee Design Center offers a highly flexible multipurpose layout similar to a college campus with shared workspaces throughout the building. This style of corporate headquarters is new to China. In the following article, Ma Yansong describes the project, which is currently under construction with completion expected in 2017.

By Ma Yansong

The Xinhee Design Center, designed by MAD Architects based in Beijing, is a new headquarters building currently under construction in Xiamen, a city on China’s southern coast. The 610,000 square foot building is purpose-built for the international fashion group, Xinhee, one of Xiamen’s “big six” fashion companies.

Xinhee has six brands, mirrored in the main spatial move, a central atrium at the building’s core where six “petals” radiate out from in different directions to create a star-shaped plan. Our organizing concept formalizes a structural framework which holds flexible office areas and open-air green gardens on multiple levels. This configuration has created a flexible and adaptive working environment allowing each of Xinhee’s six brands to have their own individual office and research space and adopt brand-centered work place strategies.

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Rendering of Xinhee headquarters (courtesy MAD Architects)

The structure is covered by a translucent, solar-shading PTFE envelope which hangs slightly off the building and over the vertical gardens, providing shade and ventilation during the hot season. At the same time, the envelope lightens the building’s visual bulk, giving the impression of an elegant, floating gauze, like delicate a thin, soft skin covering the structure of the building’s body. Given the size and function of the building, a logically ordered structure with the potential to look bulky, we designed the structure and envelope to give the impression of looking floating and free.

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Rendering of the exterior of Xinhee headquarters in Xiamen, China (courtesy MAD Architects)

The floor to roof atrium allows mixing and visual connection throughout the building. It is public space open to staff and visitors which allows “creative collisions,” while the two glass elevators in the atrium visually unify the building on different levels. The transparency and strong central organizing volume of the atrium creates a connection between interior and exterior space which facilitates public interaction from inside office space to the outside gardens, provides a relaxed atmosphere and working environment while simultaneously creating a strong “centripetal force” tying the whole structure together. The atrium’s multiple footbridges enhance air circulation and double as a catwalk for product rollouts.

The differences in workplace strategy between the Xinhee’s six brands, along with the evolving nature of agile and activity-based working strategies in China led to a primarily open plan office configuration in the petals with minimal built-out space.

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Rendering of Xinhee headquarters interior in Xiamen, China (courtesy MAD Architects)

With 1,100 current employees (expanding to 2,000) working in different studios on a range of project types, our intention was to help future-proof growth and improve the ability to adapt to new technologies, thus lowering future renovation costs. Employee retention and health were also a key design drivers, and spaces were designed to encourage staff for occasional rest, exercise, and connection to nature. Unlike the traditional orthogonal commercial office layout, our radial layout enables the office space to be highly efficient and adaptable. At the same time, the layout provides natural light, ventilation, and fantastic view corridors.

The fashion industry is an interesting mix of studio-driven creative processes and very economy-minded back office staffing and infrastructure. We worked in concert with the client to determine the proper mix of closed office areas for senior staff who desired them and more open and flexible spaces and studio that could be appropriated for new workplace trends including agile and Activity-Based Working styles.

In as many cases as possible we “tech-proofed” the design to anticipate more mobility, changes in work styles and habits, and more flexible and web-based computing platforms.

The Xinhee design center is a highly efficient green building adapted to the fairly temperate local climate where the average temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The building is lifted off the ground on the first floor which has reduced the footprint by two-thirds. Though designed in an urban environment, the first floor mainly consists of garden and water features open to the public. Air flow over the water features helps provide passive cooling to the building, an effect accentuated by the use of the stack effect in the atrium to cool the building in summer months; while in the winter months the atrium is warmed by the sun beneath the glass-enclosed roof. The stacked gardens create a 100% green ratio. To lower solar radiation and provide natural lighting to the office spaces, a translucent coating is applied to the building’s façade which permits 40% light transmittance. Solar panels line the rooftop, providing electricity for daily operations.

This project represents a milestone in China. While there is motion towards the contemporary workplace design that are happening around the world, the sectors these changes are happening in vary, as do the firms that are adopting them.

Ma Yansong is founding principal of MAD Architects, a global architecture firm committed to developing futuristic, organic, technologically advanced designs that embody a contemporary interpretation of the Eastern affinity for nature. He was named one of the “10 Most Creative People in Architecture” by Fast Company in 2009. He also received the “International Fellowship” from Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2011, and was selected as “Young Global Leader (YGL)” by World Economic Forum (Davos Forum) in 2014.