Former Foster & Partners bigwig Ken Shuttleworth set up Make in 2004. The company has quickly cemented itself as a world leader in the creation of its complex and iconic buildings – many of them award-winning. In 2008 John Puttick moved from the London office, where he had been instrumental on the 55 Baker Street project, to Beijing – where he heads up the company’s China operation.
Tell us about the new Weihai Pavilion.
Weihai Pavilion is the first project we have completed in China. It’s a huge exhibition space for a new high-end residential development planned for the island. The key thing about the Weihai Pavilion is that it is built on a spectacular curved site that sits on a headland and opens out to the sea. The site has very strong natural characteristics that shaped the building design. We wanted a building that responded to the landscape and took in the expansive views.
The building faces out-to-sea with the main glass wall facing south-east, to maximise natural light from the morning sun, while protecting the interior space from the hot, western sun in the afternoon. The over-sailing roof gives the building its striking form, and provides shaded coverage for the building and terrace. These elements ensure a more energy efficient building.
What were the main positives and negatives about doing a project in China?
In comparison to many other countries, there are currently many large projects in China. There is also a certain momentum, as Chinese cities expand through urbanisation. I find the scale and complexity of projects here very exciting. In Beijing, I see a great level of awareness and enthusiasm for design and architecture. I believe China is one of the most exciting places to be an architect now since it is constantly changing. I want to be part of this change.
As China has developed so quickly, there is also now a complex debate about raising the standards of living and balancing that with conserving the cultural heritage of cities. Some of our projects come face-to-face with this issue, and we are putting care into how we respond with sensitive designs.
So how is sustainability treated in China? Is Make setting new standards?
Awareness is strong, but the main challenge is implementation. It will be exciting to see how this knowledge in the community is translated into actual buildings. That is part of what Make is trying to achieve: to apply the knowledge we gained in the UK, where environmental regulations have been strong for some time, in projects in China. Being in China enables us to see projects from beginning to construction to completion, because this is the only way you can really assess how sustainable a building is. China is making steps towards improving sustainability. I hope that over the next few years it will move from the current situation – with a few ‘showcase’ low-energy projects – to one where consideration of the environment becomes the norm.
Do you plan to do any projects in Hong Kong. Do you have any favourite buildings or HK architects?
Yes, we are onsite in Hong Kong. As a city, Hong Kong is really remarkable because of the combination of the dramatic natural landscape on one hand and high urban density on the other. I have many favourite buildings in Hong Kong. However, generally, Hong Kong could do with more creative solutions for addressing the urban density, especially in residential and commercial buildings as they make up so much of the city’s fabric. Also, inventive reuse of existing buildings could be considered more often in Hong Kong – which again helps with sustainability – as we did with 55 Baker Street in London.