Channelling the light

Nick Myall
18 Apr 2017

This unique building in China uses an oculus or ‘light cannon’ to drive natural light into the floor plates

The Nanjing Eco-Tech Park is a physical expression of aspirations for the city of Nanjing in China. Recently completed by NBBJ, it is a campus that promotes creativity, collaboration, and innovation. Seeking to be an incubator for technology and environmental companies with forward-thinking intentions, this campus is a creative centre that provides lifestyle amenities that attract and retain talent, accommodating potential for future growth.

By recalling formal cues found in nature and buildings, and integrating moments of tectonic bravery to mark the current state of Chinese culture, the design balances opposing, yet complementary forces. The campus features an exhibition hall; office research buildings and residential buildings, which will be built soon. The new campus is set to be an incubator for technology and environmental companies. 

With its dramatic roof-line, the Exhibition Hall is the first impression of the campus as visitors approach the island from downtown. At 24,000 sq m in total, the eight peaks on the roof of the project symbolise the neighbouring Zhong and Stone Mountains, and each peak has an oculus or “light cannon” that drives natural light into the floor plates. The concept of the light cannons are magnified, in built form, in the design of the eight, pentagon-shaped office research buildings, which feature large interior courtyards.

The Exhibition Hall is the first structure to be built on the Island. As part of the design, a horizon line separates earth from sky. Yet the symbolic roof overhangs also shade the entire building from direct solar heat/gain. The light cannons draw natural light deep into building to be experienced at all levels by visitors and tenants. Offices are housed in the upper two levels where they inhabit the ‘mountain forms.’

Light studies were conducted to determine the best daylighting and shading strategies for different times of the day, at different times of the year. This sectional analysis demonstrates how the light cannons and overhang operate (see diagram): A) Needs passive solar shading; B) Light gets diffused by cone geometry; C) Overhang is efficient as passive solar shading device. The light cannons are the direct formal driver of the architecture. The concept of the Exhibition Hall design is also one of optimism in looking towards a better future — toward the horizon line — which defined the formal massing approach of an interaction of architecture and landscape creating harmony between man and nature.

Sustainable campus and building strategies include site density and balanced site coverage, green roofs, integrated water retention and distribution, natural ventilation, responsive facades, naturally-lit interior spaces, and geothermal conditioning for all buildings. The Exhibition Hall roof provides dual functions to both limit excessive solar heat gain on the façade and to allow necessary daylight to permeate an otherwise deep floor plate through the oculi of the eight roof cones. 

The project is the recipient of the MIPIM Asia Best Chinese Futura Project Bronze Award. The design is tracking LEED Certification.

The WAN Awards Commercial category is now open until 30th June.

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