Martin Jochman & the Construction Sector in China
JADE+QA is an International design studio, founded by British Architect Martin Jochman Dip Arch, ARB (UK) RIBA based in the UK, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In 2013 Martin, who is the original Concept and Scheme Design architect for the Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental Hotel in a Quarry, signed contract with the developer Shimao to complete the design and overview the construction. Since then, Martin’s studio JADE+QA has designed a number of high-profile projects in China and South East Asia.
Prior to setting up JADE+QA, Martin has had over 25 years of UK and international design experience as an Associate and Design Director with an international design consultancy winning numerous national and international competitions and awards. He has worked in the UK, Europe, Dubai, Hong Kong and China on many high-profile projects, including the Jumeira Beach Hotel, the Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai, Tianjin TEDA towers, Wuhan Pebbles mixed development and other important landmarks. Here he discusses the construction sector in China and the work that his company has done thus far.
As a professional with over 25 years of experience in design and construction, what would you say attracted you to the field?
I come from artistic background with both of my parents being creative artists . This has obviously influenced me from early age to look at professions which could combine my interest in arts with other subjects I was interested. Architecture thus became quite obvious answer and I have therefore chosen this profession quite early in my life for my future occupation. I have been very fortunate to have had an opportunity to study at an excellent architectural school in Bristol and this creative environment has reinforced my resolve to become architect. To me Architecture is more than just a profession. It becomes almost an obsession, where each new design project is a new adventurous challenge, testing one’s ability to come up with new innovative solutions. No design problem is ever same. I am happy to say that even after almost 40 years, I am still excited and filled with trepidation when facing a blank piece of paper to start sketching new concept ideas.
What would you say are currently the biggest challenges in the field in China?
There are several major challenges that a foreign architect has to overcome in China. Firstly, the contractual process differs quite a lot from the UK practices. Whilst the overall principles of the design process are same, the contractual relationships, especially not giving the architect full authority to implement his design direction and the disjointed nature of the design/client team can be quite counterproductive.
Quite often, the “foreign’ architect, who relies on a Local Design Institute to submit the drawings for approval, is only given a limited scope, producing a Masterplan only or a Concept and Scheme Design, without the continuity of involvement in the construction detailing and construction itself. Communication and difficulty with coordination between the various parts of the project team can also contribute to the lack of overall control over the design process. This has great impact on the quality of the resulting building that ultimately depends on the quality and experience of the client and his management team.
We have been lucky to have had very experienced and professional clients, whose teams have avoided this situation - especially with our hotel projects in the Shimao Quarry Hotel, where the quality of the client’s management, both during the design and on site, has been exceptional.
The second major issue has always been the quality of workmanship on site. Again, as with design, the contractual authority of the designer is missing, with primary driver for the project being the budget and speed of construction. This often leads to cutting corners and reduction of the build quality.
What are some of the key issues that you and your client frequently face in relation to Chinese regulations?
A number of Chinese regulations, especially in design of residential buildings, limit the design scope of a given project. For instance, orientation of residential buildings only in north/south direction, so they end up being arranged in regimented grid pattern, which doesn’t allow for the variety and richness we expect in our residential layouts in the UK.
For instance, our innovative ‘Vertical Shikumen’ residential concept for Shanghai was declared ‘suitable for Singapore, but not for Shanghai”. The regulations of internal bathrooms and kitchens also determine the overall residential planning and character.
However, on the other side , in our Shimao Quarry hotel, the local Authority in Songjiang has been impressively flexible and has allowed, in this building, which as an ‘upside down’ skyscraper with no precedent, certain regulations (such as the seismic and structural codes and fire regulations) to be reinterpreted and justified from the first principles.
What incentives are in place to encourage foreign participation in the construction sector in China?
The major incentive has been the Government’s creation of so-called “Wholly Owned Foreign Investment” companies that enable foreign individuals to establish enterprises in China. This is the basis for operation of my studio in Shanghai.
The Chinese Government has recognised the value of learning from the experience of what they call “ Foreign Experts” and foreign participation is welcomed by clients, who seek experienced foreign designers to help produce more innovative and ‘international landmark’ buildings. It is a matter of ‘Face’ to have a foreign architect on board and having a ‘Name’ designer often helps to push the project through the Government approvals much quicker.
What mechanisms do you use when identifying risk and opportunities in the early development process of projects?
Important tool for identifying the risks and opportunities is a thorough analysis of all aspects of the design project. This is in fact a standard part of the design process, but is often skipped or simplified.
The most important factors in order to be able to come up with the ‘right’ solution are:
-Understanding the site and its physical (orientation, topography, access, existing landscape, environmental character, water etc.) and non-physical character. (cultural, historical, emotional context).
-Equally important is understanding the client’s requirements and thus, being able to translate them into physical volumes and plans that can then be arranged on the site.
-Finally, an important factor is understanding the local requirements, mainly the building densities, maximum heights , percentage of the green areas and other factors determining the size and location of the buildings.
All of these factors require detailed analysis, utilizing latest modeling and graphic software and internet research methods.
How has technology changed the architecture sector in recent years?
The design process in architecture has benefited from the ‘digital revolution’ by enabling complex organic shapes of building structures and façades to be designed and constructed, well beyond the capability of architects from only 20-30 years ago – from rectilinear simple shapes to complex curved buildings, that rely for both design and construction on automated computer controlled digital technology. Building and façade shapes produced by architects such as Hadid or UN Studio would have been unthinkable at the time when we designed buildings by drawing in ink on tracing paper on drawing boards with T squares.
In the heady days of the fast building boom here in China, there was a quest for the most unusual ‘Landmark’ shapes. Clients were competing for the most innovative building forms, enabled by the new technology and the examples of the resulting architecture, both good and bad, can be seen all over China. The CCTV building in Beijing, The Bird’s Nest Stadium, Beijing Airport terminal, Shenzhen Airport terminal, our Wuhan Pebble Towers and even the Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental Hotel in a Quarry are the examples of such architectural style.
Other developments are in the sustainability and ability for humans to interact with our buildings. Sustainability is a very important element of building design and, here in China, is now taken very seriously, with the US LEED system of evaluation and local Chinese 4-star system, being frequently used to produce buildings which will contribute to the environment, by saving energy, water and promoting biodiversity.
Interactivity in architecture is also enabled by the ‘digital revolution’ through incorporating smart controls which help to automate the building services, ranging from heating, ventilation, to lighting, security and communication and controlling more mechanical aspects of the external envelope of the building such as sun shading, external lighting and cleaning the façade.
Can you detail any current projects that you are working on? What are some of the key issues that you are facing in the process of assisting with them?
Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental
As mentioned, our most important project is The Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental, known as the Quarry Hotel. This project, which I designed in 2006, and has been ongoing for over 11 years now is a unique resort hotel situated in a disused ‘brownfield site’, 90m deep partially water filled quarry. The hotel, developed by Chinese developer Shimao, shall be operated as a 5-star resort by Intercontinental Hotel Group and when completed, will be their flagship project in China. The hotel which cascades down 90m rocky cliff face features 338 luxury guest rooms with number of them as duplex suites with the lower levels located under water, facing a large tropical aquarium. The central feature of the building is a vertical glass ‘waterfall’ atrium containing the observation lifts to take the guests to the lower levels. The hotel, with its unique location, is a first truly ‘underground’ structure and features a number of innovative and sustainable features. Obviously, such unusual location brings many technical challenges that needed to be overcome during the design and construction process.
Moganshan Jo Lalli Resort Hotel
Another one of our interesting project, currently under construction, is the Jo Lalli Resort Hotel in a beautiful mountainous region of Moganshan, near Hangzhou. Here the challenge has been to create a landmark building - that is the ‘visiting card’ for the operator, but at the same time, fits seamlessly into the outstanding natural environment without going against it. The inspiration for the form and materials has been directly the natural environment, utilizing local materials and building scale and massing that is compatible with the unspoiled beauty of the site itself. The hotel will feature large banqueting facility, restaurants and bars, in addition to 50 guestrooms.