New tech meets old architecture in Tencent’s new Guangzhou campus, where the quest was to create a workplace that truly defines a brand that is distinctive, progressive and functional, but with deep roots in China’s culture and history.
The dream was achieved through a sensitive repurposing of six old factory buildings, where M Moser linked a series of flexible, contemporary workspaces for a 21st-century brand, while preserving the features that give the site its rich industrial character.
Young and fast-expanding, Tencent, originator of China’s exceedingly popular WeChat application, envisioned its new Guangzhou campus as a crucial step in defining the company’s identity.
The firm’s selection of six dilapidated ex-factory buildings in a former textile industrial zone might have seemed eccentric at first but proved to be, upon closer examination, an inspired choice.
Now called the Guangzhou Creative Park, the former industrial zone is in the midst of a redevelopment that has already attracted a number of innovative brands to its rambling red-brick buildings. It is, in short, a ‘creative hothouse’ very much in keeping with Tencent’s products and young, talented staff.
“There is a very human character at the Creative Park, a stimulating mix of history and culture chiming with Tencent’s desire to create ‘meaningful’ workplaces that are environmentally friendly, comfortable and innovative,” said Tencent’s project manager.
To ensure those aims would be met, Tencent appointed global workplace specialist M Moser Associates to both design and lead the execution of the project.
“Our design target was not only to create an intuitive and comfortable workplace within the shell of 20th century factory buildings; it was also to create a space that would be a powerful expression of Tencent’s culture,” said Wendy Leung, Project Director, M Moser.
Using historical architecture to connect yesterday to today
Collectively, the six buildings selected by Tencent offered approximately 9,914 square meters of floor area. Four of the buildings would be used as workspaces, and common amenities such as meeting rooms and the staff canteen would be housed in the remaining two.
The buildings’ disposition, which are arranged rather haphazardly within the Creative Park, posed a challenge to Tencent and the M Moser team. “Somehow, all the buildings had to be connected together and maintain a distinct, coherent identity,” said Ramesh Subramaniam of M Moser.
Based at M Moser Kuala Lumpur, Subramanian collaborated closely with the client and the project team in Guangzhou to evolve the project’s conceptual design. Their solution to the need for connection and identity within the campus was to create a network of open-sided bridges to link four of the six project buildings.
“The bridges not only connect the buildings physically and make four workspaces into one, but also link them together conceptually. They create a distinct ‘campus within a campus’ for Tencent, without altering the building’s existing historical features and characteristics,” said Subramanian.
Using materials, colours and forms to smooth the transition from outside to inside
The unique character of the Creative Park doesn’t stop at the facades. The design team carefully used materials to bring the flavour of the Park right into the office, making the transition from exterior to interior virtually seamless.
The red wooden decks and exposed steel structures of the bridges, for example, are also featured inside the Tencent offices, as are the red bricks that characterise the former factor buildings’ exteriors.
Colours inside the office conform to the same palette as the outside, with simple, muted neutral and earthy tones complementing features like the green walls, which evoke the landscape of the Creative Park.
A clever use of space in the main office building further erodes the distinction between outside and in. The entranceway consists of a full-height, extensively glazed atrium complete with its own ‘clouds’, an abstract composition of wavy white fins on the ceiling, and a towering ‘cliff face’ of stacked meeting and work spaces, their transparent fronts interleaved with greenery and timber.
“When you’re in the atrium, you feel like you’re still outside, looking at a natural feature,” said Subramanian. “The ‘cliff face’ also exposes the functions inside the building: what’s in front of you are all the spaces you’re about to enter and use. You get an instant understanding of where everything is.”
Spaces within spaces
The ‘cliff face’ is also a dramatic clue to the M Moser team’s most radical intervention in the building’s original envelope: the insertion of mezzanine floors.
“The mezzanine floors were added so we could fully exploit the floor-to-ceiling height of the buildings. It was one of the most successful but also difficult parts of the project, because we needed to blend new engineering into old architecture,” said Grace Hu, the project leader for M Moser.
Located on these new levels are layers of social, interactive spaces such as formal and informal meeting rooms, and open discussion and break-out areas. Each layer is woven harmoniously into the fabric of the old building, giving visitors a sense of textural depth and innovation.
A workspace designed for circulation, connectivity & creativity
Innovation is central to Tencent’s business, and the workspaces in its Creative Park campus were designed to stimulate it by encouraging interaction and collaboration between staff members and teams.
The wide-open spaces and regular floor plates of the original factory buildings were to the design team’s advantage. What was open before largely remains open now, with aisles and green walls rather than opaque enclosures used to demarcate different functional areas.
Features like writing boards and washable walls scattered throughout the workspace further support the creative instincts of employees. A gym area in the service building and several outdoor balconies provide additional venues for a refreshing change of scenery and relaxation.
“The aim was to create an interesting and comfortable environment that would encourage spontaneity. It makes collaboration a natural and instinctive act, rather than a matter of scheduling a meeting,” said Hu.
Even the meeting suite, the sole area of the office with enclosed spaces, offers a measure of flexibility and fluid movement. The glass walls of the meeting rooms are moveable, enabling spaces to be enlarged or reduced as required. Opening up all the meeting rooms creates a single large space suitable for ‘town hall’ gatherings of the entire staff.
Ensuring the workplace is as healthy as it is stimulating was another priority for the M Moser project team. As well as complementing the buildings’ industrial architecture, the simple palette of materials used for the office’s interior were largely natural, locally sourced, and easily renewed or recycled.
“The simple, natural materials used in the spaces are not only sustainable, but are extremely resistant to wear-and-tear, so maintenance costs are reduced in the long run,” said Tencent’s project manager.
Natural, low-VOC finishes used throughout the space (even the wood floor is polished with benign carborundum wax, and varnishes used were of the waterborne epoxy resin type) help keep the interior atmosphere clean and chemical-free.
“The feedback from our people has been extremely positive – about the healthy environment as well as the general comfort and function of the new campus,” said Tencent’s project manager. “This new campus offers our staff new possibilities for how they do their work. It breaks all the old expectations of what a working environment can be”
- Area 100,000 sq-ft
- Completion date 2013
- Location Guangzhou, China