Sliced Porosity Block
by Steven Holl Architects


New York firm Steven Holl Architects has completed the Sliced Porosity Block, a cluster of five towers around a public plaza in Chengdu, China (+ slideshow + photographs by Hufton + Crow).

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

The buildings, designed by Steven Holl in 2007, were conceived as an alternative to the "towers and podium" approach commonly adopted for large mixed-use developments. Instead, the five towers were imagined as an integrated complex, with a central public space that wraps up over a shopping centre.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Holl explained: "In our time of iconic object buildings, the Sliced Porosity Block offers an alternative - realising three million square feet of mixed uses with the public space coming first."

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Light passes between the buildings through "sliced" openings and recesses, plus three large voids provide entrance pavilions that lead inside the complex.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

These pavilions include the Light Pavilion, a four-storey construction of steel rods and glass platforms that is the first built project by architect Lebbeus Woods, who passed away this Autumn.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

"Lebbeus's pavilion, constructed of huge beams of light, is a place one enters at several levels," said Holl. "One's experience there, especially at night, seems to dissolve the view of the city beyond. Up is down in a feeling of suspension of gravity via light and reflection."

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Staircases lead up to the central plaza, which comprises three terraces with seating areas, trees and large pools of water. These pools also function as skylights for the shopping centre below.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Explaining the importance of this space, Holl said: "The public plaza is [the building's] gift to the city. Having seen the people eagerly using this space is a real joy."

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

White concrete frameworks are expressed on the exterior of the towers and reveal diagonal braces that protect the structure during earthquakes.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Each building is heated and cooled geothermally, plus the large ponds are cooling devices that harvest and recycle rainwater.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

This isn't the first project by Steven Holl Architects in China. The firm previously completed the Linked Hybrid complex of eight connected towers in Beijing and a "horizontal skyscraper" in Shenzhen. See more stories about Steven Holl.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

These images by photographers Hufton + Crow show the impact of the building on its surrounding context, just like the shots they took of Zaha Hadid's Galaxy Soho in Beijing. See more photography by Hufton + Crow on Dezeen.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Here's some more information from Steven Holl Architects:

Sliced Porosity Block
Chengdu, China

In the center of Chengdu, China, at the intersection of the first Ring Road and Ren Ming Nam Road, the Sliced Porosity Block forms large public plazas with a hybrid of different functions. Creating a metropolitan public space instead of object-icon skyscrapers, this three million square foot project takes its shape from its distribution of natural light.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

The required minimum sunlight exposures to the surrounding urban fabric prescribe precise geometric angles that slice the exoskeletal concrete frame of the structure. The building structure is white concrete organized in six foot high openings with earthquake diagonals as required while the "sliced" sections are glass.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

The large public space framed in the center of the block is formed into three valleys inspired by a poem of the city's greatest poet, Du Fu (713-770), who wrote, 'From the northeast storm-tossed to the southwest, time has left stranded in Three Valleys.' The three plaza levels feature water gardens based on concepts of time—the Fountain of the Chinese Calendar Year, Fountain of Twelve Months, and Fountain of Thirty Days. These three ponds function as skylights to the six-story shopping precinct below.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Establishing human scale in this metropolitan rectangle is achieved through the concept of "micro urbanism," with double-fronted shops open to the street as well as the shopping center. Three large openings are sculpted into the mass of the towers as the sites of the pavilion of history, designed by Steven Holl Architects, the Light Pavilion by Lebbeus Woods, and the Local Art Pavilion.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

The Sliced Porosity Block is heated and cooled with 468 geothermal wells and the large ponds in the plaza harvest recycled rainwater, while the natural grasses and lily pads create a natural cooling effect. High-performance glazing, energy-efficient equipment and the use of regional materials are among the other methods employed to reach the LEED Gold rating.

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Program: five towers with offices, serviced apartments, retail, a hotel, cafes, and restaurants, and large urban public plaza
Client: CapitaLand Development
Building area (square): 3,336,812 sf

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Above: concept sketch

Sliced Porosity Block by Steven Holl Architects

Above: plan concept sketch


  • Valerio

    This is an architectural masterwork. Congrats, really.

  • Christian

    This scheme is so enriched with meaning and has really strong relationships with its context. And the way the forms have been carved into to allow light through is really nice and subservient. It’s not often you can say these things about towers! Really lovely architecture!

  • Colonel Pancake

    At some point, architects will start to recognize the correlation between neighborhoods that have been masterplanned from scratch and built overnight with neighborhoods that nobody aspires to live in.

    Until then, the skill with which the world’s best architects design coldly homogeneous residential neighborhood with pathetic attempts at “hybridized” communities will continuously offend those people that think a home is a space worthy of individual expression and a neighborhood is a space suited for organic evolution.

  • Nice concept. I really like how those big weird sculptures define a great and living public space. I really would like to see a visualization or any image from a night view – it might be awesome as well. The geometry is kinda weird but in a good way. That look-up photo looks stunning!

  • H-J

    They really know how to put the foamcutter to work.

  • mindgame

    Wish they didn't have that stupid "CapitaLand" sign on these marvelous buildings.

  • Adam

    There is the Light Pavilion (design by Lebbeus Woods’ and Christoph Kumpusch) integrated within one of the blocks:

    Can Dezeen get more photos of it?

    • Hi Adam,

      Yes we hope so. We’re aiming to publish a focus on the Light Pavilion soon.


  • Concerned Citizen

    Another tenement block

  • Bruno de Paris

    The typology is the result of the program of the developer, not of the architect. The client is king. It was the same in the Renaissance (just inverted: the king was the client). So much sqm. for so much area = lots of storeys, regardless of the neighborhood. Still the architect is responsible for the design. I suppose that in this case there are succesful decisions and less succesful ones. The geometry of the blocks looking for ‘variation’ ends up being sort of whimsical and void of meaning. Bearing in mind that taste is related to culture and biography and that the more we know, the more we understand.

  • Michael

    I like Steven Holl but I'm not convinced that this is a great public space. It's all a bit over-sized and cold and there seems to be little activation at the ground level. Seems like too much conceptual thinking and form-making and not enough finessing. The little eateries with people sitting on plastic seating seem much more human and inviting.

  • vogt

    Five towers and five podiums; the podiums happen to be connected.