Architect on the job in China sees coronavirus changing work, home
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Architect on the job in China sees coronavirus changing work, home

As the Israel-born Moshe Safdie witnesses opening of first stage of vast Raffles City in Chongqing, work continues on projects in Singapore and the US

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Raffles City Chonqing, one of architect Moshe Safdie's latest projects, which opened its first stage in June 2020 (Courtesy Moshe Safdie Architects)
Raffles City Chonqing, one of architect Moshe Safdie's latest projects, which opened its first stage in June 2020 (Courtesy Moshe Safdie Architects)

Ten years after architect Moshe Safdie began working on Raffles City in Chongqing, China, the Crystal skybridge, which connects four 250-meter-high skyscrapers, opened in June as the first stage of the vast complex.

The rest of Raffles City Chongqing due is be finished by the end of the year.

“I’ve been thinking about projects like this for 50 years, but the opportunity to realize projects on a big scale like this started occurring 15 years ago,” said Safdie, an Israel-born Canadian who lives in Boston.

Raffles City Chongqing sits at the juncture of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers in the city’s Yuzhong district, with eight skyscrapers connected by a five-story podium.

The horizontal, cantilevered tower at Moshe Safdie’s Raffles project in China (Courtesy Moshe Safdie)

Safdie said he’d been “coming and going to” Raffles for a period of ten years, traveling to China on average once every two months.

It’s a commute that he isn’t making these days, given the coronavirus.

Safdie’s next Asia project is in China designing a complex that’s similar to Singapore’s Jewel Changi Airport, but larger, almost an airport city, he said.

“Now we owe them a trip with sketches,” he said, “and that means being quarantined two weeks there and two weeks when we get back.”

For Safdie, who has designed grand architectural structures all over the globe, projects of this scope tend to happen most frequently in Asia.

The Crystal, part of the Raffles project designed by architect Moshe Safdie, is enclosed by a glass and steel structure that offers visitors access to natural light, extensive views, and garden settings throughout the year, a concept that is becoming more vital in urban projects, said Safdie, considering the effects of the coronavirus (Courtesy Moshe Safdie Architects)

Safdie said that his clients in Asia, whether governmental, private enterprise or some combination of the two, have ambitions at many levels that don’t exist in the US.

“They also have resources,” he said. “How much do we do here with infrastructure on airports and such?”

In Israel, Safdie has designed multiple projects, including the complicated Mamilla complex, the redesigned Ben Gurion International Airport and Yad Vashem.

For now, the coronavirus shut Safdie’s office, but work has continued on other projects. He’s thinking about how the coronavirus will impact his work and architecture in general.

“I think where it’s going to be interesting to see impact is the workspace,” said Safdie. “I’m personally not a believer that people will work at home. I think a lot of people have found out that if they’re single or with children that it’s pretty hellish to work at home. People need conversation.”

Israel-born architect Moshe Safdie spent ten years working on the Raffles project in China, which just opened its first stage (Courtesy Michal Ronnen Safdie)

The coronavirus also raises questions about urban issues and density, said Safdie, mentioning a friend who complained to him about living in a luxury, high-rise building in New York City who doesn’t have a balcony and whose windows can’t be opened.

“We have to think about whether it’s reasonable to build apartments without even a place to go outside,” he said. “I think there will be a lot of thinking about that.”

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