Shenzhen Stock Exchange
By Ulf Meyer
From the “VIP Club” on the 46th Floor of the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange, designed by Rem Koolhaas from OMA in Rotterdam, people look down onto a sterile ideal city.
On the road 255 meters below plow those who haven’t made it (yet) into the dizzying heights of communist turbo-capitalism: Countless road workers move the red earth from left to right, guarded by men in military uniforms with green camouflage patterns, who stand around the new building under small umbrellas. They make sure that no one gets too close to the new building.
The vast Plaza at the foot of the 500-million dollar new Shenzhen Stock Exchange is totally empty. Framed only by a three-storey podium that cantilevers far from the high-rise stem with its dark gray grid façade. The price for such acrobatic tectonics is a rather complex structure whose diagonal bracing dominates the facades of the lower floors of the new building. The square grid facade in gray is clad in coated textured glass.
At the Shenzhen Stock Exchange shares are traded of approximately 1,500 companies – usually from one government pocket to another. The stock exchanges of Shanghai and Hong Kong are still far ahead of Shenzhen in terms of trading volume, but it does not have to stay that way forever. The Shenzhen Stock Exchange is designed for growth: For the time being it only uses the lower ten floors of its new building, the rest is rented out.
Stock exchanges as a building type for people are long dead – there is no dealer left, who flits from trading booth to the next or makes the best prices with cryptic calls or obscure hand signals. In Shenzhen only giant computer servers purr. More than thirty managers follow the digital market activity on their monitors. They must get tired a lot – their offices even have showers and beds.
The import building is surprisingly well built – a reversal of previous practice in Koolhaas’ office, which has traditionally been proud to ignore detailing work. Also, almost all Western architects in China complain about the lousy construction quality. So, how did Rem do it? The high building standard was made possible only by the continuous presence of OMA architects on the site.
The Dutch designers are particularly proud of the walls made of cast stone that characterize the foyer below and the Club floor above. Their patterns are reminiscent of Chinese landscape painting in ink – only on closer inspection do they turn out to be the motives of price fluctuations of stocks.
The surrealism of the building shape fits its surrounding city, which has made its artificiality its identity. Its raison d’ être is making money. That it what Chinese president Deng Xiao Ping wanted in 1979, when he set up China’s first “special economic zone” in Shenzhen. Deng’s slogan was “Let in the West Wind. Wealth is glorious”.
The building is supposed to signify the climax of market forces like a totem pole of capital – but seems rather like a strange, mysterious and enigmatic flying object. Koolhaas has assembled two designs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe into a “collage”: The McCormick Convention Center in Chicago was grafted onto the stem of the Seagram Building in New York.
The most important intangible process of a stock exchange, the virtual speculation, it can not represent. Although the raised podium is supposed to look like it would held up only by “speculative euphoria” (Koolhaas). 27,000 tons of steel is required to create the illusion.High-rise towers like the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange Building are less an expression of economic market conditions as of political ambition. Koolhaas himself had drawn attention to these puzzling phenomena with his contribution at the documenta art show in Kassel in 1997 called “The Speed of Shenzhen”. Now he has come full circle: The autistic giant buildings of Shenzhen, standing rather lonely on their sites just do not find together to form a city. Koolhaas has now added his architectural legacy to Shenzhen. In five years it will be considered old.