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Watch: Steven Holl Explains The Logic Behind A Masterpiece

Two videos of Holl’s 3-million-square-foot complex in Chengdu show it in use for the first time.

Many critics pin the failure of contemporary architecture on the overuse of hyper-real renderings (or extremely controlled photography) to make a project pop on paper. Sure, that unfurnished tower looks fantastic from a low angle as the sun reaches its zenith–but how does it work as a place for people to live?

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That’s why post-occupancy studies are so important, and why videos like these–which show Steven Holl‘s Sliced Porosity Block in action–so interesting. The project wrapped up construction earlier this year, which typically means that we’ll never hear about it again (at least on the Internet). But since then, Holl’s office has released a video that shows the complex in use, and a video that has Holl talking about the spaces as he explores them.

If you caught any of the coverage of Sliced Porosity Block over the past six years, you already know that the development is supposedly designed with a sensitivity to the humans inside of it. The sheared-off polygonal towers are sliced, so to speak, along sun paths to insure that each facade gets a minimum of two hours of sun exposure per day. The buildings form a continuous web around a central courtyard, where anyone–including non-residents–can stop by to hang out. If the first video is any indication, this strategy has worked; even though the residential units are still being fitted out, the public spaces are bustling.

There are also some interesting tidbits in the Holl video, which isn’t terribly revelatory but is still worth watching. Among them is Holl’s comment that the project was inspired by Rockefeller Center, for “the way it shapes a big public space without any building being iconic.” Another nice moment comes when Holl stands in Lebbeus Woods’s Space of Light, the giant inhabitable sculpture installed halfway up one side of the towers. According to Holl, locals have taken to calling the space “time light” (in Mandarin, obviously) a nickname that dovetails perfectly with Woods’s design intent. “There’s a poetic justice there,” Holl says, referring to Woods’s recent passing. “I’m sure Lebbeus would have been happy.”

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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