When it comes to their headquarters, American tech companies tend to favor sprawling campuses with pathways, pantries, and soccer pitches designed to foster interaction among employees across different departments. For its new, reportedly $599 million home, in Shenzhen, China, internet giant Tencent tasked the architecture firm NBBJ with turning this model on its side and imbuing a 50-story skyscraper with the same collegiate-style atmosphere for 12,000 employees. Step one, says lead designer Jonathan Ward, was splitting the building into two towers and connecting them by three bridges, “so there is a conversation happening between them.” Below, a look at how the firm brought new energy—and a green sensibility—to the corporate high-rise.
The building is in a burgeoning tech district next to Shenzhen University, on the city’s far west side—an area intended to be China’s answer to Silicon Valley. Constructed on land reclaimed from the sea, the towers were built to comply with China’s Sponge City initiative, which tackles runoff pollution and flooding by making urban landscapes more capable of filtering and holding water.
2. The Plaza and Rooftop Gardens
The building’s one-acre plaza is covered in permeable ceramic bricks made from recycled materials that filter rainwater as it drains into the ground. This absorbent layer—along with gardens atop the roofs and bridges—has more than doubled the building’s water-retention rate compared with traditional construction techniques.
3. First Bridge
Nicknamed the “brain” of the building, the top bridge houses Tencent University, where employees can take classes to brush up on skills such as coding. Several conference rooms are located here, as well as space for after-work activities, such as guitar and English lessons.
4. Second Bridge
The “heart” bridge contains more than 25,000 square feet of health and gym facilities, including a track, climbing wall, basketball court, dance studio, 2 badminton courts, 6 billiards tables, and 12 Ping-Pong tables. There’s also a juice bar.
5. Third Bridge
The lowest link contains a museum about the history of Tencent, two levels of cafeteria space, and a 500-person auditorium.
6. Bus Station
Tencent buses pick up employees throughout the city and drop them off in an underground terminal below the building. Escalators rise up to plaza level, allowing natural light to filter in.
The glazed, self-shading exterior regulates how much sunlight and heat penetrate the building, reducing the need for air-conditioning. NBBJ estimates that the building uses 40% less energy than a typical office tower.
Tencent is developing a building-wide internet-of-things system to help automate heating, air-conditioning, and security. Already, facial-recognition technology identifies employees and allows them to access certain floors. Smart rooms within the building can adjust their temperature based on how many people are in them. Robot guides in the lobby show people to bathrooms and other facilities.