Design Idea

SOHO Shangdu is designed by Peter Davidson of LAB architecture studio, which was responsible for the design of the renowned Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia. Inspired by the forms and patterns which have built the natural world, SOHO Shang Du's architectural design is yet another breakthrough with its avant-garde character. The design consists of a low-rise commercial galleria with 37,000 square meters of retail space, and two medium-rise towers. One tower holds offices and the other is devoted to residential and studio use and integrates SOHO China's vertical warehouse shell approach.

The retail space is conceived as a dynamic contemporary interior, a geode with a crystalline galleria over five levels. It contains a programmed bridge to connect the two sides of the development, which exist on separate blocks. The interior galleria spaces will facilitate a range of events from fashion parades to concerts and can be altered to both 'outdoor' and 'indoor' modes, depending on the extreme fluctuations of Beijing's weather.

The facetted glass surfaces of the tower facades are inscribed with a network of geometrically determined lines. At night the continuous light lines that follow this geometry will form a distinctive nocturnal image for the towers - resembling luminous jewels. Lab's proposal will provide a uniquely vibrant and activated urban space in central Beijing.


Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson studied architecture at the New South Wales Institute of Technology in Sydney before relocating to London. He worked as Editorial Assistant on International Architect (1981-83) and taught at the Architectural Association and Bartlett School of Architecture. In 1984 he founded Peter Davidson architectural studio. Peter Davidson and Donald Bates founded Lab architecture studio in London in 1994 and won the design competition for Federation Square in 1997. Both Donald and Peter have been visiting critics and lecturers at numerous schools of architecture and are currently adjunct professors at the Cooper Union in New York.

Architect's Statement

Architecture is Our Understanding of the World
SOHO Shangdu Launch Presentation (text)
By Peter Davidson, August 31, 2004


In trying to mark our construction on earth, architecture follows after a ritual of geometrical setting out. Architecture has always been 'after geometry' in one form or another. After a geometry that would synthesize our understanding of the world and simultaneously express our place within it.

The tower of Babel is a significant image in Christian mythology depicting mankind's attempt to build a structure to allow them to reach heaven. God responded to this affront by creating different languages. If people couldn't communicate with each other, so god must have thought, they couldn't complete the task. Thereafter, mankind has persistently tried to imitate the supposed perfection of heaven through the construction of the earthly domain through the use of ideal geometry.

Our common language is revealed to have been geometry. As knowledge of the world and universe has expanded, so too our (architectural) speculations on geometry have changed and evolved. No more do we long for an ideal geometry, but to understand the inscrutable mix of chaos and order that governs our natural world. To comprehend and describe the dynamic, chaotic and fluctuating patterns that underpins all life's forces, whether geology or ecology. The study and understanding of these patterns is the new science of complexity.

The holistic inter-connection of all these patterns, explains the 'butterfly effect', where a small event such as a butterfly flapping its wings can potentially effect the weather on the other side of the world. Complexity pays attention to emergent patterns of behavior, which can be recognized in the movements of the stock market or of a crowd entering a soccer stadium. The concept of complexity is used to account for phenomena as varied as the formation and movement of clouds, of evolving genetic groupings, of complex neighborhood connections, of managing and correcting signal fluctuations in mobile telephone antennae (but maybe not all the time)

The ability to describe mathematically complex events is what allows the fur on Sulley in Monsters Inc. to be able to be 'programmed'’ to move in completely natural ways, and so look 'real'. The animators in some scenes just show off that they have finally solved the 'hair' challenge. The computer did not create this new possibility, but has facilitated the emergence of unique graphic representations of complex data. This now allows us to plot, understand and 'see'’ knowledge visually, and as a result, to think differently. Complexity explains how networks emerge and function, how species organize into ecosystems, how stars form into galaxies, and how just a few sequences of DNA can account for so many different life forms.

The evocative images of fractal geometry are the most well known examples of complex regularity. Fractals' characteristic repetition of dynamic patterns at different scales can be seen in river delta conditions, which simultaneously remind us of the human body's vein system for blood supply. The same dynamic and diverse patterns are revealed in the infinite variation seen in the formation of ice crystals. They can also be found in the way sheet ice cracks in a parametric ray pattern, an inspiration evident in traditional Chinese timber screens. This sensibility has always been innately recognized. Even within the imperial order of the Forbidden City, dynamic figuration can be found in the decorative bridge pavements.

The diverse patterns of phenomenon are understood and manipulated through the mathematical equations. Through the application of software such as 'mathematical', digital simulation allows natural phenomenon, such as the emergence of patterns in sea shells or on animal fur to be artificially created and evolved. The explicit co-relation of mathematics and art is embodied in the graphic work of M.C. Escher whose paradoxical and fluid images simultaneously reveal the repetition of shapes in nature and provides a poetic comment on the evolution.

Complexity marks the emergence of an entirely new way to view the evolution of our culture, to understand the operation of complex adaptive systems in social and cultural processes and even recent developments in the arts, philosophy and the humanities. The grid has been metaphorically replaced by the network. In architecture's millennial searching after geometry, our practice has moved from ideal geometry to the dynamic geometry of life. Our Federation Square project, which provides a new civic heart for Melbourne, is an attempt to create a contemporary ensemble of buildings based upon the principle of coherence and difference, allowing each building a unique setting and expression with a coherent composition of the whole. Rather than repeating historical models we have fostered their spatial evolution and engagement with the complexity of context, re-imagining civic space for the 21st century.

The public spaces are compound figures which allow large public gatherings, for the bustling of crowds and for the intimacy individuals. Through shaping space more varied possibilities are created. Architecture facilitates the enactment of new forms or community. New types of spaces create the possibility of celebrating new rituals and collective activities, from festivals to the arts to shopping.

The new design paradigm seeks inspiration in the natural world to create buildings and spaces which have those innately rich and diverse qualities associated with our experience of traditional cities. Contemporary geometry allows the creation of unique building facades that provide a visual counterpoint to the richness and diversity we expect in all other aspects of our lives. In creating new iconic experiences architecture shows it is more than just 'visual'. In giving material form to new spatial concepts architecture aspires to one of its most profound effects… to create new human sensations, feelings and experiences. Whilst environmental sustainability is an urgent emerging issue for China, sustainability is a holistic approach synthesizing environmental, social and economic considerations together.

Architecture has a profound and inescapably excessive responsibility to provide images and experiences which allow us all to imagine the future.

In English there is an expression 'where do we draw the line'’, which tries to define where we should stop or be bound by convention. Architecture in giving expression to space should always attempt to cross the line. And so to China…….and inescapably to the Great Wall. The Czech writer Franz Kafka believed that the Great Wall provided the metaphorical foundations for a new tower of Babel…….as the collective human effort of its realization seemed the only man made structure to match the scale and ambition of God.

All of these aspirations and our experience have been applied to the design and ongoing development of our first project in China: SOHO Shangdu, whose forms and spaces have been inspired by the shapes and structures of crystals. Our aim is to create a development that can engender and foster urban life. The normal activity and events associated with the street have been internalized into new architectural volumes that re-imagine the potential of the arcade and galleria.

The unique facade design and particularly the night lighting give the buildings a distinctive image. Their engagement with the complexity of contemporary urban life has created a dynamic architectural form. A new precinct for SOHO and a new urban icon for Beijing.


To Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi, thank you for the possibility and privilege of contributing this project to the wonderful city of Beijing. After the Olympics, it's impossible not to recognize that architecture is a team sport.

So thank you to the SOHO team, to CABR, the Lab teams in Beijing and Melbourne and all those others who have contributed to the project.

Thank You All.

Federation Square

Lab's most important project to date is Federation Square. The project for Federation Square created a new civic square for Melbourne, capable of accommodating up to 35,000 people in an open-air amphitheatre, with cultural and commercial buildings as part of the precinct. The cultural and commercial facilities combine for almost 44,000 square meters. They include new galleries for the National Gallery of Victoria: Australian Art (NGVA), the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), with offices, studios and galleries for ACMI and SBS as well as numerous restaurants, cafes and commercial tenancies. All this exists on a site of 3.6 hectares, equivalent to the construction of a new city block for Melbourne.

In the year since the project has opened, it has exceeded all expectations to become Australia's number one tourist destination. Originally projected to have up to 4 million visitors, the precinct has had more than 6.5 million. The NGVA has welcomed more than 2 million visitors. The ACMI, a new institution without an existing audience, has had more than 1.2 million visitors. Federation Square has become the new center - the new social, political and cultural heart of Melbourne.

Sales & Leasing

(8610) 5869-6669/5900-8787


010 59003388

SOHO Shangdu

No 8, Dongdaqiao Road

Chaoyang District, Beijing