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Tianjin University Alumnus Liu Fanglei: Chief Designer of G20 Summit Center


The Hangzhou G20 Summit officially opened on the afternoon of September4th. It was the first time for China to hold the G20 Summit, during which leaders from a Group of 20 countries convened in China to discuss the development of the world economy. Greeting world leaders attending this summit, the summit center has drawn attention from all over the world with its innovative Chinese style, distinctive southern China characteristics and high scale international features.

The designing of the summit center was led by Liu Fanglei, an alumnus from the School of Architecture at Tianjin University graduating in 1994. As a national first-class registered architect, he was earlier responsible for the design of the summit center for the Beijing APEC Summit held in 2014. This time, Liu and his team, after more than 500 days' painstaking effort, successfully expressed with their architectural language the Chinese cultural style featuring southern China and the summit's idea of twenty countries under one roof.

From APEC to G20, Expressing China and Summits with Architecture

The ongoing G20 Summit has made China the spotlight of the whole world. On this occasion, many recalled the memory of the Beijing APEC Summit held in November, 2014, when world leaders also gathered in China. International summits of this kind are increasingly held in China, exemplifying the confidence and openness of Chinese people. Both summits share one head designer for their centers, Liu Fanglei, now an Associate Architect of the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design.

The International Conference Center at Yanqi Lake is like an Anser cygnoides, a large Chinese goose, spreading its wings to welcome the guests from all directions. The building integrated the Chinese traditional architectural style during the Han and Tang Dynasties with the art of modern architecture. Its design in every detail highlights the national culture full of Chinese characteristics. Its grey tiles, red pillars, and simple gateway are merged into green hills and clear waters, forming Chinese landscape scrolls. The name of this design sounds poetic. Incorporating Chinese traditional styles of the Han and Tang Dynasties, the building is like a large bird spreading its wings and flying high. The International Conference Center at Yanqi Lake amazed the whole world, manifesting a two thousand-year-long Chinese architectural culture and winning acclaim from the international community.

Soon after the Beijing APEC Summit, the design and bidding for the summit center of Hangzhou G20 Summit began in the beginning of Year 2015. Having accumulated the triumphant design experience from APEC, Liu Fanglei with his team again participated in the bidding. “In my opinion, the most important thing is the way to express China and summits in architectural language", Liu said. Ultimately, he and his team firmly believed that the summit center for G20 should represent Chinese style exemplifying: dignified magnificence, glamorous placidity and stately grandness. They designed the state-level architecture with an idea of “straight and impressive appearance", and enriched their economical intention with spatial arrangements featuring: "Warm greetings for the twenty countries" and “Twenty countries under one roof”. Finally, Liu and his team won the bid.

Approaching to Southern-China Culture, Revealing multiple Chinese impressions

The International Conference Center at Yanqi Lake shows the spirit of northern china: grand, pure, steady, generous, magnificent and splendid. While Hangzhou is a city inheriting southern Chinese culture. For Liulei who is keen on Chinese history, literature and ancient architecture, it was a challenge he loved to approach beginning with southern Chinese culture. “Southern China is the sort of culture full of artistic and poetic inspiration. It's an integral part of Chinese civilization and a prominent representation of local culture", he said. From the start of bidding to the design and construction he visited the West Lake in Hangzhou, the Kuaiji Mountain in Shaoxing, Lu Xun's hometown and many other ancient towns in southern China. It has been his habit to visit traditional architecture to seek local culture and modern elements in his design process.

To make use of land resources and save funds, the summit center was not newly built. Rather, it was transformed from the International Exhibition Center then being built. “For designers, it would be more difficult to transform a construction than to build a new one. You have to take into consideration both the function of the original building and the new one before being able to revise and reorganize", Liu suggested. The summit center takes up 170 thousand square meters, mainly containing the Welcoming Area, Conference Area and Banquet Area. These are the areas that Liu and his team mainly designed.

The design of the main entrance of the Welcoming Area was inspired by the moon gate with southern Chinese features and lanterns accentuating a joyous atmosphere. The two elements are abstracted and merged, ushering in the center with a tone of ink-painted southern China and a grandness of a great country. The corridor to the entrance is 45 meters wide, 54 meters long and 12 meters high. Twelve characters meaning “twenty” made of white marble line in two rows, like gentlemen welcoming honored guests, delivering the connotation of the pleasure of greeting friends from afar.

The interior design of the summit center was the priority among priorities. Every designer hoped to deliver an international style with Hangzhou's style featured. The question was, what element best represents Hangzhou, one of the seven capitals of ancient China and the model of southern China? In the arduous seeking process, Liu was stunned by the Mind-Acting-Upon-Mind Pavilion on Small Yingzhou of the West Lake. Doesn't the G20 Summit pursue the idea of mind-acting-upon-mind: interconnected communication and cooperation? So arose the idea of "Twenty countries under one roof", which integrated the sense of outdoor space into the interior design.

We can readily understand the meaning of "Twenty countries under one roof". The twenty countries of the G20 are in one building, under one sky and on one earth. The main conference room is on the fourth floor of the center, with an area of about 2000 square meters. The square space, 45 meters in length at one side displays the frugal philosophy view of “spherical heavens and square earth". Four beams and eight pillars form four huge Chinese characters "twenty", echoing the theme of “twenty countries under one roof”. In addition, southern Chinese culture is manifest in the ceiling with blue-and-white porcelain patterns and carved windows and doors with a strong southern china influence.

The Banquet Area is a spherical construction with a diameter of 60 meters, an area of some 2500 square meters and a height of 23.5 meters. Through the decoration, themes of “the universe and the firmament' and of “Ren” (a benevolent spirit) are highlighted. In the middle of the ceiling is a scene of a starry sky with dotted star lights showing the twelve constellations. In the middle a ring of natural light illuminates the room. In the outer ring is five circles of ink painting of mountains and waters. The surrounding twelve wind resistant pillars represent twelve moons. Made from aluminum-like panels and decorated with "Ru Yi" patterns, the uniformly distributed pillars perfectly form a transition between the inner and outer areas.

A 45-year-old is Young; an Architect Should Love His Ethnic Culture

Tianjin University is one of the universities with the longest history of Departments of Architecture, having cultivated many new talents. For instance, the chief designer of the Olympic venues and the chief architects of both the National Stadium and the Water Cube are alumni of Tianjin University. It has been a favorite story at gatherings that alumni of Tianjin University designed the Olympic venues. Now, as Liu Fanglei has become the chief designer of the summit centers of both APEC and G20, he has caused another passionate discussion in Tianjin University. But in the eyes of Liu Lei, with many professors and schoolmates before him as models, what he needs to do is further study and self-enhancement. In his blog, he wrote: "people of the same major should actively learn from each other. Understanding architecture is our common challenge. Age is no barrier to study. Everyone's past is like a prelude. In the course of architectural design, a 45-year-old is a young man. Wishing everyone well in your youth.”

Talking of his understanding of architecture, Liu Fanglei thinks that young architects, including students, should love the culture of their nation. They should have both an international vision and deep insights into the national culture. “The reason why some noted foreign architects can design great works is that they have obtained a broad national cultural knowledge, which gives them spiritual strength. The way they look at a church is different from that of ours. They see it with spirit." said Liu Fanglei, "Chinese culture is inherent. By learning about traditional Chinese culture, we gain deeper insights into our ethnic culture. And these will be integrated into our native architectural design.