A new look at the world’s most popular facade

Written by Staff Writer, CNN Beijing

From the inside, a modern Shanghai office building looks like it’s moving in. But the offices — which are home to 91,000 people — are actually a building that walks.

Located in Xuhui District, the Mainland Fujian Finance Center underwent a partial rearrangement from a block to a five-story building in 2007. However, the largest portions of the building remain fixed in place.

The final remodeling, which started in January and is expected to last until the end of this year, will see the building’s facade move, then recede to a new location.

According to Terrence Chen, partner at art architectural firm Read Consultants, the change is necessary to provide more flexibility for Shanghai’s free-flowing urban society.

“The current building layout is based on a dense, inefficient layout. A reorganization is just one step in helping the building connect with the public better,” he said.

How do you walk through an office building?

Footage courtesy Read Consultants/Shanghai Building Infrastructure Development

The facade of Mainland Fujian Finance Center will move to a new location. Credit: Courtesy Read Consultants/Shanghai Building Infrastructure Development

Located in one of Shanghai’s most densely populated areas, the central facades of downtown Shanghai are divided up by rows of buildings, known as flocks. Many of these flocks consist of relatively small buildings, lacking anything nearly as grand as the Mainland Fujian Finance Center, constructed in 1996.

The impermanence of these flocks could make it hard for different layers of flocks to connect. The building’s facade must swing open to the flocks above it to create a unified look.

Nonetheless, the building’s massive footprint doesn’t mean the facades can’t be modified to adapt to the city. According to Chen, each part of the facade must first be configured in a way that would fit with the birds that are flocking in the flocks above it.

An artist’s impression of the Mainland Fujian Finance Center before it was redesigned. Credit: Courtesy Read Consultants/Shanghai Building Infrastructure Development

The new facade will appear as one contiguous façade that ends at the flocks. It will contain six sections that will align with each flock. It’ll pass through the flocks, and if it’s growing or changing, it will find its own new location.

The building’s central facade will be moved into a new location. Credit: Courtesy Read Consultants/Shanghai Building Infrastructure Development

The process of building and rebuilding a facade is often painstaking. The majority of the time, workers have to spend three to five years completing parts of the facade. Aside from the time and labor costs, the process can take two to three years to approve after construction starts.

For the Mainland Fujian Finance Center renovation, a number of stages are happening simultaneously. The central facades are being moved into position first. Next, pieces of the upper facades are being repositioned and more traditional materials like brick are being used, according to Chen.

Related: Inside a luxury hotel that’s remodeled its floors

The striking central facades will blend with the flocks above them.

The building exterior will eventually align with its flocks, and the entire facade will move before the end of the year.

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