The Ones That Got Away

Six practices tell us about the projects that held so much promise, but for one reason or another have remained unrealised.


Words by Pamela Buxton

Andrew Bromberg on Aedas's attempt to design a huge retail development in Beijing

We Won a competition back in 2011 for a development for a new commercial hub in Daxing in the south-east of Beijing.

Our 360,000 sq m Xihongmen mixed-use development was particularly large, including a final phase of 150,000 sq m of retail and 35,000 sq m of hotel space following earlier phases of high-rise office development.

From our point of view, the retail site was the meat of the project and the commercial parts its accent -- we'd won the competition against some very good international practices because judges liked the iconic quality of the retail and the way we used that to tie into the commercial centre. The retail site was at the transition between a long, urban green corridor and further development to the north. Our design sought to merge the more natural, open setting into the commercial district.

Despite the large scale, the geometry is broken down and organised to be approachable and user friendly. The strong formal gesture recalls a natural erosion of stones within a riverbed as the edges of the development smooth out and expose its interior components. Finally, the eroded mass dissolves completely into a public park that relates to the existing adjacent southern park.

Aedas’s attempt to design a huge retail development

Unfortunately, this key retail component hasn't been realised. Although our other phases either have been built or are under construction and the client is very happy with them, this important final phase has been put on hold.

This is the result of an alignment of unfortunate events. First, the project was delayed for six months while the client sold the commercial properties. Then Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that he wanted no more 'weird' architecture in China.

This created fear in the development world, with clients worrying about whether their developments weren't the type of projects the president wanted. By the time it had been decided that our project was OK, the anchor department-store tenant had dropped out and the Chinese economy started slowing. The client then decided to pursue traditional retail throughout rather than a department store, but now we're not sure what, if anything, it will be.

Instead, we're in the very strange situation where the accents to the development are being built, but what they're accenting isn't, even though it's the main feature of the overall design. The client may decide they still need some retail even if it is scaled back, or it might end up being speculative commercial space. Either way, they might not think they need us to do it, which would be very disappointing. I'm very saddened -- it was a fun project and one of our more special commercial developments.

Andrew Bromberg is global board director and Hong Kong executive director at Aedas.


Adam Brinkworth on his unrealised plan for a skate ramp at Supreme's flagship store in London

My one-that-got-away isn't on a particularly grand scale, more like an element within a scheme I thought would have been a very dynamic and fitting idea.

It was very simple -- a half-pipe skate ramp within a store for skateboarding brand Supreme. As I am a skateboarder myself, and Supreme is one of my favourite brands, getting to work with it was a dream come true. The client is a successful and unusual retailer who is very selective about his stores and their locations. We were invited to collaborate with the Wilson Brothers on his sole London store.

Skate ramp at Supreme’s flagship store in London

My idea was to take Supreme's red-and-white box logo and fold it up at either end to form a skate-able half-pipe. Because the client only needed 25 linear metres of merchandise display space, I worked out that the ramp would fit into the basement, by taking out two large sections of the ground floor. The ramp would have run from the front of the store to the back, breaking through the voids at either end. People walking past on the street would see a skateboarder fly up into the air and then drop back down again.

Skate ramp at Supreme’s flagship store in London

Downstairs there would still have plenty of room for the product and upstairs would have become a skateboard gallery. Despite seeming like a major reconstruction project, due to the nature of the site it would have needed very few structural alterations to do it.

Skate ramp at Supreme’s flagship store in London

In the end, the Supreme store took a brilliantly simple direction, incorporating fantastic sculptures by skateboard artist, Mark Gonzales. I've never met a client who takes so much time and care over every detail. I really enjoy his dedication and tenacity. So, even though the idea I had for the half-pipe ramp got away, I loved the whole process and am very proud of the final result.

Adam Brinkworth is CEO of the Brinkworth design agency

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