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9 Experiments in Large

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Chengdu: Interview with Steven Holl, the man behind China’s version of midtown
There’s a Rockefeller Center in the Chinese city of Chengdu—not one of those Las Vegas–style, two-thirds-scale knockoffs, but a contemporary reinterpretation of massive proportions, designed by the New York–based architect Steven Holl. A linked doughnut of elaborately sawn-off and shaped towers, 3 million square feet in all, encloses a series of pavilions, many of which contain art exhibits.

“When I go there, I can’t see it all,” Holl says. “It’s too large. I could spend all day there, walk around it, go up an elevator, over a bridge, but …” He trails off, awed by the dimensions of a complex that began the way all his designs do, as a watercolor sketch on a five-by-seven-inch card.

“I start everything the same way, so it can be a 300-square-foot hut or a 3-million-square-foot project, and it doesn’t really matter because you still have an idea that drives the design that brings the parts into coherence.” Visualizing the whole composition in his mind’s eye is easy; it’s absorbing reality that’s hard. —Justin Davidson


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