|SQ. FT.||215,000 SQF|
What does a cloud of data actually look like? Planning a Guangzhou facility for CloudDCS—keen to develop a unique brand identity in China’s highly competitive digital market—Alberto Puchetti began, as he always does, by immersing himself in his client’s work. He found his first clue in the company name, the acronym standing for data center services. “Thinking about how to physically represent a concept that’s as abstract as digital information, I kept coming back to images of literal clouds floating in the sky,” he recalls. “That idea was reinforced after I visited several data centers and was struck by how the mass of servers creates a sound very much like the roar of an aircraft. It seemed natural to look at how to translate all of this into a contemporary design sensibility.”
At first glance, the cavernous 215,000-square-foot space, an empty industrial facility, appeared to offer the perfect blank canvas for an open-plan office and showroom. But previous projects that Puchetti’s firm, Arboit Limited, completed in China had taught him that the building’s rows of structural columns would need to be completely hidden from view—no easy task. “In Western architectural culture, elements such as columns or beams would have been regarded as an important part of the building and perhaps highlighted to express the clarity of the structural scheme,” he says. “In China, there is a different perception. Clients prefer a seamless, smooth space. Columns are perceived as a visual obstruction, so they have to virtually disappear within the design.” His solution was to hide the columns inside curved partitions that also establish a central pathway that extends from the reception area to the conference room, then through to an area with several smaller freestanding pavilions.
With mechanicals, lighting, and audiovisual systems cleverly concealed, flawless surfaces in stainless steel, glass, epoxy, and lacquer deliver an exceptionally ethereal aesthetic. A palette of white combined with eight shades of blue, ranging from delicate cerulean to bold navy, derives from nimbus clouds floating in the sky. The colors are displayed to mesmerizing effect in a canopy composed of flowing ribbons of spray-painted sheet steel. To reinforce the dynamism of the cloud theme, the canopy’s swirls are repeated in the pattern of the floor. Color also serves as way-finding: Varying combinations signal different service destinations, furthermore giving individual areas distinct personalities with a common visual denominator.
The building’s generous headroom meant that Puchetti was free to push his chosen cloud-sky metaphor to the limit by elevating the conference room’s space-age form to float higher than everything else. Inside, at the four corners, those objectionable columns are discreetly concealed inside curved partitions. They’re wrapped in white faux leather, while the real stuff upholsters the Charles and Ray Eames swivel chairs that surround a table topped with a massive oval slab of luxe Carrara marble. Underfoot, the “walking on air” theme continues via glass floor tile laminated with a cloud illustration.
Walking into the conference room, raised high above thelong desks of the control room for the servers, requires crossing a bridge—the first segment of the central pathway established by the columns—then passing through a distinctly futuristic doorway lined in gleaming stainless. “We gave the conference pod gigantic windows to reinforce the sense of hovering over the control room,” he continues. That’s truly the heart of the operation, the place where technicians at computer monitors check the status of the data center.
The Chinese digital community, unaccustomed to simple, cool aesthetics and vast, colorful spaces, has been intrigued by Puchetti’s highly creative, hugely ambitious project. “This is probably one of the first cases of design entering an industrial setting in a way that is about producing better quality of life in a working environment,” he observes. It’s clear that the distinctive interior has already helped CloudDCS develop its forward-thinking image. So much so that Arboit Limited is currently busy extending the same vision to a series of new company buildings elsewhere in China.
Project Team: Grace Chu; Ho Yan: Arboit Limited.