Young UK architects arrive in China with serene steelworks headquarters

Cloister, designed by Coffey Architects, is a series of buildings arranged in a 40,000m² masterplan to provide a new administrative headquarters for Qingdao Iron and Steel Group in Qingdao.

The largest project completed by the 10-year-old practice and its first in China. The development provides a rare oasis in a heavily industrialised environment, oriented around a series of internal courtyards and connected by a cloister that expresses the social and environmental ambitions of the organization.

The brief for the project was to provide one development that could accommodate the sales, logistics, research, office, sports and security buildings for the adjacent steelworks that accommodates 6,000 workers. The end product is a holistic piece of architecture that responds to the day-to-day needs of the business as well as the specific climatic concerns of the area. Qingdao is extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter, the alternate courtyards are orientated to the north and south, allowing people to enjoy the sun and shade when they need it. These spaces are available to the workers, year round.

The cloister that runs through the development gives the project its name and ensures that workers can access all buildings at ground level and remain sheltered from sun, rain and snow. On the third floor, the cloister, an allegorical steel ingot – a reflection of the production line of the steelworks – allows the CEO of the company to take dignitaries to all functions of the company without having to step outside. As you walk along this route, you can enjoy access to each building whilst enjoying views of the adjacent landscape contained within the development. The facades of the buildings form the courtyards, differing in composition to respond to scale and ambience the resultant spaces offer moments of respite and calm contemplation.

The material selection for Cloister is made up of brick and dark-coated glass, a requirement of the brief as in this area of high pollutants and dusty air exposed clear glazing and other less forgiving materials would look dirty within a very short period of time.

The cloister also has an environmental purpose as it delivers recovered heat produced by the steelworks into all of the connected buildings in the masterplan. Coffey Architects founder, Phil Coffey, says:

“Cloister responds to its harsh setting thanks to robust materials and a sensitive understanding of how a significant number of people move around the development under changing conditions and a request from the client to express their environmental credentials. Light, air and space are the driving concept of the masterplan, a figure and ground, solid and void relationship where the spaces between buildings are as important as the buildings themselves with the connecting element, the Cloister, expressing the social and environmental preoccupations of the practice.”