HUAI’AN – China’s industry is one of the main motors that propels its meteoric growth. Contemporary production plants, however, are rarely associated with architecture, save for the relatively genteel business of European furniture-making. However, the first project by Álvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira in China, an administration building for the vast Shihlien Chemical Plant in Huai’an, breaks this mould and marries the raw, sublime structures of industry with the elegance of architecture.

Located 400-km north-west of Shanghai, the plant processes locally-mined salt into ammonium chloride and soda ash – a crucial ingredient in glassmaking. Utmost care has been taken to ensure that the factory complies with international environmental standards and the invitation of the world-renowned Portugese architect – who received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1992 – shows the investors’ commitment toward social commitment and responsibility.

The graceful, meandering, white concrete structure appears to glide on the surface of the 100,000-sq-m reservoir, which serves to supply the manufacturing plant with water. The fluid form of the administrative building creates a stark contrast with the traditionally overpowering forms of industry beyond. The lower level of the building houses offices, meeting rooms, an employee restaurant and an auditorium, while the upper level contains VIP and executive spaces that overlook the complex. In addition, two footbridges create shortcuts across the building.

Photos Fernando Guerra