How has Covid-19 affected one of the world’s largest architecture firm?

Interview with Keith Griffiths, Chairman and Global Design Principal of Aedas 

Project Specs


2020年伊始,新冠状病毒席卷全球,对各行各业均造成了一定影响。Aedas作为全球最大的建筑设计事务所之一,凭借其多年来深根亚洲的设计经验、先进的设计理念,以及强大的全球设计网络,在疫情肆虐之下依然维持高效运营,以高水平设计助力城市发展。Aedas主席及全球设计董事Keith Griffiths(纪达夫)应邀与谷德设计网分享这成功背后的故事。更多关于Aedas, 请至:Aedas on gooood

The indiscriminate impact of the novel coronavirus swept the world at the start of 2020. Deeply rooted in the architectural landscape of Asia, Aedas is one of the world’s largest firms with a strong global design network. The firm has weathered through this pandemic and continues to produce high-level designs for city development. Aedas Chairman and Global Design Principal Keith Griffiths shares his design philosophy and insights on the architectural industry during these challenging times. More about Aedas, please see: Aedas on gooood


▼Keith Griffiths(纪达夫)
Chairman and Global Design Principal of Aedas



Aedas and the architecture industry during the pandemic


“Our global design network made it possible to transform elements between different offices efficiently during the pandemic.”



Aedas’ operation strategy during Covid-19


The coronavirus is handled differently by each country and we have to adapt to the ways that each country requires of its population, from mass quarantine to social distancing. We are currently working from home in China, Singapore and London. Fortunately in Hong Kong we’ve been working from the office. Meanwhile, although people in Seattle were not asked to wear masks, our staff in Seattle are wearing N95 masks to protect themselves and their families, because we have specialised in science biomedical laboratories and working with infectious disease experts.

▼疫情期间Aedas香港办公室戴口罩上班,Aedas Hong Kong office, people working with a mask during the pandemic


We found that working from home is efficient because of less travel time. Everybody, including clients, has adapted very well to virtual meetings. Technology has allowed us to save time from travelling and improves efficiency through precision in timing. We have also been greatly utilizing our global design network. For instance, we have a project in Chengdu being designed in the Beijing office. Our global design network made it possible to transform elements of that work from Beijing to the Chengdu office. This local and global approach and network we created in the last century has benefited us enormously during the pandemic, as it helps to better localize works to the appropriate office. While we cannot move around the world as we used to, we have maintained close collaboration between offices.

▼疫情期间Aedas香港办公室使用网络会议工作,online meeting is applied in Aedas Hong Kong office during the pandemic


Covid-19’s impact on the architecture industry 


There are two main aspects this pandemic has on us. One is a more virtual and internet based work method, increasing the flexibility of meetings. There has also been a downturn in work globally, particularly in the western atmosphere. However, in Asia, we are not finding an unusually large decline in work, and we have been able to adapt to the situation quite well. We find that China has already gone back to work and our China clients continue to emphasize the continuation of their projects. We also haven’t seen the slow down in the Middle East. For our office in Seattle, because it is an expert on biomedical work, they work a lot harder because of the coronavirus.

▼Aedas正在施工中的部分项目,part of the under construction projects of Aedas
左上:深圳水贝国际,up left: Shenzhen Shuibei International ©CreatAR Images
右上:珠海横琴国际金融中心,up right: Zhuhai Hengqin International Financial Center ©CreatAR Images
左下:重庆高科太阳座,lower left: Chongqing Gaoke Ltd Office Project
右下:广州南沙建滔自贸区综合体,lower right: Guangzhou Nansha Kingboard Free Trade Zone Mixed-use Project



Aedas’ brand development and design philosophy


“Design is not ‘style’. It is culture.”



Aedas was really born in Asia and spread out into the western world, and then came back again. We kept this back and forth dialogue across the world and eventually, settled in America, Western Europe, Middle East, Southeast Asia and China. In Asia, we specialize in developing high-rise, high-density mixed commercial developments. Our London office is specialized in theatres and public entertainment, while Seattle office is specialized in biomedical facilities.

When Aedas was found, we started with the intention of building a local and global platform. We want to understand the culture of every city and country in which we design for, so most of our 1,200 staff are employed locally. We have embedded ourselves within China with offices throughout China. We employ local people from the Chinese Universities like Tsinghua, Tongji and South China University of Technology, who often have been educated overseas as well, which enables us to truly integrates global standards with local knowledge. I have been living in Asia for 35 years. I think I am local to Asia, and I have a far richer understanding in many ways of Asian culture than I do of my own culture.

▼Aedas在不同地区完成的项目,part of Aedas’ projects in different districts
左上:长沙华远·云玺,up left: Changsha Hua Center Phase II Project ©CreatAR Images
右上:苏州丰隆城市中心,up right: Hong Leong City Center in Suzhou
左下:美国西雅图儿童研究院, lower left: Seattle Building Cure
右下:英国伦敦维多利亚皇宫剧院,lower right: London Victoria Palace Theater



I believe that good design is about each location, not about exporting the design across the world to any location or about creating a high-name-brand style. Because, too often, style in architecture overrides the basic requirements of efficiency, cultural appropriateness, human mechanism and adaptability for the future. In Aedas, designers work closely with each other in a fluent way to create a unique response that suites the site, the culture and the climate. Our architects use their own personal touch to solve design problems, it doesn’t degenerate into a single style.

What we seek to do is to understand the city and people first in a very humble way and design for them. When we understand the city and the people well, the design comes out of that understanding without the necessity to know for any style. When I design something in Shenzhen, it is for the subtropical climate so that it has an indoor-outdoor environment and requires a lot of glass with operable windows. When I design for Shanghai, I am designing for temperature fluctuations from cold winters to hot summers. People like a relatively traditional apartment with smaller windows and balconies to create a different way of life. When I design in Chengdu, it is a garden-focused city, and people love an indoor-outdoor environment. The balconies have to be large, and the windows have to be open. Shanghai and Chengdu are located on the same altitude, but you could not conceive of two completely different architectural responses in those cities. It is not ‘style’. It is culture.

Shanghai Landmark Center (left, click HERE to view more) and Chengdu Hengda Plaza (right), the two projects are located in different cities, showing different culture traits



Aedas Experience in the Asian market


“Chinese cities have developed a unique high density, mixed commercial model and it is Aedas’ work to make these beehives of high-density live-work dynamic.”


When we first started in Hong Kong and the blooming Southeast Asia countries in the ‘80s-‘90s, we have two streams to our work. One is a high-rise, high-density mixed commercial, and the other is transit systems, which later come together as the early versions of TODs. During the ‘90s when we moved into China, we took the urban design and TOD model that was created in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong into China. These models were welcomed and rapidly implemented in Beijing first, then spreading into Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen. In 2017, we found China changed those models radically, and new urban types were being developed. China’s TOD development was significantly different from the Southeast Asia model.

▼高铁香港西九龙站(点击这里查看更多),Hong Kong West Kowloon Station (click HERE to view more) ©Edmund Sumner


China has already coordinated its infrastructure, to create new city clusters. There is a clear hierarchy in China of air travel between major cities, high-speed rail travel between cities, intercity rail travel between towns, and subway within the city. Clusters are generated around these intersections of ground-based transportation, including roads, subways, intercity rails and sometimes high-speed railway systems, creating high-intensity demand for land. The land surrounding it has an enormously high value, leading to the demand of building at an extremely high density, mixed commercial developments where the residential, office, retail and cultural spaces come together around these nodes of infrastructure. This model isunique to China and cannot happen in western cities because they were already built following an old urban development pattern.

▼高层建筑和高密度城市设计理念的分析图,high-rise and high-density urban design concepts sketches



We also have urban hubs within the city. In a city like Shanghai, we have multiple urban hubs, all around the old traditional CBD areas. These new urban hubs were developed to create new ways for people to live and work in. In China, we have new city hubs in and outside megapolises. They also developed a very different pattern of TOD with different intersections between the platforms of multiple railway lines, including the inter-city lines, high-speed and roads. The network of connectivity of millions of people a day utilizing these systems, is coming up from the underground and into the city above through the first layers. We’ve made these beehives of high-density live-work dynamic.

▼深圳西丽综合交通枢纽地区城市设计,Shenzhen Xili transportation and city hub design


The city hubs generate a fascinating new urban live-work-culture dynamic. And different cities are linked by high-speed and city trains to form city clusters, where the opportunity is vast. And I think very few architects have bridged that division between infrastructure design, by understanding how to move people safely, quickly and in a humane way, and how people want to live and work as well as understanding the de facto long-existed fights between for space infrastructure and pedestrian. Aedas has a complete understanding of how this works because we have been designing airports, railways for so many years, along with mixed-commercial projects since the ‘90s. That is where we came from and how we built this company. We grew with the development of China to create this fascinating new way of life.

▼港珠澳大桥香港旅检大楼(与Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners共同设计,点击这里查看更多),Passenger Clearance Building (PCB) of the Hong Kong Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port. (click HERE to view more)

▼香港国际机场中场客运廊,Hong Kong International Airport Midfield Concourse



The Future of Urban Development


“In the future, over 50% of the construction in the world will be in China, meaning that the future of the development of city design will be in China.”


3D Connectivity




We have had high-rise buildings since the early 1920s in America. At that time, a high-rise tower was a singularity. China has developed beyond that. High-rise towers now must be coexisting with another high-rise tower, even several high-rise towers, connecting at different levels, and talking to each other. So we start to interweave high-rise towers and connectivity. With the multiplicity of towers in close proximity, we are looking for horizontal connectivity as well as a vertical transportation system, creating three-dimensional connectivity.

Whether the three-dimensional connectivity is at the lower levels or moved up to upper levels is according to how dense the city cluster is going to grow and how much connectivity is needed. For instance, in west Shenzhen, the internet industry companies need a huge amount of connectivity within their organization. There’s no accident that the headquarters of these companies have towers which are connected at the upper levels. The local government attaches great importance to the openness of buildings. They also want us to use this model on residential buildings to promote biophilic living and connectivity between residence to foster a strong culture in their city.

I believe that other cities in China will follow in the footsteps of Shenzhen and adapt according to their climate, as the pressure is going on for all-new, high-tech industries – to have this high degree of connectivity, but with a huge density of workers and population.

▼珠海横琴铁建广场,在低层和高层均设有水平向的联通,Zhuhai Hengqin CRCC Plaza Plaza with horizontal connectivity on both lower and upper levels


Live-work dynamic


When we look at a cutting-edge industry like the IT industry, such as companies in Shenzhen, it changes to become a variety of types of space for different ways of working, for example, from outdoor terrace space to indoor breakout space, stand-up desk space and meeting space, sit-down meeting space, close office space, conference room, two-person room, etc. Hot-desking comes into that increasingly when we do space planning for large organizations like banks. We do not have fixed desks any more. Instead, we have ratios of about 60-70% desks for the number of staffs that we have in the organization. These people flex according to work from home, holidays, and travel arrangements. Thus the office space gets more efficient. We provide better, not less, office space to bring the office closer to life with more extra breakout and recreation space in the same area.

▼深圳传音大厦,设有更加开放、动态的工作空间,Transsion Towe, the working space is more open and dynamic


As live and work gets closer and closer, those types of spaces are going to show more similarities. Many years ago, before office buildings, homes had study rooms, a quiet space to work. We will see a demand with residential buildings actively incorporate workspace. The dynamic becomes much more fluent that our work spaces become spaces we can recreate from, and our home spaces become spaces we can work from. The quarantine has also made us realized that there is a very realistic work from home solution. When we are looking for a more flexible working arrangement, where companies can flex in size or small companies don’t need to provide all the infrastructures because they could share. I think work-from-home as a new model has overtaken co-working, which is a very difficult financial model to make work due to market fluctuations. This brings back to the discussion I was saying that home will become places to work and work will become places to home.

▼台北砳建筑,项目中设有城市客厅作为开放空间(点击这里查看更多),Taipei Lè Architecture with open space as city living room (click HERE to view more)


Space-time Continuum and live-work-culture Continuum


When we design infrastructure, we are not concerned with the efficiency of space. We are concerned about the movement of people from point A to B. To do this sometimes you have to use a lot of space. For example, a lot of people may gather at railway stations and airports to travel at 9 a.m. So we need to measure the timing and quantity of people in our design and we need significant bandwidth of space to achieve the efficiency. It is all about space-time continuity, and moving in four-dimensions.

深圳宝安国际机场卫星厅点击这里查看更多),Shenzhen Airport Satellite Concourse (click HERE to view more)

▼杭州萧山机场,Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport


When we are dealing with buildings, we are dealing with space and how we use space. In the old days, we consider the efficiency of space, but nowadays, efficiency of movement is increasingly valued by tenants of commercial spaces. The retails sits squarely between these two parameters: the space-time continuum of infrastructure and the culture-live-work continuum of office and residential building. The glue that stitches those together vertically and horizontally can be retail, entertainment, social and cultural activities. That’s why I don’t see retail being retail anymore. They will be involved in the urban network, becoming an air-conditioned space that could put everything together. Once people are efficiently moved from infrastructure, they move through this glue that fixes the city together, including parks, bridges, retails, restaurants, food and beverage, entertainment, all the way up to the higher levels of the live-work continuum of the towers. As the density rises, It is going to be a much more complex model than previous, and we start to learn how to carry out this type of design.

在深圳中洲湾C FutureCity项目中,裙楼连接不同城市功能空间,podiums in Shenzhen C FutureCity connecting different parts of the city


The ‘new norms’ of Retail Space



Before the pandemic, the Internet was already changing retail enormously. Online purchasing together with machine hand logistic facilities have enabled people to buy online and receive fast delivery. Nevertheless, people still want to touch, feel, see and experience the products, so we have noticed that the shopping mall is becoming more experiential. The online and offline retail are symbiotic and can work together.

Shopping malls were only created in the 1950s. Their life span is very short compared to human beings’ needs to socialize. If we look back to the history of humans, we can find that society created meeting places very quickly. The Greek had the agora 5000 years ago where people could meet to buy products, but also meet to find about news, to talk and to have performances. It was to satisfy the human needs as a cultural and social animal. The shopping malls will also be adapting to become large, comfortable spaces to meet that social needs, switching to becoming market spaces, meeting places, or the agoras of the past.

▼大连恒隆广场(点击这里查看更多),Olympia 66 (click HERE to view more)


When quarantine came around with social distancing, we had to keep apart, which does affect the online-offline model. I believe any massive change like this is good. Having a period of reconsideration and having to sit at home and think means to improve by going through pain. We have to go through difficulties and find a better way. This means that the shopping malls will have to become more humane. It has been a relatively inhumane experience only about efficiency. It was about getting people to move and pass meters of glass shopfronts and getting the maximum rental tenants and the landlord making as much money possible. Markets needed to sell as fast as the food out of the markets, not worrying too much about the condition and the cleanness. While quarantine brought about a sense of social responsibility, they need to provide a socially responsible platform and the markets must be clean.  The shopping mall will become more personal, social, cultured and humane, which adheres with the trend of high-density urban development.

▼西安南飞鸿广场(二期),更具体验性的商业空间,Xi’an Nanfeihong Plaza Phase II, having more experiential commercial space



Architecture and urban planning


“When we are dealing with a Chinese city, our concern in urban design is about the three-dimensional matrix of public space and how the towers fit in the public space.”


Challenges in urban planning



The urban planning work that we are doing in China is high-density, high-rise urban planning because it is the direction that China has taken in its urban renewal and urban development, and China is setting the standard for the whole world. In western cities, we are only concerned with one layer of public space. When we are dealing with a Chinese city, our concern in urban design is about the three-dimensional matrix of public space and how the towers fit in the public space.

A great example is what we are doing in Hengqin Science City, a research development primarily around medical facilities. We have clusters of low-rise buildings with 5 to 8 stories to carry out the research. A lot of public space is provided where people could interact outside the laboratories and teaching areas. We designed medium-rise office towers which still carry out research but also looking at how to market the products. The live-work communities of the loft and the SOHO attach around and serve the hub with activities and dynamism. All the hubs are integrated by the levels of connectivity that get people moving and flowing across the entire city. It is a significant development of 1,000,000 square meters for many people living and working together.

▼珠海横琴科学城,Zhuhai Hengqin Science City


Urban renewal and historical preservation


The urban regeneration is the most satisfying design for any designer to carry out. Because you are dealing directly with the communities. When we design urban buildings or urban infrastructure, we are theorizing about who will use those spaces and how we could do our best to create exciting and fascinating spaces that people want to populate and will enjoy the live-work dynamic. With urban regeneration in China, the population of the place we are redeveloping is going to stay there. We can gather feedback immediately on our designs because we are able to talk and interact with the people. We negotiated with them by selling them our vision and understanding their hopes, visions and desires for a better future. There is no better way to design.

▼深圳中洲湾C FutureCity,Shenzhen of C FutureCity

在深圳的中洲湾C FutureCity项目中,我们与80年代就已经在那里生活的居民进行了深入合作。C FutureCity的场地前身是当地的原始村落之一,人们在这里共同生活了35年,已经形成了一个强大的社区。场地原本的建筑是一栋栋15层高的“握手楼”。村民们不想失去他们的社区,同时又希望拥有更好的生活方式。因此,我们需要在不破坏社区的基础上改善改善人们的生活环境。我们为此提出了一个大胆的模型,从地下二层到地上三层建造了五个层级联合所有建筑空间,其中三楼的平台只向当地居民开放,其余均是半开放的公共空间。水平方向上人们可以自由进出,垂直方向上则形成了私密和半公共场所,实现了公共空间与私人空间的平衡。在理想的城市或村庄里,街道是促使人们相遇和交流的美好空间,而在C FutureCity项目中,我们构建了五层这样的“街道”,让居民在高密度的城市环境里,也可以享受高质量的社交生活。

At C FutureCity in Shenzhen, we were working with one of the original Shenzhen villagers who have lived there since the ‘80s. One of the original village community was going to be regenerated. It was a very strong community with people having lived there for over 35 years and they didn’t want to lose their community. Houses built in those years were 15-story buildings riding on each other very tightly in disrepair, therefore, we created something better without destroying the community and make it even better. We developed this fascinating model where we created five layers of glue which occupied from basement 2 and 1 to level 1, 2 and 3. The upper deck on level 3 was for the local people who live there, and the rest decks were semi-public. We played this balance between public and private, where people can enter horizontally and are also vertically separated from private to a semi-public ground. We populated these spaces like valleys that the towers come down to the terraces with people moving around. This is how the residence wanted to carry on working. You can still have improved social interaction even though you are living in a high-density city.

▼深圳中洲湾C FutureCity,裙楼设有多层平台,Shenzhen C FutureCity with multiple layers in the podiums


We also populated those valleys with nine unique pavilions, each one has told a story about the old village. Nine of our designers from all over the world came together in one place where they could better understand the culture and worked intensively to create the nine pavilions.

▼深圳中洲湾C FutureCity中不同的特色展馆式零售空间,unique pavilions in Shenzhen C FutureCity


Historical restoration


In London, we had been involved in very large-scale industrial reuse and urban regeneration projects six or seven years ago. It was a large area of railway storage buildings, railway worker housing and industry buildings adjacent to the old railway yard of Kings Cross Station. Rather than tearing them all down, we restored and reused most of the buildings because they were fascinating industrial buildings. In the poor areas where we couldn’t restore, we injected small modern buildings into that grid of eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings. The advantage is that when people came to live and work there, they immediately had a strong sense of history, culture and continuation in the region’s quarter. This project comprised about 20% of the entire Kings Cross redevelopment area. This was the first regeneration scheme that could promulgate and affect the rest of the 80% of the area with this very strong cultural feeling, and it went on to attract other people and entities which was unexpected.

▼伦敦国王十字站区域城市更新总平面图,Aedas参与了圣潘可拉斯站和摄政王区的城市更新,master plan of King Cross district renovation project, Aedas took part in the renewal of St. Pancras Renaissance Station and Regents Quarter

▼伦敦摄政王区 翻新与城市重建,adaptive re-use and urban insertion of London Regents Quarter

▼伦敦圣潘克拉斯万丽酒店历史建筑修复,historical restoration of St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London



“The success of our projects shows that culture is such a powerful instigator for good and designer should always be aware of this.”


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