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Alan Su discusses China Mobile’s striking vertical louvers

China Mobile’s International Information Port uses vertical louvers to create an instantly iconic R&D campus for the world’s largest mobile telecommunications corporation. Designer Alan Su recently spoke to Metal Architecture for a cover story about louver design. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

What drove the decision to use louvers as an identifying architectural feature for China Mobile?

Louvers help manage the penetration of daylight and views into and out of a building. They also have a very distinctive look that can elevate the building’s architectural aesthetic. For China Mobile, they serve both functional and aesthetic purposes, creating an iconic building that meets high sustainability standards.

Our functional objective in using metal louvers was to address the natural light penetration into the building floorplate without obscuring inhabitant’s view of the surrounding parklike atmosphere.

The louvers were carefully designed to respond to the unique climate conditions in Beijing. The vertical fins are located at east and west sides of the building, blocking direct light from the summer sun, which is particularly powerful after 3:00 p.m. The vertical orientation of the louvers works well with the low sun angle.

The design functions aesthetically by establishing a special architectural vocabulary in the façade design. Vertical fins are integrated as a façade element, creating an elegant contrast between glass sides (south and north) and vertical fin sides (east and west). The variation of color and spacing at the vertical metal fins adds to the façade’s sophisticated appearance.

Is there a trick to integrating louvers into the overall to the building design?

Louver design is integral to the overall massing and specifically building envelope. The design consideration and implementation should not be an afterthought.  The conversation needs to take place early in the design process with the design team and stakeholders.

The louver system for China Mobile succeeds because it was carefully designed to integrate seamlessly with the building envelope glazing system. It is an integral part of the building’s design.

How do you think about the balance between function and aesthetics when it comes to designing with louvers?

A well-designed element always seeks to find balance between function and aesthetics. It isn’t a debate about function being subservient to aesthetics or vice versa. But rather, if the sunshade is carefully designed and crafted with the rest of the building, it is going to contribute to shaping the building design and fulfill its intended function.

How do you determine the best position for louvers to maximize sunshading?

The best position to maximize sunshading is different for every building, and even varies among different parts of any given building. For China Mobile, we designed various shading elements and controlled the fins’ density on the façade to best suit the function of each floor.

Are there any hidden challenges to be aware of when designing with louvers?


Designers should keep in mind the building envelope maintenance strategy while designing the louvers. Consult with facility managers early on to discuss window cleaning procedure.

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Metal Architecture