Shenzhen World in China is set to become the largest event venue in the world once completed. CMW editor Paul Colston visited the venue and spoke to the masterminds who are helping make it a reality.
In November, China opened Phase 1 of what will become the largest exhibition and events venue in the world.
The new Shenzhen World complex is located just across the border from Hong Kong in southern China and is a truly breathtaking achievement of planning and engineering.
With Shenzhen transforming itself in recent decades from a small fishing town of 30,000 people, to a 19m population super-city that boasts a GDP third only in China to Beijing and Shanghai, the Shenzhen World Exhibition and Convention Center is set to be the main convening platform for China’s Pearl River Delta industries and knowledge pool to engage with the wider world.
CMW’s editor visited the venue ahead of its soft opening in November, while the first official major event, a national furniture fair in March 2020, will take over a significant part of the Phase 1 capacity of 400,000sqm space across 16 standard indoor halls, a mega hall of 48,000sqm, one conference centre and one more event centre hall with a capacity for 13,500 attendees.
The opening of Shenzhen World will allow many traditional and growing events to transfer from the city’s old conference and exhibition centre and its maximum capacity of 110,000sqm.
With a fishbone-style roof running the length of the new 1.75km construction, the Shenzhen World project is striking to say the least. The two lobbies alone each have 6,000sqm.
German consultants JWC have ensured a high specification all through for planners and organisers, and there are to be four hotels on site when the Phase 2 completion is completed.
“We often compare Shenzhen to the US because it is home to many immigrants from across China and has a very young population with an average age of 32,” Shenzhen World General Director Mr Ma Jun tells CMW. This, he notes, is a big contributor to the vibrancy of the city and its high-tech orientation. Wages in Shenzhen are higher than elsewhere in the country, so the venue and city are beacons for young upwardly mobile elites and start-ups. International venue specialists SMG are contracted to support operations at a venue which will have two metro stations.
Shenzhen’s growth rate of 7.6% is higher than Beijing and Shanghai and Jochen Witt, CEO of JWC Consultants, notes that over 50% of all exhibition space sold in China is now in the Pearl River Delta.
Shenzhen World Deputy General Director Mao Daben (pictured above left) tells CMW that 2.2m sqm of event space has been booked for 2020 and he forecasts 2.5m – 3m sqm for 2021. He expects the centre to break even within five years, once the surrounding infrastructure is completed.
A brave new world
Consultancy JWC, in the shape of CEO Jochen Witt and partner Gerd Weber, share their insights on how they helped realise the optimum event configuration at Shenzhen World.
Together with colleague Gerd Weber, Jochen Witt spent three years advising on the configuration of the new venue jewel in the Pearl River Delta crown. The German team brought their Chinese partners advice based on global best practice, while helping design an authentic Chinese product fit for international markets.
JWC’s links with the Shenzhen team date back to workshops connected to a UFI Asia Chapter event in Hong Kong in 2015. JWC subsequently hosted a Shenzhen delegation in Cologne and other cities in Europe.
“In Cologne we showed them our philosophy of venue planning, as well as the upgrade of the venue we had both been responsible for. At Kolnmesse, we replaced 80,000sqm of space with new space fully integrated into the venue. The Vice-Mayor of Shenzhen was really positive and asked us to come to the city.”
It became clear that the Shenzhen government realised their existing centre was not up to date and capacity couldn’t serve the growth of tradeshows and conventions anymore.
“The Chinese side,” says Witt, “predicted demand of 400,000sqm to 500,000sqm. The only question was, how big should the first phase should be?”
A driver for the maximum area was the Furniture Show which comes to Shenzhen World in March 2020, and is now set to double in size to near on 300,000sqm in one step.
Normally JWC doesn’t participate in tenders, says Witt. “But, in this case, we knew what the government wanted. It was a tremendous effort. Lots of documents were needed – three boxes full, all stamped. We knew we were up against big venue competitors, mainly from Europe, and all had offices in China.
“Our top argument was that we were fully neutral – not organisers or venue operators, and anybody working with us could expect the best advice experts can give,” says Witt.
The tender was decided in just two weeks and, by March 2016, the first working meeting began for the team, by which time Valode & Pistre architects from Paris were also on board.
The first recommendations delivered were on the layout and room programme, with challenges including storage and restaurant space.
One challenge Weber recalls was convincing the architects to study other venues to learn from both best, and worst, practice.
“It was important, however, that we weren’t building a German venue, but a Chinese venue in China,” he says.
“For example, lunch is at 12 noon sharp; that is important in China and is why you need catering capacity because everyone comes at the same time.”
“The government followed 95% of our advice,” he adds. “They understood that form follows function.”
The JWC team admits the project was far from all plain sailing, identifying the roof construction as particularly complex. “But there was never a risk that there would be any halt in construction. At the end of the day the companies are state owned,” says Witt.
Building on reclaimed land and soft foundations and getting the load factor right was another challenge, Witt notes.
Another main point of discussion was whether to go for a one or two level design. The JWC advice was not to complicate with two levels and go for a spacious one storey design.
Another debate was over how much daylight to let into the hall.
“A lot of glass can help promote the hall but it can be a mess,” says Witt. “We know a number of halls in venues with daylight, which are a mess for many events, since the windows have to be darkened for a lot of events – a costly exercise,” notes Witt.
With Shenzhen experiencing hot weather most of the year, air conditioning was also another test and all 19 halls have air conditioning.
There has been a big investment in rigging possibilities. Weber is a great believer in its power to facilitate sustainable stand construction like light textile hangings, and giving organisers more options, including extra sources of income.
Another part of the plan was advising on what kind of events are required and getting the mix right. “What you do in year one will influence what you do in year five,” Witt points out.
Certain industries are being targeted and tend to reflect the Pearl River Delta powerhouse’s strong suits.
“The machinery sector is very strong in China and is very interested in a quality venue,” says Witt. Shenzhen, he believes, can compete with Beijing and Shanghai, but needs to get the call right when deciding whether to take small events or wait for the big ones to come along.
And what does Witt have to say to international planners and organisers considering Shenzhen?
“Shenzhen will be the No.1 economic city in China, possibly even in Asia in medium to long term. The earlier you will be here the better it is for you.”
Weber adds: “It is a perfect location for a venue and has excellent infrastructure, including a good choice of airports. Shanghai, by comparison, is crowded and the infrastructure limited.”
Witt concludes: “When you look at European venues, there are so many investing hundreds of millions of euros without really changing the structure. It is amazing how money is being wasted without thinking what kind of structure will be needed in 10 years. We need to be thinking about moving old centres and the freed up land can then finance the moves.”