When the Guangzhou Circle was completed in 2013, the world’s press immediately started comparing it to a donut. Certainly, it does share some characteristics with the aforementioned fried dough confection, as it’s round and has a hole in the middle. But it’s a lot more bling than your average donut, and much, much bigger—at 453 feet tall (138 meters), it’s the tallest building of its shape in the world.
So spare a thought for the designer of the Guangzhou Circle, the Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale. In the process of creating his circular structure, Pasquale loaded up the building with all kinds of symbols relating to Chinese history and culture.
Rather than donuts, Pasquale was inspired by “the Chinese way of perceiving and understanding,” as he states on his company website. He describes the building as an “urban logo,” one that works like the ideograms used in Chinese writing rather than in the alphabet.
Pasquale also turned to ancient Chinese traditions and feng shui when designing the Guangzhou Circle. Its shape clearly resembles that of ancient bi discs, flat jade discs with a circular hole in the center. These circular artifacts represented heaven and were among the earliest religious symbols, and were later common in the Shang, Zhou, and Han dynasties. The building also looks similar to an ancient Chinese coin, perhaps representing wealth (the building is home to two extremely wealthy entities, the Hongda Xingye Group and the Guangdong Plastic Exchange).
The architect also used the building’s riverside location to further its symbolism. When reflected by the water, the Guangzhou Circle forms a figure-eight, a popular number in Chinese culture for its association with prosperity, and the symbolic representation of infinity.
The symbolism even goes beyond China and harks back to Pasquale’s own Italian heritage. The building’s two circular facades contain 33 square stories, which according to Pascale is a reference to the Italian Renaissance concept of quadratura del cerchio, or squaring the circle.