The cruise industry is synonymous with luxury leisure. It greatly boosts tourism and thus the global economy (Peručić, 2020). Nansha International Cruise Terminal is a project not only aimed at tourism, but also at creating a vibrant mix of uses across both retail and commercial alongside the operational aspects of the cruise terminal itself. The ambition was to create one of the largest cruise terminals in Asia, which would have a transformative place-making impression on this new district of the city.

Guangzhou Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex by Aedas - Sheet1
Nansha International Cruise Terminal_©

Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex is an immense cruise terminal project in Guangzhou, China. It sits at an estuary of the Pearl River Delta. The terminal sees an annual footfall of up to 7,50,000 passengers. It has a seamless connection with the metro subway, allowing an easy switch between different modes of transport, thus enabling mobility and access to its users. The port boasts of being one of the select few that can dock the world’s largest cruise ship, ‘Allure of the Seas, among others. This large, 23,000sqm project, was completed in 2019 and designed by the internationally renowned architecture group, Aedes.

About the Architects- Aedas

Aedas is a world-renowned architecture firm. It was founded in Hong Kong in 1985. Its current headquarters lie in Beijing, China. Aedas has numerous offices in different parts of the world: New Delhi, Macau, Hongkong, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Shanghai, Beijing, and Singapore in Asia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the Middle East, and Seattle in the USA. In addition to their design and architectural practice, Aedas has created a global collegiate platform that uses ideas, research, and knowledge to facilitate idea exchange. This helps share and find urbanization and architectural solutions that are innovative and sustainable. 

Aedas’ Design Philosophy

Aedas has high regard for the socio-cultural and environmental norms of the context they design for.  Aedas tackles every design with fresh, distinct ideas, rooted in the social and cultural fabric of the community they design for. This makes every project unique. These are then coupled with Aedas’ global team’s expertise to translate contextual inspirations into modern structures. This abstraction of culture into modern interpretation makes their projects rooted, yet contemporary. The Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex is an explicit example of Aedas’ design approach.  

Guangzhou Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex by Aedas - Sheet2
Aedas’ dragon-inspired building rooted in cultural tales_©


Keeping with their design philosophy, Aedas designed The Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex using contextual influences to create the modern structure.  


Aedas uses whaleboats from a Yuan Dynasty quote as inspiration for the terminal building’s form. It has 6 floors. The massing of the terminal building resembles whaleboats. Its head faces towards another channel and its undulating mass is staggered to appear like fins.  

 “the terminal building’s design concept borrows from Nansha’s maritime resources with its use of free forms and non-linear outlines, encapsulating the image of whales swimming freely in the open sea.” 

-(Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex / Aedas | ArchDaily, 2022)

Guangzhou Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex by Aedas - Sheet3
Concept Illustrations for Nansha International Cruise Terminal_© + translation by author
Guangzhou Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex by Aedas - Sheet4
Translation of Whale Forms into Terminal Podium_©

Silk Road

The site is located at the birthplace of the primeval “Maritime Silk Road”. Today, it is a key hub, strategically located at the geographic center of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area economic zone and the Belt and Road Initiative. 

Aedas uses this as inspiration to create an easy interconnection between modes of transport and maximize access to all users. It is designed to connect with the metro line. Interconnection between the arrivals and departure halls minimizes the walking distance and ensures smooth circulation to support large passenger volumes. 

Coastal Community

To engage the local community along the waterfront, locals can also access a scenic promenade from the first-floor commercial street. This effectively minimizes congestion and pedestrian flow. It forms a coastal community that fully capitalizes on Nansha’s nautical culture while honoring its long seafaring history. 

Guangzhou Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex by Aedas - Sheet5
Accessibility + Interconnection of Mobility in Terminal Floors_©


The terminal consists of four towers completed in 2022: 3 residential and 1 office building. Aedas has designed each tower with varying numbers of floors and unique elevations. The terminal below forms a horizontal architectural whale boat form that adopts minimalist simplicity to echo the podium design. 

Guangzhou Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex by Aedas - Sheet6
Planning and Accessibility of Terminal Building_©

Structural + Facade Particulars

Having an expressive and dynamic form and a very large scale, this project required special attention to the execution. Aedas consulted Façade and MEP consultants, Buro Happold, to make this design a reality. One of the distinctive characteristics of the project is the 3D curving surface of the outer layer facade, designed not only for aesthetic beauty – it references the port’s heritage with a shape that suggests a whaling boat – but also for solar shading. It features aluminum cladding and a specialist secondary steel structure (SST). 

Experiential Aspects 

The project uses cutting-edge technology, culturally derived forms, and public engagement. Alongside these, the Aedas also focuses on the quality of spaces it provides its users with. A full-height atrium creates a spacious atmosphere, providing a relaxed yet vibrant passenger experience. A rooftop garden sits at the top of the terminal building, which can be reached via a viewing elevator where visitors can enjoy panoramic ocean views as well. 

Experiential Aspects of Design_©

Owing to the Aedas’ vision, multifaceted design approach, and the location and vision for the project, the project forms an iconic structure, defining the city’s coastline and celebrating Nansha’s nautical culture while honoring its long seafaring history. It attracts numerous tourists yearly. 


Nansha International Cruise Terminal Complex / Aedas | ArchDaily (2022) ArchDaily. Available at: (Accessed: 21 October 2022).

Peručić, D. (2020) ‘Analysis of the World Cruise Industry’, DIEM : Dubrovnik International Economic Meeting, 5(1), pp. 89–100.


Raveena is passionate about design, architectural theory and the climate crisis alike. She aspires to understand and translate designed space- and its experiential qualities- into buildings that make a difference and respect the earth.