Late last year, Heatherwick Studio’s latest project opened in Shanghai. Called 1,000 Trees, the plot overtakes a section of the city’s western half; it contains shops, restaurants, promenades, cafes, and new public spaces. The area integrates an existing park and heritage structure to come together as a mixed-use development.
The development has been described as “Shanghai’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon” (a reference to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) thanks to the 1,000 pillars, each with a tree planted at the very top. Designed for the developer Tian An, the location is in the residential district of Putuo in northwest Shanghai, home to more than 1.2 million people.
As per the name, 1,000 Trees sets itself apart from many of the city’s other developments and high-rise buildings by the hundreds of plants that appear to (courtesy of Dezeen), “emerge from its staggered, pixellated surface.” The architectural design presents the columns as providing structural support for the buildings; yet the columns also provide decoration. Lisa Finlay, a partner at Heatherwick Studio told Dezeen, “We see the planters as natural extensions of the columns, almost like a shoot that has worked its way through three levels of car park, eight levels of retail, and then up and out to the roofscape to blossom.”
Specifically, the planters are full of a biodiverse mixture of shrubs, hanging plants, and a number of different tree types so that the appearance will alter with the changing seasons. Once the entire project is finished, it will have more than 1,000 trees and 20,000 individual plants including smaller shrubs, grasses, perennials, flowers, and climbers.
The building sits on a 30-foot grid which is rotated to provide wonderful views of the 26-mile long Suzhou Creek that runs though Shanghai’s downtown. The grid’s sections are presented as “pixels” which enables the eye to process the buildings’ scale more effectively. In addition, the geometric design also halts the repetitive nature of the surrounding “wall of towers.”
At the very top, a glass atrium brings daylight into the entirety of the building, including the lower levels that contain retail space. From the exterior, “the atria are expressed as cliffs in the mountain face; just visible, the painted bold red and yellow steel structure hints that artists have been at work inside as well.”
The second phase will open in early 2024; it will include a taller structure that features hanging gardens. Plans for this part encompass a link bridge, tunnel, and a ground floor drop-off that connects two distinct sections. The design of the two tree-filled, mountain-like peaks that use the columns as architecture rather than as structural, hidden pieces is stunning.
Interestingly, the site once housed a flour factory… a few of those old elements have been incorporated into the design. Among the interesting bygone features is an old bell tower that has been repurposed as a sightseeing elevator.
Courtesy of My Modern Met, Thomas Heatherwick said, “1,000 Trees is inspired by the idea of making cities into social spaces. It breaks down the monolithic scale of typical retail development into a multitude of human-scale spaces. I think it will be transformational for people who live and work in this dense residential neighborhood.”