There’s still a year to go before the scaffolding comes off Thomas Heatherwick’s latest project in Shanghai, but the city’s residents are already calling it their version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Chinese social media was abuzz in recent weeks after work-in-progress photos of the British designer and architect’s ‘1000 Trees’ project surfaced on the Internet. Piqued by the building’s unusual form–it resembles two tree-covered mountains–Chinese Internet users have started numerous threads on online forums and social messaging apps to share construction updates ahead of the building’s scheduled completion in 2018.
The photos and aerial drone footage show a sprawling concrete mass with boxy, angular facades interlaced with approximately 1000 ‘trees’, or structural pillars topped with open-air balconies. The 15-acre mixed use complex on Moganshan Road in Shanghai’s M50 creative district was “conceived not as a building but as a piece of topography”, according to Heatherwick Studio.
It stretches over two plots separated by a narrow strip of government land and encompasses four conserved historical buildings, including the Fufeng and Fuxin flour factories, both among the first modern machine-operated flour mills to operate in China. As such, Shanghai district planners sought a design that could create a harmonious co-existence of old and new buildings while integrating the natural elements of the nearby Suzhou Creek, a waterway key to Shanghai’s rapid development.
When completed, the building will house schools, residences, retail units, offices and a hotel within its nine floors and three-story basement. It will also comprise over 400 terraces, many set with plant beds and trees, to enhance the ‘3D forest’ effect and encourage outdoor meetings and recreation.
“We wondered if there was a way to make better working spaces by also making access to outdoors,” said Heatherwick in a previous interview. Heatherwick was commissioned for the project after its Chinese private developer saw his work on the UK Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.
Other iconic projects by Heatherwick Studio include the redesign of London’s Routemaster buses, the London 2012 Olympic torch, and an Escher-esque $150m spiral staircase for the upcoming Hudson Yards in New York. In Shanghai, he’s working on the Fosun Foundation Art Center on the Bund and recently completed the Bund Finance Centre in partnership with Foster+Partners.