Plantastic

1,000 Trees cover Heatherwick Studio's development in Shanghai's arts district

Located along the Suzhou Creek in Shanghai's arts district, 1,000 Trees will feature room for retail, restaurants, art galleries, and offices. (Qingyan Zhu/Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

Now towering over Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek is Heatherwick Studio’s latest landscape-heavy development: a veritable mountain of trees populating a sprawling, mixed-use facility made for the city’s burgeoning M50 arts district. 

1,000 Trees—the project’s official name—has been under construction for the past five years and its first phase, spanning 3.2 million square feet, is slated to open in 2020. As a whole, the project is made up of two buildings split across two sites totaling 14.8 acres, each featuring a jagged facade with a “mountain peak” where the highest floors top out. So far, only the exterior of the first mountain has been unveiled to the public, revealing an undulating frontage punctuated by an array of plants atop structural concrete columns. 

In initial photos, the project looks like a shrine to landscape architecture, or more specifically, the diversity of plants capable of outfitting buildings. Sourced locally from Chongming Island just northeast of Shanghai, 25,000 individual plants representing 46 species make up the vision of 1,000 Trees. Over half are evergreen to ensure a yearlong verdant look for the massive structure. Heatherwick Studio used grey-green granite to create a striped or striated facade that further accentuates the plants throughout. 

Close-up detail of green planters against grey-green granite undulating facade

Set atop tall concrete planters, plants overwhelm the building’s north facade. (Qingyan Zhu/Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

Shangai’s M50 arts district is located in an old manufacturing neighborhood where textile production used to take place. Now, the industrial area is a boon for contemporary art and 1,000 Trees is being built to amplify that theme. At 10 stories, the first section of the development, when open next year will boast eight levels of retail, restaurants, and commercial office space, as well as room for events programming and art galleries. 

Its southern, street-facing facade, is practically flat compared to the rippled, creek-front portion, but it does include a series of boxy windows of varying sizes that are set back from the building’s frame. Natural light from the floor-to-ceiling glass will be allowed to percolate inside the building, while multiple tall atriums throughout the elongated structure will bring a nice glow all the way down to the ground-floor from above. Heatherwick Studio partnered with local graffiti artists to cover some of the southern windows with large-scale murals.

Far-away shot of black-frame building with painted murals on some windows

While one side of the structure is largely green and grey, the other facade features pops of color thanks to graffiti. (Qingyan Zhu/Courtesy Heatherwick Studio)

1,000 Trees was commissioned following the completion of Heatherwick’s U.K. Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo nearly a decade ago. As China continues to push towards building extra-large developments, architects are also considering the role landscape plays in the country’s increasingly dense environment. For example, a new green-roofed hospital with a terraced design by Foster + Partners and the Cleveland Clinic is set to rise in Shanghai as well, bringing wellness to the forefront of contemporary architecture. 

Compared to Heatherwick’s smaller, albeit still plant-focused projects, such as the nearly-complete, 2.75-acre Pier 55 or “Little Island” in New York (which utilizes a similar sculpted concrete pillar approach), 1,000 Trees will completely change the look and appeal of Shanghai’s M50 arts district. Phase two of the mega-project will connect to the existing structure through an enclosed link bridge, a tunnel, and a ground-floor drop-off area. It will feature even more public space and a 129,000-square-foot park. 

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