The 1000 Trees, a modern marvel to match Babylon’s ancient Hanging Gardens, was designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick‘s studio. It is a mixed-use development on the outskirts of Shanghai, along the banks of Suzhou Creek. The project is built in the shape of two mountains, with living pillars on top. The name “1000 Trees” refers to the trees that will be housed in each of the pillars. The project is split into two phases: the west mountain, which stands about 60 meters tall, is the first phase. The east mountain, which stands 100 meters tall, is the second phase. The first stage of this development is now open to the public. After eight years of planning and construction, it was launched with a lighting ceremony on December 22, 2021, in Shanghai’s Putuo district.
Site and its surrounding
The project occupies a 15-acre site between a public park and Shanghai’s cultural district and spans 300,000 square meters. This brownfield site, with a few old historical buildings, located adjacent to this incredible arts district, the M50, and a public park, is located in a residential area 20 minutes from the city center. It also had the benefit of a park that ran the length of Suzhou Creek. The development is divided into two land plots connected by a narrow government plot and includes several historic structures.
Shanghai’s M50 arts district is located in the former textile manufacturing region. This industrial area is now a boon for contemporary art, and 1000 Trees will expand on that theme. The site was surrounded by concrete towers on one side and, on the other side by the art district and a public park. It is next to Suzhou Creek, an urban renewal area with industrial warehouses transformed into art galleries and workshops. The team created a 400-meter-long structure while maintaining a human scale and connection to the environment. The design is laid out as an extension of these two elements, incorporating art and vegetation. The total buildable area is divided along a three-dimensional grid that rises gradually from the river and is abruptly cut to create a facade facing the art district.
Concept of 1000 Trees
Heatherwick was approached by Tian An, a Chinese developer, to design a large mixed-use development. This project was conceived in 2013 and has been in the works for more than eight years. The concept evolved as a natural response to the location. They needed something to interconnect the entire site. The designers say, “our goal was to create a haven within the city where we could lift the landscape into the air in a gentle, serene cascade from the river. Many of the previously abandoned factory buildings have been restored and are now part of the mountain landscape. The scheme had to not only relate to the park and arts district, but it also had to be appealing on a human scale while meeting the client’s requirement for a large and dense development.”
The two hills of 1000 Trees, inspired by China’s majestic Huangshan Mountains, blend in with Suzhou Creek’s existing landscape. The designers envisioned the structure as a fragmented collage of smaller blocks that would blend into the urban fabric, and they chose to contrast with the existing urban setting. The project’s perception was also aided by height constraints. They were allowed to build up to 60 meters west and 100 meters east. They created a grid that runs the length of the site. Then, at each grid point, they placed a portion of the park. That’s how they came up with the idea of 1000 Trees to make these raised pops. This urban green oasis incorporates retail, hospitality, and commercial space to create a unique ecological and human experience.
The first mountain is primarily allotted to retail and restaurants, but it also houses museums, galleries, and recreational amenities. The second mountain will include a 200-room hotel and 50,000 square meters of office space. The second phase will also include additional landscaping, along with a 900-meter stretch of riverside public space and a 12,000-square-meter landscape park with a jogging path and sculpture garden. An enclosed bridge and a ground-floor drop-off will connect the two mountains. This project will consist of four buildings and a bell tower (sightseeing elevator). The property is divided into two plots of land that are linked by a narrow public space. At this point, street-level circulation begins. Historic structures, such as an old factory and an administration building, had to be preserved as part of the new design and are now used as landmarks or access points.
Dense engineered terrain is comprised of thousands of individually potted trees arranged at varying heights to create the illusion of a “picturesque mountainscape”. This will forever alter the urban landscape of Shanghai. The studio, on the other hand, stated that using the tops of the columns as large planters for thousands of trees and shrubs could become a prominent feature of the building and articulate its mass more finely. The view from the water and the skyline will be spectacular because the balconies face the river. Shanghai residents will undoubtedly appreciate all of this greenery.
Upon completion, the structure will house 10 levels of mixed-use facilities, with several large atriums allowing natural light to penetrate deep into its core. It is surrounded by multiple outdoor terraces that provide not only a visual treat but also some breathing space to the densely populated area in which it is located. The project converts the building’s structural columns into beautiful planters that each house a handful of trees. A hidden irrigation system within the columns keeps the soil moist.
1000 Trees was designed as a piece of topography that emerges from the ground, resembling a tree-covered mountain. The columns that hold the tree plantations are the most prominent feature of the project, after which it is named. Each planter of varying sizes has a handmade-like finish that has been designed to achieve a rich and interesting texture. The columns are not only an important part of the structural system, but they also appear at the top of the building as large planters, each holding a handful of trees, giving the space an architectural identity.
This project includes 25,000 individual plants and 46 plant species, such as shrubs, perennials, and climbers. Over half of the trees are evergreen, giving the massive structure a year-round green appearance. The studio designed a striped facade out of grey-green granite to highlight the plants throughout. Each planter contains a unique blend of plants from Shanghai’s Chongming Island, a fertile swath of land within the Yangtze River delta, with more than half of them being evergreen to ensure a lush green all year. Meanwhile, the plant on the building not only looks appealing, but it also serves as an air filter against Shanghai’s smog problem.
The southern facade of the 1000 Trees project is also notable, as it includes an art wall lined with billboards and street art. It was created in collaboration with local and international graffiti artists to pay tribute to the international graffiti artists who used to paint there. Large glass surfaces and several high atria linked to outside terraces provide natural light to the building’s interior. A massive art wall that used to be on Moganshan Road has been embedded in the south facade. People came from all over the world to paint there, and it was a significant location for the city.
A Modern Marvel
Instead of concealing the columns that enable this geometry, they are highlighted and expressed as “trees” supporting planters on the building’s facades. The planters are structurally efficient because they transmit loads directly to the foundations while also serving as an aesthetic element. The building is made up of 400 terraces and 1000 columns, resembling a large, free urban botanical garden that is estimated to absorb 21 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The concrete columns, labeled as “life pillars” by the team, have feature-rich materiality and a handmade finish reminiscent of sedimentary rock, while the grey and green-granite facade rises like a mountain from the ground, where facade and foliage blend together.
The first stage of 1000 Trees manages to combine nature and urban amenities. It will be an expansive, organic, and harmonious environment. Once the project is fully completed, it will be a comprehensive center combining residences, a school, offices, retail, restaurants, and a boutique hotel. The central idea that influenced Studio Heatherwick’s design is undeniably progressive. There is a very real need for an oasis as more people live together in increasingly small spaces. The project “1000 Trees” intends to provide such an oasis in Shanghai, and it wants to bring living greenery to cities. Whatever the outcome, it is safe to conclude that this architectural design will add a unique and unconventional touch to the Shanghai skyline.
Heatherwick Studio | Design & Architecture. (2011). Heatherwick Studio | Design & Architecture | 1000 Trees. [online] Available at: http://www.heatherwick.com/project/moganshan/
Arch Daily. (2019). Heatherwick Reveals Latest Images of Nearly Completed 1,000 Trees Development. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/928813/heatherwick-reveals-latest-images-of-nearly-completed-1000-trees-development
Dezeen. (2021). Heatherwick Studio’s 1,000 Trees opens in Shanghai. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/12/28/heatherwick-studios-1000-trees-opens-shanghai/