Nestled in the heart of Shanghai's art district M50, a new architectural phenomenon has risen, drawing its inspiration from the principles of biomimicry and the natural world. The 1000 Trees project, a brainchild of the acclaimed Heatherwick Studio, exemplifies the potential of harmonizing nature with urban design, crafting a unique, living structure that seamlessly blends into the city's landscape while serving as a functional commercial and entertainment complex.
A Forest-Capped Mountain in the City
The 1000 Trees project is a mixed-use development designed to resemble a pair of forest-capped mountains emerging from the waterfront in Shanghai. The development spans an area of 315,987 square meters and was completed in 2021. It is located in the residential district of Putuo, home to more than 1.2 million people, and is planned as a useful addition to this neighborhood, with a mix of everyday stores and other amenities.
The design of the project is a direct response to the dense urban environment of Shanghai. Instead of a typical tower, the designers looked at ways to pull the landscape across the site and create a new kind of urban topography where the landscape is raised up to form the buildings. This approach resulted in a structure that is supported by an exoskeleton of columns, each of which extends into a broad planter, bringing nature close to each level and every terrace.
A Thousand Trees and Two Hundred Thousand Plants
The project's name, 1000 Trees, is not just a metaphor. The top of each column is indeed a planter, hosting a biodiverse mixture of shrubs, hanging plants, and deciduous, evergreen, fruit, and flowering trees. When all phases are complete, there will be more than 1,000 trees and more than 200,000 individual plants, including smaller shrubs, grasses, perennials, flowers, and climbers. This approach to planting is wild and naturalistic to minimize the need for pruning and maintenance, and to encourage biodiversity and natural change.
Biomimicry at Its Best
The 1000 Trees project is a prime example of biomimicry in architecture, where the design and function of the built environment mimic the processes and structures found in nature. The project's design is inspired by the idea of making cities into social spaces, breaking down the typical retail development into a multitude of human-scale spaces. The building is based on a flexible nine-meter grid, which is rotated to allow panoramic river views from terraces. These cubic elements are imagined as ‘pixels’, which visually break down the buildings’ scale and disrupt the repetition of the surrounding wall of towers.
A New Kind of Urban Topography
The 1000 Trees project is more than just a building; it's a piece of topography, a living, breathing part of the city that brings together nature, commerce, and wellbeing. It has turned an ex-industrial site into a new destination exploring the powerful relationships between art, landscape, and architecture. The project is a transformative piece of topography that, when zoomed in, reveals a multitude of human-scale places, framing the lives of people that live and work there.