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Transforming Shanghai’s skyline with 1000 Trees


Words by Georgie Sinclair

Photos by Thomas Heatherwick studio

In the heart of Shanghai’s creative district on the famous Moganshan Road, the architect and self-named London-based studio Thomas Heatherwick’s 1000 Trees is taking shape. Conceived as a piece of topography, 1000 Trees is designed not to resemble a stand-alone piece of architecture, but a pair of ‘tree-covered mountains’. It is both a breathtaking and cautionary view into the direction that architecture is headed.       

Once completed, 1000 Trees will be split across two plots of land and serve as a mixed-use development containing housing, retail units, a school and a hotel. Over 400 separate terraces designed to encourage more outdoor interaction will link the sites and 1000 living trees scattered over the entire structure will sprout from the structural supports. According to the studio, these supports “are the defining feature of the design, emerging from the building to support plants and trees.”

The 1000 Trees site acts as an extension of the park which borders one corner and integrates three historic buildings which border the other three. Speaking at the 2015 BODW conference in Hong Kong, Heatherwick said, “we got interested in the park, as it felt like it could be the glue that somehow connected those elements together.”

Nature inspired elements are not just becoming a common feature in Thomas Heatherwick’s practice. The studio stands alongside other high-profile architecture firms such as MVRDV (Rotterdam) and Vincent Callebaut Architects (Paris). The utopian dreamlike projects that fill their portfolios seem to defy our understanding of what is possible in architecture, and give us a glimpse of what future cities might look like should we opt to work with and not against nature.

Image by Noah Sheldon

However, whilst we have every reason to admire Thomas Heatherwick studio for its ambitious projects, it has received its fair share of scrutiny, and has its name attached to a handful of failed projects. These include the abandoned Pier 55, a floating garden in New York, and most famously, the Garden Bridge in London which was scrapped shortly after it was discovered that it would cost a staggering £200m of public money and wouldn’t even be freely accessible.

As construction for 1000 Trees steams ahead, we can at least be sure that this project has got off the drawing board and remained unscathed in public commentary. But it does not make the topic any less relevant. Whilst projects of this scale and ambition might illicit wonder and awe, we must not forget that the role of an architect is also an important public service. Questions we should always be asking when it comes to architecture are: how will this structure fit into the wider urban landscape, and does it suit the needs of its citizens? Will this kind of architecture be created for everyone, or will it just serve the lucky few?


We look forward to seeing the completed structure in 2018.


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