When it opens this summer, the 632-meter-high Shanghai Tower will be the second tallest building in the world and the tallest in China. It shares a site on Pudong with two other iconic towers, Jin Mao and the Shanghai World Finance Center, where four different ground levels contribute to a public open space. John Wong, managing principal in SWA’s Sausalito office, discusses the process for his landscape design.

The challenges here were considerable: the green coverage—33 percent was required by code—is extensive, especially with the necessity of planting 100 percent over structure with a soil depth of 1.5 meters. We also accommodated: access for pedestrians, vehicles (private autos and taxis), bus, service, emergency vehicles and a staging area; exit requirements from the level below ground; the building’s variety of uses and multiple entrances—office, hotel, conferencing, retail and visitor access to the observation deck; screening off the large cooling tower; exhaust/intake vents and utilities vaults; and additional requirements to satisfy the mixed-use program.

Our overall design approach was to create a “Tower in the Park,” suggesting the integration of nature and urbanity in a contemporary setting. Terraced ground planes are planted with seasonal trees, shrubs and ground cover, with curved pedestrian pathways referring to the twisted form of the tower structure as it spirals from bottom to top. The north- and east-facing sides of the site contain a paved plaza in front of the retail podium and relate to the neighboring skyscrapers and the area’s urban character. The hardscape paving features special cobble stones for the driveway and patterned cut stone for the pedestrian paths and plaza.

Unique to the Gensler-designed Shanghai Tower are six “sky lobbies” located every 22 floors, which are designed as places for the occupants to gather and relax. Each features planting that corresponds with the landscape in various regions of China. These interior park designs required working early on with the architects and structural engineers to plan for the availability of soil depth (1.5 meters) to accommodate large trees. The trees needed to be lifted by crane to their locations or boxed and transported up to each sky lobby. Plants were selected from an interior palette that is rather limited due to being enclosed by the glass skin insulating the tower core. The materials planted at these significant heights will be protected by the outer skin exposure to high winds at extreme elevations.

The most important consideration in the conceptual approach for supertall landscape design, however, is not just solving issues of environmental appropriateness and sustainability but also focusing on human sustainability, in terms of integrating the design into the community—designing an urban environment that promotes and advances human civilization, fosters innovation, and allows for social, cultural and economic processes to occur and evolve over time. The ultimate success of these iconic buildings and their groundscapes is dependent on how the projects serve their occupants, visitors and the local community. Done well, careful planning of their connectivity and integration into the urban fabric can create world-class structures that last for generations.

Upon the completion of Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2018, Wong will have designed the landscape architecture for the world’s three tallest buildings.


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