Heatherwick Studio’s ‘1000 Trees’ mixed-use development is nearing completion in Shanghai.

Split over two sites next to the city’s M50 arts district, the development will include space for retail, offices, eateries, event venues and galleries. It will include two mountain-like peaks, one of which is near completion and will open in 2020.

However, the main feature of the building’s design is its staggered, pixel-like appearance with hundreds of plants emerging giant planters atop structural concrete columns throughout the structure.

The concept behind the design

This project was conceived not just as a building, but as a piece of topography forming two tree-covered mountains.

According to the architects, existing planning permission for two conventional shopping mall blocks had been granted for the site, but a huge, boxy building would need to be broken into smaller pieces in order to fit in with the surroundings. Therefore, the integrated planting acts as a natural balancing element and the building’s edges are lowered to minimise the impact where it meets the art district and park, reducing the discernible threshold between them.

Photography: Qingyan Zhu