Between the Mountain and the Water

Between the Mountain and the Water

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Emerging from the riverside in Shanghai, Thomas Heatherwick Studio’s latest imaginative building complex is nearing completion. Planning permission had been granted for two conventional shopping mall blocks. Developer, Tian An China wanted something that spoke to the context of water and the adjacent park. The adventurous design of two tree covered mountains defines a new and dramatic urban topography routed in nature. Each of the columns supporting the building structure emerge as substantial planters, each holding several trees; thereby creating a feathered silhouette in the image of a tree topped hill. Something any landscape painter aims to capture on canvas.
“Between the Mountain and the Water” holds powerful and portentous symbolism in Feng Shui. Why not, if it is part of the inspiration for such original architecture?
The mixed-use building contains almost a million square feet and still steps down towards its adjoining context without resorting to overwhelming height.
Its apparent complexity conceals a regular rectilinear structural grid only apparent from an aerial view. Even the roof top plant machinery is hidden by the extensive tree planting.
Somehow, several historic buildings are incorporated with the overall scheme. It is hard to imagine how Heritage England would have responded at the planning stage in England. Well done Thomas and Tian An China, one can only foresee that “1000 Trees” will become a destination meeting place as well as a magnet for shopping. The trees will also provide an element of carbon capture.

In Vienna, Ikea are reinventing urban furniture shopping to create a new model that takes account of “radically changed customer and mobility behaviours”. The new store has no parking. Access is by foot, bicycle and public transport with Ikea providing on-the-day delivery to homes. The eight-storey building is not just a furniture store; it also incorporates a 345 bed hostel with a public roof garden and restaurants. Like the coffee houses of old, it becomes a social meeting place for citizens and visitors to congregate. The expressed white skeletal steel frame holds 160 trees on the roof top and deep balconies as well as irrigated green walls. Together with the envelope design, this reduces the potential for overheating by two degrees centigrade and generates improved air quality. Like “Habitat” in the 1960s, Ikea has had a profound influence on the furnishing of domestic interiors and lifestyles; now it seems to be taking on board the changing face of retailing that incorporates the impact of online shopping. This format would also seem to provide a more sustainable and social way forward for the urban pastime of consumption.

“Sustainable” is one of the most overused words of the recent decades; it means different things to different minds and some still fail to understand its overwhelming impact relative to our exploitation of planet earth. There are innumerable regulations and certifications that aim to improve and control building performance. BREEAM certification and the Code for Sustainable Homes have scoring systems that provide targets for improved insulation, air quality, daylight, water attenuation, transport etc. All valuable systems of performance measurement. Now there is the “International Well Building Institute” wellness certification. This has broader and more holistic evaluation criteria. It includes sense of community, nourishment and production of locally sourced produce, movement, recycling of materials, physical and mental health as well as all the factors that consider light, water, air, noise and overall comfort. Design and measurement of such factors is not easy, but it is much closer to the holistic definition of real sustainability.

Photograph © Qingyan Zhu

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