Skyscrapers and towers have become the norm in large metropolitan cities like Dubai, New York, and even Shanghai. However, Shanghai is home to some of the most distinctively shaped architecture. Known in the 30s, for its art deco style of architecture, the city has undergone the most dramatic changes in terms of architectural design in a short period. Shanghai is known as the ‘showcase city’ for China on the global stage, for economic and political purposes.
Overall architecture in Shanghai is represented by art deco, modern styles, lane houses, the Bund skyline, and former French concession homes. Pushed by government investments, the skyline of Shanghai is ever-changing. Over the years, local as well as global architects have created remarkable distinctively shaped architecture in Shanghai. Here are our top picks.
Rising like a colorful beacon from the city’s financial district, the bulbous Oriental Pearl Tower is a sight one cannot miss. The distinctively shaped architecture was designed by Jia Huan Cheng. Functionally constructed as a TV & radio tower, it stands at a height of 468 m. The project was completed in 1995. Located beside the Guangpu river in Pudong district, the Pearl Tower exudes a futuristic design sensibility, having the appearance of a space ship.
The eleven spheres that adorn the tower have been inspired by poetry dating back to the Tang Dynasty. The highest sphere is an observatory with a see-through glass bottom which provides a dizzying view of the Bund. Another sphere houses a rotating restaurant at a height of 263 m. The tower & sphere have been built out of steel, tinted glass, steel rebar, and concrete. The topmost point of the tower is for TV & radio transmission. The bottom of the building houses a historical museum. Surprisingly, this architectural marvel also has a roller coaster at a height of 300 m and has been designed with a space theme.
The Bund Finance Centre has been built on the last empty site, in the historical Bund area in Shanghai. Its most notable feature is the overlapping moving curtains of bronze shaded steel pipes. Covering an area of 420,000 sq m, the amalgamation of eight buildings, houses high street retail, boutiques, luxury restaurants, an auditorium, and various other commercial spaces. Crafted in stainless steel, bronze, and granite- the distinctively shaped architecture in Shanghai has a jewel-like appeal.
The golden-bronze finishes on the exterior ‘pipe curtains’ has been achieved using a process called physical vapor deposition. The building connects the old and new parts of the city and was completed in 2017. Central to the Bund Finance Centre is a cultural center that is used for fashion shows, theatre, and art exhibitions. The kinetic veil of pipes is the building’s most distinctive feature.
Inspired by traditional Chinese temples, the Shanghai Grand Theatre is an opera house with a futuristic appeal. They have infused functionality into the unique crystal-like palace. It was constructed in 1998 and is in the historic part of the city. French architect, Jean-Marie Charpentier has designed this distinctively shaped architecture in Shanghai. Elements of Chinese culture inspire external design. The structure covers an area of 55,000 sq-m. The opera house accommodates eight floors above and two of them in the basement. The key parts of the theatre include the main Auditorium, the Buick Theatre, and the Studio Theatre.
Structurally, the ground plan in the form of a square which rises-up to an arched roof. The architects have used advanced techniques to suspend the glass facades from the top. An inner 7000-ton steel structure supports the glass. They assembled the frame at a shipyard and hoisted it to a height of 40 m using jacks. The opera house also houses various rehearsal halls, exhibition halls, banquet halls, coffee shops, and parking areas.
Declared the ‘world’s best new skyscraper’ in 2016 and winner of multiple awards, the twisting Shanghai Tower challenges what skyscrapers should be. About 632m in height, the building has 128 stories. The world-famous Gensler has designed the tower and completed the project in 2015. The Twisting Tower is the world’s second-tallest building, second to the Burj Khalifa. It has an observation deck at a height of 562m.
This distinctively shaped architecture, twists at 120 degrees, offering occupants a 360- degree view of the city. Each floor can accommodate 16000 people and houses offices, commercial spaces, retail stores, and eateries. The structure of the tower is such that it holds 9 cylindrically shaped skyscrapers joined in a smart manner by a reinforced glass façade. Owing to its unique shape, the tower has a significantly higher resistance to wind loads and uses less steel. Thus, it is indeed a ‘twisted’ mark of outstanding innovation in architecture.
Apart from Shanghai, distinctively shaped architecture span various other cities and rural centers in China. Interestingly, in 2016, the Chinese government set guidelines and banned the construction of ‘oddly shaped buildings’. The move was to encourage architects to adhere to urban planning rules, be functional and economical. However, they are not discouraging creativity and distinctiveness. The government has hinted at pushing for environmentally friendly structures. The result has been projects such as the 1000 trees in Shanghai, by Heatherwick Studios. In the coming years, we are sure to see more distinctively shaped architecture in Shanghai such as the Lane 189 mall and the Shanghai LV Building.