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Shanghai has a bold new landmark. Taking cues from the Chinese metropolis’s centuries-old backstreets, alleyways and narrow corridors called longtang or lilong, the new “lifestyle and retail destination” entitled The Roof weaves these historic references across a significant footprint. The combined effort of Paris-based architects Atelier Jean Nouvel and landscape designers ASPECT Studios, the new office, commercial and community hub complements the scale of the surrounding neighbourhood while creating a strikingly unique destination.

“The resulting design is a bold and unique response to culture, climate, and context,” says ASPECT’s studio director Stephen Buckle, “that responds to the needs of the city’s people, a place to meet, work, relax and socialize and be embraced by inspiring qualities of nature in an urban environment.” 

Within the striking edifice — bisected by two open-air corridors along its length and width — the red- and beige-tinted bricks that enclose the longtang become a defining element. While the street-facing elevations maintain a sombre presence, the crimson interior quite literally immerses visitors in a contemporary take on Shanghai’s urban character. Glazed interior facades fitted with louvres provide individual units for a host of tenants while weaving the character of the streets up into the sky.

The bold hues also dramatically set off the lush flora almost dripping from balconies, sky gardens and facades. From flowers to shrubs to trees, the plant life supports the base building by demarcating paths of movement, creating intimate zones that are at once sheltered from and connected to the urban space beyond. Even the exposed pipes that feature prominently along the city’s intimate alleys appear in the structure as bulbous pots that support additional vegetation. The covered, transparent canopy further protects the al fresco corridor from the elements.

In addition to these contextual references, ASPECT Studio went to great lengths to ensure the verdant features of the project equally spoke to the area. After extensive solar, wind, sun and other climatic studies, the team selected the vegetation best suited for the site’s particular conditions. This is supported by an integrated drip irrigation system that ensures water efficiency and reduces evaporation.

By reimaging the elements and layers of life that inform the rhythms of Shanghai’s laneways, the Roof is a new and iconic destination deeply connected to and reflective of its locale. As Buckle concludes, it’s “a place, experience and environment that adds value to people and nature.”

Jean Nouvel and Aspect Studios Unveil a Bright Red Landmark in Shanghai

A mixed-use hub that marries contextual references with verdant elements arrives in the Chinese metropolis.

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