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Along the Huangpu River: The Future of Shanghai

By Clare Jacobson
June 30, 2014
Photo © SOM
A view from the Huangpu River toward construction of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s White Magnolia Plaza in the North Bund. Two towers dominate the mixed-use complex. One has already reached its full height of 563 feet and will be home to Shanghai’s first W Hotel (the round building above, second tower from left), slated to open in June 2015. The taller office tower (at center above) is expected to top out this September.


Think of Shanghai and you might picture a cluster of iconic buildings on the Huangpu River. You may think of the Bund, that famous curve of concession-era buildings on the west bank of the river (the area called Puxi). Or you might envision Lujiazui, the financial district that collects Shanghai’s most dazzling skyscrapers on the Huangpu’s east side (Pudong). As the Pearl of the Orient continues to expand, areas up- and downstream of these central landmarks have filled with large construction sites. High-profile firms—including Foster + Partners; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM); David Chipperfield Architects (DCA); and Arquitectonica—are involved in projects on a grand scale.

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While China’s economy has slowed, affecting residential construction most directly, these long-term mixed-use projects continue to progress. A tour north to south along the river passes several of these sites, each vying to become the new face of Shanghai.
Starting at Puxi’s North Bund (clever marketing folks have designated a North Bund, South Bund, and West Bund, which is actually south of the South Bund), SOM is building White Magnolia Plaza, a 4.3 million-square-foot project on a 14-acre site behind the Shanghai International Cruise Terminal.

Two towers dominate the mixed-use complex. One has already reached its full height of 563 feet and will be home to Shanghai’s first W Hotel, slated to open in June 2015. The taller office tower is expected to top out this September. At 66 stories and 1,048 feet, it will dominate its relatively low-rise neighborhood.

Across the river in Lujiazui, Gensler’s Shanghai Tower—the last of three supertall towers at the center of Shanghai’s new business district—is finishing up. The spiraling tower, with offices and a hotel above a retail base, topped out last August. Its glass cladding should be completed in October, and its official opening is scheduled for the middle of next year. At 2,074 feet, it will be not only the tallest of the trio in Pudong but also the tallest building in China when it opens.

In the Bund proper, there are few changes to the now-classic buildings except for their rotating cast of tenants—high-end shops, restaurants, and bars. But just behind them, a historic block of buildings is being transformed into the Rockbund Project. DCA and Arquitec­tonica have been working on the million-square-foot project since 2006. DCA is restoring and converting 12 colonial buildings dating from 1897 to 1933 into offices, hotels, retail, apartments, and a museum; eight have been completed. It is adding 11 stories of new construction to a three-story building to create Rockbund 6, which will offer retail and office space. Arquitectonica is constructing five new infill buildings for the block, which respect the massing, materials, and color of their neighbors. Both Arquitectonica and
DCA expect to complete their work in 2016.

At the southern end of the Bund, near Shanghai’s original walled city, Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio are building the Bund Finance Center. The multi-use project will include offices, a hotel, retail, and a cultural center. Two 590-foot towers anchor the south end of the 4.5 million-square-foot site, and a collection of smaller towers with varying heights will form a mini-city along the waterfront. The superstructures of the towers have been completed, and cladding is about to begin. The Bund Finance Center should open next year.

Farther south, the creation of Expo 2010 opened up 1,305 acres formerly occupied by a shipyard, factories, and residences for redevelopment on both sides of the Huangpu. In Pudong, five permanent Expo structures have reopened—four as cultural buildings and one as a mall, a given for shopping-crazy Shanghai. All national pavilions near these anchors—except for the still-open Saudi Arabia pavilion—have been cleared to allow for new development. First in the ground was John Portman & Associates’ complex of four hotels. The 3 million-square-foot project is currently on hold, waiting to resolve investment issues, but Portman’s Shanghai office expects to finish it by 2017. The construction on an adjacent site has raced ahead of it, with half a dozen office towers aboveground and one already up to 27 stories. Several of China’s top-grossing state-owned enterprises are building headquarters here, and designers involved include NEXT Architects (for State Grid Corporation of China) and Arquitectonica (for China CITIC Bank).

At Expo’s Puxi site, the most active redevelopment is taking place in the Urban Best Practices Area (UBPA), which showcased international cities during the world’s fair. The UBPA has retained its Expo name and many of its structures. The Rhône-Alpes and Hamburg pavilions have reopened with offices, restaurants, and shops; other city pavilions are being refurbished. A Starbucks has taken over the site of the Odense (Denmark) pavilion. Factories that had been remodeled into case study pavilions are being adapted again, into a large shopping destination.

From here the Huangpu travels to the newly named West Bund. The 4,300-acre site is being positioned as a media, culture, and entertainment district that acknowledges its previous life as an airport and industrial zone. The new development meets the Huangpu along Longyao Riverfront Square, Shanghai’s best waterside park since the 2010 renovation of the Bund Promenade. Two museums incorporating industrial remnants in their designs opened this year. The 355,000-square-foot Long Museum West Bund by Atelier Deshaus reuses coal-conveying platforms, while the 97,000-square-foot Yuz Museum reuses a massive airplane hangar (Sou Fujimoto Architects worked on the museum’s schematic design, but has removed its name from the project).

In March, CMC Capital Partners, DreamWorks Animation SKG, and Hong Kong Lan Kwai Fong Group unveiled a master plan by Benoy for the West Bund’s centerpiece—the DreamCenter. At 5 million square feet, its 12 office, culture, and lifestyle buildings include new headquarters for Oriental DreamWorks (a joint venture between Hollywood’s DreamWorks Animation and three Chinese partners) and the Dream Dome, a performance hall in a former cement factory. Several firms, including Kohn Pedersen Fox and 3XN, are working on parts of the complex.

With so many large-scale projects on the boards and aboveground, it is difficult to predict what is next for Shanghai on the Huangpu. New development at the Far North Bund? Or maybe the South Southwest Bund? As Shanghai grows, it will need to move farther from its iconic center. But as these projects suggest, it will continue to place value on its central river.

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