Lifestyle and retail project The Roof brought together design talents from Aspect Studios and Ateliers Jean Nouvel, to envision a biodiverse environment that addresses urban needs.

Key features

The collaborators consider the Xintiandi mixed-use complex, a passageway between two main streets, responsive to the local culture, climate, and context, providing people with a biophilic setting to meet, work, relax and socialize. Housing 25,000 sq-m of office space, 15,000 sq-m of commercial space and F&B facilities, the striking building – designed by Jean Nouvel – is a reference to the city’s historic li‘long backstreets. The Roof’s impactful red interior has been dubbed ‘The Street of 1,000 Red Jars’, a nod to the plant-filled earthenware vessels lining two walls. A palette of brown, amber, orange and multiple reds alights the interior, which is fitted with adjustable blinds – Nouvel notes shadowplay is an important visual element in the space.

Aspect Studios developed the ‘living façade’ that wraps The Roof –  in fact a composition of flowers, shrubs, trees, and draping flora spanning ten individual façades, two roof gardens and sky decks. Data on solar, wind, sun and other microclimate-related factors was examined to ensure the most viable, biodiverse solution for the architecture and its surroundings. ‘It was important that the design was more than a simple visual display of generic greenery and planting,’ says Aspect Studios Shanghai director Stephen Buckle, who happens to live in the backstreets near the site. ‘Instead, it was an opportunity to show “what could be” within the cities of tomorrow – to create a place, experience and environment that added balanced value to people and nature.’

Frame’s take

Retail, hospitality, work – these sectors are forever changed by the pandemic. That has, and will continue to have, a great impact on the way our cities are designed and built. As we’ve discussed at length over the past year and a half, urban property owners across typologies are going to have to get creative to keep high streets populated, seeing as many have left city centres and/or are now wary about coming to high-traffic areas. Mindful in design to the locality and its needs, this project is also remarkable enough to attract those not living in Shanghai – it is a powerful example of biophilic design in one of the busiest metropoles in the world, and it is exactly this that will keep it relevant against the backdrop of a rapidly adapting society.