Shanghai’s “sprinkler-bottomed” skyscraper

Written by Staff Writer by Hattie Crisell, CNN Living above an apartment block in Shanghai’s tourism district used to feel like living in an elevator, with high-rise windows that get farther and farther away…

Shanghai's "sprinkler-bottomed" skyscraper

Written by Staff Writer by Hattie Crisell, CNN

Living above an apartment block in Shanghai’s tourism district used to feel like living in an elevator, with high-rise windows that get farther and farther away from the ground.

But a structural engineering breakthrough has changed all that, with developer ASHDao dropping the building into a specially-built water tank.

The SWO-Zone process sees the building “walk” across the roof onto a bespoke lower level so that solar energy can be harnessed to power the building in the daytime. At night, the roof area can be opened up to let in light.

The SWO-Zone process sees the building “walk” across the roof onto a bespoke lower level, leaving only the roof above to be used as a window. Credit: ASHDao

These intricate engineering features make the tower unique — but one that’s quickly becoming imitated.

“Now we’re seeing a flood of these types of buildings, as there’s a lack of land supply and buildings are becoming ‘resort-grade’ in terms of requirements,” says Taiwanese architect Han Chun-sheng, who studied for his PhD at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

“We can’t build enough low-rise buildings like this in central Shanghai.”

SJ-4 does more than just change the skyline of one of China’s most visited cities. It also represents the potential for a new creative era in residential architecture, with social interaction at the heart of the design.

While it looks typical enough — the building is topped with a fount of green light, for example — Han says the intent is to imbue the complex with the energy of nature.

One over-the-shoulder walk, 1,000 skyscrapers

One window, 200 stories high

Residents can focus on the melding of indoors and outdoors during their daily commute. Photograph: Daniel Yu

“The whole building, not just the top floor, should be opened up all the time,” Han explains. “It’s not just a pleasure, a building with just one wall.”

The 50 stories of high-rise accommodation are clad in a bright orange wrap-around coat of paint, but interior spaces are kept in a subdued shade of blue to differentiate them from the building’s exterior. A simple pine staircase, made out of white, grey and black stones, takes visitors from the ground floor up into the apartments above.

Height was a source of friction between ASHDao and a standing architectural outfit from Switzerland that was brought in to design the building.

“The idea was to have at least 20 stories above water. The Swiss say ‘rise above water,’ but even when I met the client, they were against this,” says René Petermann, a Swiss architect and co-founder of Annya Architects , which had designed the building for five years before ASHDao asked it to leave the design.

He adds: “The Brazilian client saw the development of the project, and he liked what was happening … He said ‘I have developed it, this is what I will do.’ We think we’ve done it quite well, but it was still in the beginning.”

Han’s design features a concrete skin painted in the color of the sun to encourage interaction between residents. Credit: ASHDao

Dark as night

The building is cloaked in a faceted pattern. Credit: ASHDao

The SWO-Zone concept also follows a trend for lighter colors and patterns on the facade of buildings in China.

The “new” building joins the bright orange exteriors that increasingly dot Chinese properties. Construction and preservation of this new exterior style has hit a few problems recently — last year, several Chinese property tycoons were hit with lawsuits for identical super high-rises seen at the same location in the southern province of Jiangxi.

Han says these examples were not the intention. Instead, they reflect a desire by Chinese developers to attract and retain foreign buyers.

“Even when they’re buying from the U.S., the sales people still compare their product with the New York skyline, which we really are not able to produce,” he says.

Despite its modern exterior, the tower at the center of the complex has a structure that will look familiar to anyone who has climbed a tall residential building in Shanghai.

“We actually make this building higher and higher, giving it a brand-new look. The strong form of the tower, we figure, is symbolic of an updated version of human civilization.”

SJ-4 will open to residents later this year, allowing the stargazers at home to enjoy the windows of space all to themselves.

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