Bund Finance Center-Shanghai‎, China

A mixed-use development

The Bund Finance Center is a major mixed-use development close to the Shanghai waterfront, designed jointly by Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio. Occupying a prominent site on the Bund, the buildings define the ‘end point’ to Shanghai’s most famous street. The masterplan is highly permeable for pedestrians, with the design conceived as a point of connection between the old town and the new financial district. Inspired by this urban context, two 180-meter landmark towers are placed in the south of the site, while the buildings facing the waterfront are staggered in height and relate in scale and rhythm to the grand nineteenth-century landmarks along the Bund.

The 420,000-square-metre development of eight buildings combines premium offices with a boutique hotel, a cultural center, and a wide variety of luxury retail spaces, all arranged around a landscaped public plaza. The retail spaces are vertically layered with boutiques, concept stores for international brands, a luxury shopping mall, and restaurants. A palette of crafted stone and bronze details gives the buildings a jewel-like quality. The edges of each volume are made of richly textured, hand-crafted granite and become slimmer as they rise, giving the impression of solidity at the base and transparency at the top.

At the heart of the scheme is a flexible art and cultural center, which combines exhibition and events halls with a performance venue, inspired by the open stages of traditional Chinese theatres. The center is conceived as a platform for international arts and cultural exchange, as well as a place for brand events, product launches, and corporate functions.

The history of the Bund

The ‘Bund’ is a Chinese word describing an embankment. The Shanghai Bund has grown in fame since the first British company opened an office there in 1846. The Bund is stretched for one mile along the western bank of the Huangpu River, traditionally beginning at Yan’an Road, finishing at Waibaidu Bridge, and being centered on a section of Zhongshan Road. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the area became increasingly populated by banks and by 1940 was well-known for its financial institutions. Over the years much building work has taken place and in 2008 an unoccupied site was designated for an upmarket development.

A distinctive architectural style

The style of architecture within the Financial Centre is a departure from the “show off” architecture so often deployed in China’s grand schemes – the often seen towers of glittering glass and with smooth, anodyne exteriors and a non-color palette. The Bund’s square buildings are stepped, tapered, and layered to create not an intimidating urban backdrop but one that embraces – despite the admittedly very tall anchoring pair of towers at the south end. This style creates an exciting and unusual architecture that has its own way of being impressive. It certainly provides an opportunity to showcase the materials used in this development -Rose Gold PVD stainless steel and bronze granite.

Surprisingly the development consists of only eight buildings but the impact is that of a much greater number. The multiple heights and widths of the buildings give the impression of clusters of buildings and create a multi-layered, more friendly feel for pedestrians than that of walking between the flat façades of soaring towers.

The buildings’ entrances are emphasized which again creates a sense of invitation. They are stepped in an almost art deco style as are the window frames and bars – albeit the entrance porticoes often being more than half the height of the buildings themselves so certainly not lacking in stature.

Windows have irregular crisscrossing of bars of the PVD stainless steel creating a grille reminiscent of a Chinese screen.

PVD stainless steel in Rose Gold Vibration, by John Desmond Ltd in partnership with Double Stone Steel, was used for the exterior cladding

Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) is a process to produce a metal vapor (titanium, chromium, and aluminum) that can be deposited on electrically conductive materials as a thin highly adhered pure metal or alloy coating. The process is carried out in a vacuum chamber at vacuum using a cathodic arc source.

In concordance with the motif of the tapering towers, the gaps between the horizontal bars decrease as they advance upwards. Picking up on the emblem of the irregular rectilinear shapes some windows are “blanked out” completely with, instead, panels of PVD stainless steel in Rose Gold with square indentations. These panels appear almost as external works of abstract art.

The buildings directed towards the embankment echo the proportions and spacing of the grand and prosperous nineteenth-century buildings which are found along on the Bund.

The Plaza is meant to be enjoyed at night and the buildings take on a golden glow as the light is reflected from the Rose Gold PVD used extensively on the buildings’ exteriors.

The cultural center, perhaps the site’s most eye-catching structure, is encircled by a moving veil. It moves to reveal the stage on the balcony and the inside of the multi-function hall when there are performances, and to give views out towards the river to the east or to the other buildings in the development to the west. Both facades are fully glazed behind the veil at Level 2, where the multi-function hall is located.

Developed in collaboration with local engineers from Tongji University, the façade is a veil organized along three tracks and made up of layers of 675 individual magnesium alloy ‘tassels’ that range in length from 2 meters to 16 meters. as each track independently moves, the veil rotates with the tassels overlapping and producing different visual effects and levels of opacity.

The design team worked on the logistics of the moving facade, which had to be able to withstand a Level 12 (typhoon) wind without the tassels touching each other. This involved building a prototype building with 146 tassels to test the effect of wind loads on them.

Key facts

  • The veil meets weight restrictions of two tonnes per linear meter for tassels, track and motor combined.
  • It has six motors including three back-ups, each with a power of 5.5kW.
  • When activated, the veil moves at 10m per minute max, taking 14 minutes to complete one 144m loop of the building.
  • There are 675 tassels, ranging in length from 2.1m to 15m, arranged in three layers around the facade.

Behind the veil

Each layer of tassels has its own independent aluminum track fixed to two steel trusses extending from the concrete cores on the north and the south of the building. The 144m-long tracks are positioned behind two ribbons of bronzed metal cladding around the top of the building. These also conceal the motors – there are two per layer of the veil, one of which is a reserve.

Each tassel is a single extrusion of 4-5mm thick aluminum tube enclosed in a 0.4mm thick sheath of steel cladding. There are four to seven sheaths per tassel depending on length, with a rubber ‘bumper’, wider than the diameter of the tassels, where these sheaths meet. This deals with the joints and protects the tassles should they sway into their neighbor. Each layer of tassels is coated with titanium nitride to give a subtly different shade of bronze.

A detailed close-up view of the tubular downstands very much like bamboo in shape

As well as varying in length to create the veil’s sweeping contours, the tassels are embossed in a pattern that becomes more diffuse higher up each tassel. This crafted element was inspired by ropes, knots, and Chinese weaving. Each tassel terminates with a vitreous-enameled steel cap in three variations of red. The tassels were installed in situ over two weeks. Each was screwed into a threaded, aluminum alloy shaft connected to the track.

Introducing PVD for the exterior specifications

April Dahlberg, Technical Director at John Desmond Ltd says “For the door architraves, window reveals and of course, for the moving veil of the Arts and Cultural Centre, for the Fosun Foundation, a dramatic gold finish was required. PVD stainless steel in Rose Gold Vibration was specified having passed rigorous testing to prove it would withstand exterior weathering.”

The background to this began in June 2014 when April and JDL team were called into the Foster & Partner’s materials Lab with Heatherwick. The meeting was to discuss the benefits of PVD stainless steel for external use on the Shanghai Bund project. As PVD has a twenty-year background in China a list of buildings was compiled that had exterior work in PVD. The Shanghai office of Foster & Partners then sent a team of architects to visually assess the PVD on these buildings and issue a report on their findings.

Thomas Heatherwick, Founder of Heatherwick Studio, said: “The opportunity to make something new in this prominent location that had formerly been the river gateway to Shanghai’s Old Town was extraordinary. With a project that would create 420,000 square meters of space, we felt a great duty to look for fresh ways to connect with China’s amazing built heritage and make a meaningful public place for thousands of people to work and come together.

“Influenced by the materiality and scale of the existing historic buildings along the Bund we have built a series of simple office, shopping, and cultural buildings that combine high-performance glazing systems with hand carved stone building frames. These structures, in turn, surround new public spaces and speak to the heritage of the historical Bund buildings.” 

The bund finance center creates a pivotal connection between the old town and the new financial district,” adds Gerard Evenden, head of studio and senior executive partner, foster + partners. “Developing the massing strategy for the buildings was an interesting challenge, in terms of relating to the context of old and new architecture, reflecting the scale of the waterfront and the character of the historic quarters.”

“The cultural center is an optimum blend of craft and technology,” explains Evenden. “It is inspired by traditional Chinese weaving while incorporating the latest cutting-edge technology that helps withstand earthquakes, typhoons, and severe weather. its unique form provides a memorable and extraordinary experience for visitors, while the illuminated stage and the motion of the moving veil creates a unique backdrop to the theater of city life.

Detail Drawings

  • Architects: Foster + Partners, Heatherwick Studio
  • Location: Shanghai, China
  • Appointment: 2010
  • Completion: 2017
  • Area: 426,073m²
  • Height: 180m
  • Capacity: 20,000
  • Client: Shanghai Zendai Bund Int’l Finance Center Real Estate Co. Ltd
  • Collaborating Architect: ECADI
  • Structural Engineer: ECADI
  • Environmental Engineer: ECADI
  • Landscape Architect: Martha Schwartz Partners
  • Lighting Engineer: BPI
  • Awards: ELLE China Style Award, Interior Design ‘Best of Year’ Awards – Winner ‘Government/Institutional’, MIPIM Asia. Gold Award ‘Chinese Futura.

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