‘The typical mixed-use 300,000sqm development would have podiums, towers, a school, workplaces, living spaces, some hotel space, retail outlets… but then there’s the art district. “So it was about how we stitch this all together,” said Thomas Heatherwick, speaking at the 2015 BODW conference in Hong Kong.
“We got interested in the park, as it felt like it could be the glue that somehow connected those elements together. But if you use greenery, it is very heavy. So we got very interested in columns, and thinking if we were to use greenery, the best place to put it is directly on top of the columns — instead of on flat roofs.”
Heatherwick’s response was conceived not as a building but as a piece of urban topography, taking the form of two tree-covered mountains, populated by approximately one thousand structural columns. Instead of being hidden behind the façade, the columns are the defining feature of the design, emerging from the building to support plants and trees.
“Normally, the large scale projects that we are quite used to seeing have big boxes, and the role of the designer is figuring out what pattern of architectural wrapping paper to put on these boxes,” Heatherwick explained.
“We wondered if there was a way to make better working spaces by also making access to outdoors. So the first thing was to place these 1000 columns, and deliberately make them so that they come very low to meet the smaller surrounding M50 buildings.”
In total, the scheme contains 400 terraces encouraging outdoor meetings and recreation. The development has been under construction since 2014, with a targeted completion date set for 2018.