The part of Shanghai harbouring the former French Concession, the Huaihai road, happens to be a bustling shopping destination in that part of the town and one of the busiest shopping streets in Shanghai. Like many other French settlements across the world, the French Concession in Shanghai has its own distinct charm that has seeped into the present day too; long, tree lined boulevards, a signature style of architecture, more often than not standing out by virtue of a strong hue, and an easy going charm that makes it a popular destination for travellers and shoppers. Building on that significant French connection, both architecturally and in a literal sense, the Henderson Cifi Tiandi and the red bisection gushing through its core by Paris-based Ateliers Jean Nouvel is a welcome intervention: one that is remarkably in tune with both the present and past architectural character of the former Concession.
Located within the nearly parallel-running Ma Dang and Dan Shui streets and connecting them, the Street of 1000 red jars was planned as an urban and commercial passageway cutting through the Henderson Cifi Tiandi building, also by AJN. The crimson tinted intervention was also stated to be an obvious temptation to create a shortcut between the two streets, but ends up reflecting a typical architectural character from the region. With a high, narrow, shaded street harbouring a market at two levels, and “a sequence evoking vanished surroundings that have been completely reimagined and are new and modern”, an image of a traditional Chinese street market is evoked, also bearing the red as an instantly recognisable motif.
The ’street’ too reveals itself dramatically. Standing in stark contrast to the deep red hue of the market street within, the building’s greyish-beige exterior, also lined with complementary-in-colour, similar earthenware pots, ensconces the street and its thousand red jars almost akin to a mineral with a glowing core, or like ammonite. The entrances through the two streets on either ends offer a peek into the “surprising array” of lights, colours, and vegetation housed within. Once inside, the two-levelled shopping street is interspersed with overhead walkways and small bridges, the walk on the ground itself further dissected through smaller, orthogonal walkways providing access to the buildings overlooking the street, the actual structure of the Henderson Cifi Tiandi building. The street market setting is further animated by the activity in the offices and restaurants on the remaining floors of the building, shaded by the elaborate roof in red.
The most striking aspect through which the intervention acquires its name are the rows of earthenware jars or pots that are lined along the shops facing each other, deliberately and intuitively enhancing the complementarity, and in a way, the linearity of the avenue. The walkway thus seems submerged under a plethora of flora, green and coloured and some seasonal, planted alongside the building’s inward looking facade, of which the earthenware also forms a visual and tactile part. The whole experience comes together in something as simple as a pleasing walk back home from the office for a commuter on foot, or as elaborate as a family outing on a weekend, complete with shopping and eating out, carving out an almost new itinerary for visitors to the building.
An additional layer of animation is also imparted to the shading systems employed across all windows overlooking the street. While the streetscape itself becomes a ballet of the different shadows produced on ground, through the outline of the two parts of the dissected building, the pots, and the overhead walkways, the adjustable slats of the blinds and the movable horizontal louvers in front of the windows, bordered by the huge flowerpots inducts a microcosmic shadow-play of its own. Painted in shades of brown, amber, orange, and multiple reds, Jean Nouvel “invents a landscape of vegetal friezes in the colours of the season and of the different flowers”, breathing new life into what could easily have been a commercial arena burgeoned upon by neighbouring building blocks. “I have imagined all these loving details to enrich Shanghai, on the Huaihai side, with this unique new open-and-covered street: 'the street of 1000 red jars'”, states the French architect in a personally penned note for Cifi Tiandi.
Name: Henderson Cifi Tiandi - 恒基·旭辉天地 - The Roof, Shanghai
Location: Jian Guo Dong Road, Shanghai Huangpu District, Shanghai, China
Completion: May 2021
Program: Office, Ground level & Basement, Food & beverage
Architects: Jean Nouvel, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Paris, France
Client: CIFI Group Co., Ltd.
Usable Floor Area: 40,000 sq.m. (Total floor area + Basement)
Interior Design: Sabrina Letourneur, Jim Rhone
Landscape: Ophélie Bouvet, Isabelle Guillauic
Structural and Mechanical Engineering: P&T Shanghai