Moshe Safdie’s Raffles City Chongqing humanises skyscraper architecture

Safdie Architects’ mixed-use development in China’s Yuzhong district knits the towers both horizontally and vertically, with the gigantic skybridge transforming the city’s skyline.

by Meghna Mehta Feb 06, 2020

An architect’s career can be well-defined by his first works and the ideas that further develop into a thriving practice. In the case of Israeli- Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, among many of his works there have been some significant milestones as well - his first project Habitat 67 (Montreal, 1967), The Marina Bay Sands (Singapore, 2010), Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex (Punjab, 2011), Jewel Changi Airport (Singapore, 2019) and now the ongoing Raffles City Chongqing project in China. The octogenarian architect is known for his steered methodologies and innovative ways to design thinking.

With Habitat, Safdie redefined low-income housing and showed how design brings people closer and creates a sense of belonging. Years later, he is applying the same approach to his latest megaproject that reimagines what our cities and their skylines should look and feel like.

The Raffles City Chongqing as a building contributes to the larger fabric of the city and follows a similar genesis story to The Marina Bay Sands in Singapore as it follows a set of urban design, volumetric and spatial principles.

At The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, the 340m long rooftop garden SkyPark – bridging the three towers – not only garnered massive public acclaim but became a destination attraction as well.

Raffles City Chongqing by Moshe Safdie redefines urban interventions for skyscraper architecture | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
Raffles City Chongqing by Moshe Safdie redefines urban interventions for skyscraper architecture Image Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects
While centuries old, Chongqing is now experiencing rapid growth and regeneration that demands thoughtful solutions to increased density and mega-scale projects. Guided by the sheer scale and complexity of the site, our design brings people in and through the site at different levels, whether by foot, car, train or ferry, to reconnect the city to its most historic site – The Emperor’s Landing. – Moshe Safdie

Though the site is historically significant for once being home to the city’s most important Chaotian Gate, and as Chongqing’s foremost riverfront trading post, catalysing its evolution to become one of the world’s fastest-growing and densest cities, much of the architectural design represents the metropolitan city’s future than falling back on the aesthetics of the historic past. The design’s urban mechanisms cater to its centricity and celebrates its presence over the years as a node for transport and public spaces bringing people back to the space with nostalgia of what may have existed.

  • Diagram of the towers in relation to the city’s public spaces and pathways  | Raffles City Chongqing | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
    Diagram of the towers in relation to the city’s public spaces and pathways Image Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects
  • Typology of the eight towers | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
    Typology of the eight towers Image Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects

Following eight years of design, development and construction, Safdie Architects’ Raffles City Chongqing is nearing completion. The first phase got completed in late 2019. A vibrant complex, which combines office, residential, hotel, retail, and recreational facilities across a 22.7 acre site, it is embedded within the densely developed Yuzhong district.

The project embodies a considered approach to the issues of population density, community connectivity, and urban renewal within a highly developed city centre. With a total built area of over 1 million square meters (approximately 11 million square feet), Raffles City Chongqing is one of Safdie Architects’ largest and most complex projects to date. It attempts at continuing the firm’s exploration towards the incorporation of vertical and horizontal neighbourhoods, livable urban communities and thoughtfully connected public spaces.

A night view of the eight towers | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
A night view of the eight towers Image Credit: Courtesy of CapitaLand

In order to maximise access to daylight, air, green space, and views, the development’s diverse program elements are distributed across eight slender towers that soar above a retail podium, which features an expansive rooftop public park and a civic plaza that connects directly to the city’s higher elevation streets. To account for the hilly terrain, the retail podium provides multiple entry points into the development at different elevations. Additionally, the structure provides the city with a new multi-modal transit hub, including metro, bus and ferry terminals.

“Chongqing is such an extraordinary city—in scale, population, and personality. The topography of the city creates opportunities for intimate pockets of public space at different elevations, stacked and stepped to overlook one another and the city beyond. It’s the defining characteristic of Chongqing and one that we sought to build upon with Raffles City,” said Christopher Mulvey, Safdie Architects’ Managing Principal, who relocated to China in 2011 to establish a branch office for the firm. 

Crystal – the horizontal skyscraper that binds all eight towers together – includes gardens, dining options, residential clubhouse, infinity pool and public observatory | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie | STIRworld
Crystal – the horizontal skyscraper that binds all eight towers together – includes gardens, dining options, residential clubhouse, infinity pool and public observatory Image Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects

The Raffles City Chongqing development follows the internal logic of the retail gallerias, aligning with the surrounding street grid and providing a sense of orientation in the city. Five of the eight towers are dedicated residential towers, with one of them being the tallest residential tower in China. The second 350m tower is a part office space, which later transitions to a hotel. Of the remaining two towers, one is completely commercial while the other is a mixed-use tower.

Raffles City Chongqing is set to become the city’s central node for transport, retail and public rejuvenation | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
Raffles City Chongqing is set to become the city’s central node for transport, retail and public rejuvenation Image Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects

Spanning across four accessible towers, at a length of 300 meters, is the Crystal, a ‘horizontal skyscraper’ connecting two of the development’s taller towers via linking bridges. The Crystal houses 15,000 sqm of facilities including gardens, numerous dining options, bar and event space, a residential clubhouse, infinity pool, hotel lobby, and a public observatory. The observatory offers visitors unobstructed views of the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers through a glass-bottom, open-air viewing deck.

01 min watch Construction of the project began in 2015 and is due for completion in 2020 | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
Construction of the project began in 2015 and is due for completion in 2020 Video Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects

“The development’s design evokes the city’s rich maritime history with the north elevation of the towers curved to recall the silhouette of an armada’s sails and the crossbeam of the horizontal conservatory echoing the arch of the historic gate, creating a new symbolic gateway to the city,” added Mulvey.

The Crystal demonstrates the firm’s exploration to tap into the potential of connecting buildings as a means of expanding the available public space off-the-ground.

Raffles City Chongqing features a 300 meter long 'horizontal skyscraper' above four towers | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
Raffles City Chongqing features a 300 meter long 'horizontal skyscraper' above four towersImage Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects

The retail space is divided into five stories, and forming its roof is a public park that overlooks the historic Chaotianmen Square. The three main retail gallerias align with the principal north-south streets of the city. Set between the towers, the retail spaces are an attempt to create interior ‘streets’ that run through the retail podium towards the square.

With this project, Safdie Architects once again offer unique experiences as it places public activities up in the air and show how tall buildings influence the design of cities and can be explored as a sustainable means of densifying a city.

The project is located in the historic centre of the city | Raffles City Chongqing | Safdie Architects | Moshe Safdie| STIRworld
The project is located in the historic centre of the city Image Credit: Courtesy of Safdie Architects

Project Details

Name: Raffles City, Chongqing
Client: CapitaLand + CapitaMalls Asia
Location: Chongqing, China
Total floor area: 1.12 million sqm
Year of proposal: 2013
Construction began: 2015
Phased openings: Q4 2019–Q3 2020
Architect: Safdie Architects
Design architect: Safdie Architects
Executive architect: P&T Group International Ltd
Design institute: CQADI (Chongqing Architectural Design Institute)
Structural engineer: Arup
MEP engineer: Parsons Brinckerhoff
Landscape architect: Williams, Asselin, Ackaoui & Associates
Façade engineer: ALT
Signage & wayfinding: Pentagram + Entro
Lighting consultant: BPI (Brandston Partnership Inc.)
Interior design: CL3 Architects Ltd. (Hotel & Convention)
Interior design: The Buchan Group (Retail)
LEED consultant: Arup
Quantity surveyor: Rider Levett Bucknall

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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