Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Shanghai Tower
Written by Jun Xia, Gensler; Dennis Poon, Thornton Tomasetti; and Douglas Mass, Cosentini Assoc.
Posted November 2011

This paper was originally featured as a case study in CTBUH Journal 2010 Issue II and is also available as a PDF download.

Other Featured Tall Buildings
“Shanghai Tower, which will anchor the city’s Lujiazui district as one of the world’s foremost commerce destinations, isn’t simply about a single high-rise building. It represents a new way of envisioning and creating cities, and it addresses the tremendous challenges that face designers of supertall buildings today.”

632 m (2073 ft)
Primary Use
Hotel / Office

Shanghai Tower Construction & Development
Design Architect
Associate Architect
Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tongji University
Structural Engineer
Thornton Tomasetti
Shanghai Construction
Other Consultants
Mitsubishi Elevator and Escalator

As the third tower in the trio of supertall buildings at the heart of Shanghai’s new Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, Shanghai Tower embodies a new prototype for tall buildings. Placed in close proximity to Jin Mao tower and the World Financial Center, the new tower will rise high above the skyline, its curved façade and spiraling form symbolizing the dynamic emergence of modern China.

More than a landmark, the 632-meter, 121-story mixed-use tower offers a sustainable way of living in vertical cities, with a unique mix of restaurants, shops, offices and hotels spaced through the building. It is a super high-rise building wrapped entirely from top to bottom in public spaces and sky gardens. By emphasizing public space where people can linger and offering a variety of community services placed vertically at strategic intervals, Shanghai Tower envisions a new way of inhabiting supertall buildings.

Spurred by the Chinese economic reforms that began in the 1980s, the Lujiazui district in Shanghai has transformed from farmland to financial center in two decades. This rapid urbanization has required new planning and design strategies to address the need for high-density development on the one hand and “breathing room” on the other. In the design of Shanghai Tower, Gensler has applied the idea of traditional lane houses found in Beijing’s hutongs and Shanghai’s shikumen, where families live in close-knit dwellings organized around a communal open space. In the case of Shanghai Tower, the neighborhoods are vertical, each with its own “sky garden” to foster interaction and create a sense of community.

In addition to satisfying the Shanghai government’s requirement that 33% of the site be reserved as green space, the site’s landscape design draws upon historic Chinese precedents of temples, towers and palaces nestled amidst gardens. The park at its base connects architecture to nature, encouraging people’s engagement with a variety of outdoor spaces designed for contemplation and simple enjoyment of the landscape. The  park will accommodate diverse activities, from large celebrations to intimate  conversations. Park paving patterns reflect modern interpretations of Chinese garden details, lending a human scale to the landscape.
Figure 1. Landscaping
By integrating design with technology, Shanghai Tower achieves a new understanding of the super tall building. Gensler’s design team  anticipated that three important design concepts could reduce typhoon-level wind loads common to Shanghai: the asymmetry of the tower’s façade, its tapering shape, and consistently rounded corners. To refine the tower’s shape, Gensler  worked with partner engineering firms Thornton Tomasetti and RWDI to conduct a series of wind tunnel tests to simulate typhoon-like conditions. Results yielded a structure and shape that reduced the lateral loads to the tower by 24 percent – with each five percent reduction saving about US$12 million in construction costs.
Shanghai Tower’s program is organized into nine vertical zones. Each of Shanghai Tower’s vertical neighborhoods rises from a sky lobby, a light-filled garden atrium that creates a sense of community and supports daily life with a mixed-use program to cater to tenants and visitors. The sky lobbies function much like traditional town plazas and squares, bringing people together throughout the day. These civic spaces recall the city’s historic open courtyards, which combine indoors and outdoors in a landscaped setting.

Shanghai Tower will be one of the most sustainably-advanced tall buildings in the world. A central aspect of its design is the transparent, second skin that wraps the entire building. The ventilated atriums it encloses conserve energy by modulating the temperature within the void. The space acts as a buffer between inside and outside, warming up the cool outside air in the winter and dissipating heat from the building interior in the summer.
Figure 2. Skylobby
Shanghai Tower will be the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the world when completed in 2014. Faced with many challenges – a windy climate, active earthquake zone, and clay-based soils typical of a river delta – the structural engineers sought to simplify the building structure. The heart of the structural system is a concrete core, about 30 meters square.

The core acts in concert with an outrigger and supercolumn system. There are four paired supercolumns – two at each end of each orthonormal axis. In addition, four diagonal supercolumns along each 45-degree axis are required by the long distances at the base between the main orthonormal supercolumns.

The tower is divided vertically into nine zones, each with 12 to 15 floors. An inner cylindrical tower steps in at each zone, similar to a wedding cake. At the interface of the adjacent zones, a two-story, full floor area is created to house mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment and also serve as that zone’s life safety refuge area. This full-floor platform creates a base for the atrium spaces directly above.
Curtain Wall
The tower has a unique design incorporating two independent curtain wall systems. The exterior skin is cam-shaped in plan, with rounded corners resembling a guitar pick, while the inner skin is circular. The spatial separation between the two skins creates flowing atria every 12 to 15 floors within each of the tower’s zones.  To create these atria, a unique enclosure system was developed.

The outer, cam-shaped plan gradually reduces in size at each higher zone, giving the glass tower an elegant tapered profile. In addition, the cam-shaped plan twists around the inner cylindrical tower at each higher zone, creating the unique spiraling exterior façade that distinguishes the tower’s iconic form.
Figure 3. Envelope detail
Sustainable Technologies
Sustainable design is at the core of Shanghai Tower’s development. From the outset, the design team targeted a LEED Gold rating and a China 3 Star rating. This goal informed the design of the engineered systems by MEP engineers Cosentini Associates throughout the building.

The project features water treatment plants that recycle grey water and storm water for irrigation and toilet flushing. The system features water treatment plants within the tower, podium, and basement level to reduce pumping energy. Utilized strategies will result in a 38% source-water consumption reduction.
The tower’s HVAC system utilizes high-pressure steam to feed the heating and domestic water heating system. Vertical zones are served from mechanical floors above and below the occupied zone. These mechanical floors house the dedicated ventilation systems, electrical transformers, and water systems. Outdoor air is pre-conditioned, filtered, and measured before being supplied to the occupied zones.

The atria are utilized as “buffer zones” around the inner façade on the building. Used indoor air is spilled to each atrium before being exhausted from the building. The result during warm months is the temperature above the occupied level of the atrium is maintained below the ambient outdoor temperature, greatly reducing the cooling load requirements of the office, hotel, and observation zones. Similar advantages are realized during the winter, when the heating load is reduced.
Figure 4. Shanghai skyline
Shanghai Tower, which will anchor the city’s Lujiazui district as one of the world’s foremost commerce destinations, isn’t simply about a single high-rise building. It represents a new way of envisioning and creating cities, and it addresses the tremendous challenges that face designers of supertall buildings today. By incorporating cutting-edge sustainable design, by weaving the building into the urban fabric and drawing community life high into the tower, and by embodying design that is both compelling and high-performing, Shanghai Tower is defining the role of tall buildings for decades to come.

Related Links
CTBUH Skyscraper Center Profile:
Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower featured as a Case Study:
Download the Paper
2010 CTBUH Journal Issue II

The CTBUH would like to thank Gensler, Thornton Tomasetti, and Cosentini Associates for their assistance with this article. Renderings © Gensler