The New Second Tallest Building In The World Is An Urban Green Space Wonderland

The just-topped 2,000-foot-tall Shanghai Tower will have huge 15-story parks throughout the structure–and it will let the public in to play in them.

The second tallest building in the world is more like a vertical city than a building. Think of it like this: the 632-meter tall Shanghai Tower is a bustling mixed-use metropolis with more green space (and even more people) than many cities on the ground can boast of having.


The statistics on the building, which ranks only behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in height, are staggering: 521,000 meters squared of floor space, 106 elevators, a weight of 1,200 metric tons, the ability to hold 30,000 people (it really is like a small city), and the kicker–one-third of the building is dedicated entirely to green space.

“Our client essentially is the government,” says Dan Winey, who leads Gensler’s Asia region (Gensler designed the building, which just held its topping-out ceremony this month). The government is looking for a symbol of the emergence of China, the development of Shanghai as a major financial center. If you look at the history of Shanghai, it’s a city of parks.”

Shanghai Tower is also a city of parks. Winey explains: “When you come into the building, on the first couple floors are gardens and green walls, and every 14 floors there’s what I would consider to be a city park. There are also three 14-story atrium spaces.” Sky gardens line the perimeter of the building, which is carved up into nine 12-to-15 story high vertical zones (hotels, offices, retail space, an observation tower, etc.).

Each park is different, both in shape and landscaping. As the building rises higher, it tapers and twists, and the parks are adjusted accordingly. At the lower levels, the parks are close to 50,000 square feet.

They’re also designed to have different themes–one is more tropical, for example, and another showcases native grasses (landscape design was completed by SWA). According to Winey, the parks will contain cafes, food service, cultural events, and even art fairs. “The idea is to bring people into the building, to go into public spaces to experience events,” he says.

Another Gensler building, the PNC headquarters in Pittsburgh, is designed to let in outside air so that office workers can breathe. Read more here.

That sets the Shanghai Tower apart from most skyscrapers, which have retail at the ground level and don’t let visitors travel above the first few floors. There will still be security measures preventing people from entering the office spaces, and public areas will have separate entry points. But Winey admits: “Security in China is not as tight in a lot of ways as it is in the U.S. Buildings in general are quite a bit more approachable.” In other words, this building might not get built in the U.S.–if not because of the pervasive public spaces, than because of all the green areas, which would make most U.S. building owners cringe at the thought of lost rentable space.


Shanghai Tower boasts some impressive sustainable features, including a transparent second skin that wraps around the entire structure, drawing in outside air from the bottom. The skin cools the air in the summer and makes it warm in the winter. But most important is the tower’s verticality.

“When you’re talking about putting that many people on that size of a site–in Shanghai, there are 27 million people spread all over. The idea of going more vertical, to tie buildings together on vertical planes is [the biggest] urban sustainability idea,” says Winey. “You could have an entire city of sustainable buildings and not have a sustainable city.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.