Raffles City Chongqing by Safdie Architects
Location: Chongqing, China
“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
Following eight years of design, development, and construction, Safdie Architects is nearing completion on its latest project in China: Raffles City Chongqing, a vibrant complex which combines office, residential, hotel, retail, and recreational facilities across a 22.7 acre site, embedded within the densely developed Yuzhong district. Situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, the historically significant site was once home to the city’s most important gateway and the official imperial entrance to the city: Chaotian Gate. The area was also Chongqing’s foremost riverfront trading post which has traditionally driven development in this inland city, catalyzing its evolution to become one of the world’s fastest-growing and densest cities with a greater metropolitan population of over 30 million people.
A phased opening of Raffles City Chongqing commenced in September 2019 with the unveiling of a 220,000 sq.m., five-story retail galleria and continues into early 2020, culminating with the opening of The Crystal, a 300m-long horizontal skyscraper perched at 250m and stretching across four of the development’s eight towers. Inherently site-specific, Safdie Architects’ design for Raffles City Chongqing responds to the city’s character as well as its mountainous landscape and extreme climate. The project embodies a considered approach to issues of population density, community connectivity, and urban renewal within a highly developed city center. It is the firm’s 4th collaboration with CapitaLand, one of Asia’s largest real estate developers.
With a total built area of over 1 million square meters (approx. 11 million square feet), Raffles City Chongqing is one of Safdie Architects’ largest and most complex projects to date. It continues the firm’s exploration of vertical neighborhoods, livable urban communities, and thoughtfully connected public spaces. As with other Safdie projects, priority is given to maximizing access to daylight, air, greenspace, and views. In order to achieve this in Chongqing, the development’s diverse program elements are distributed across eight slender towers which soar above a retail podium which features an expansive rooftop public park and 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 development provides the city with a new multi-modal transit hub, including metro, bus, and ferry terminals.
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. “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. Raffles City Chongqing is the city’s largest development to receive the LEED-CS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Core & Shell) pre-certification at the Gold Level by the United States Green Building Council.
Spanning across four accessible towers, at a length of 280 meters, the Crystal also connects to two of the development’s taller towers via linking bridges. Considered a ‘horizontal skyscraper,’ the Crystal houses 15,000 sq.m. of facilities including gardens, numerous dining options, bar and event space, a residential clubhouse, infinity pool, and hotel lobby. A public observatory offers visitors unobstructed views of the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers through a glass-bottom, open-air viewing deck. An evolution on Safdie Architects’ ‘SkyPark‘ developed for Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, The Crystal continues the firm’s exploration into the potential of connecting buildings as a means of expanding the available public space offered in dense, urban developments – often at sky level.
Enclosed by a glass and steel structure termed a concertina – a serrated profile with an elliptical cross section – The Crystal offers visitors access to natural light, extensive views, and garden settings throughout the year. Metal panels on the west-facing concertina surfaces and glass on the east-facing surfaces afford the guests and visitors with natural light in the morning and shade from the sun in the afternoon. Situated in an earthquake zone, The Crystal ‘floats’ on large scale bearings on the towers to accommodate for any necessary movement.
The retail galleria is organized in five stories, topped by an expansive public park that overlooks historic Chaotianmen Square. The three main retail gallerias align with, and are a conceptual continuation of, the principal north-south streets of the city. Set between the towers, the gallerias create clear interior ‘streets’ that run through the retail podium towards the square. Each of these interior streets are generously endowed with natural light from skylights set in the podium above. Two additional gallerias run across the podium, in the east-west direction, and provide the visitors with views towards the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers. The system of gallerias, punctuated by the nodes at their intersection, provide a means for the visitors to orient themselves within the 220,000 sq.m. podium. The public park sits adjacent to each of the residential tower’s private gardens, creating a network of green and open space across the development that overlooks the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers. Public artworks in the park include major sculptures by notable Chinese artists Zheng Lu and Jiao Xing Tao.
The Raffles City Chongqing development is composed of eight towers in total, with six southern towers rising to 250m, and two northern towers extending upwards to 350m. The positioning of towers follows the internal logic of the retail gallerias to align with the surrounding street grid and provide a sense of orientation with the city. Urban windows created by the towers provide views from the city through the development to the two rivers. The north side of the towers features a “sail” screen that provides uniformity to the façade and filters daylight for the residents and office workers. Five are dedicated residential towers, including one of the northern towers making it the tallest residential tower in China. The second 350m tower is office space until the level of the conservatory, where it then transitions to a hotel. The remaining towers include a dedicated office tower and one mixed-use, with office space and serviced apartments.