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  • 04.14.14

Chinese Mall Is Like A Subterranean Maze

On the pedestrian level of skyscrapers in China, NL Architects designs rooftop parks below which retail and offices proliferate.

It isn’t your typical mall. In response to a request from Vanke, the largest real estate developer in China, Amsterdam-based NL Architects has created an urban shopping center that looks like a subterranean maze.

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Vanke asked the firm to come up with a new way to combine shops with compact home office spaces in a high-rise residential compound in the city of Xiamen, China. What NL came up with was a three-tier system. “Bridge buildings” cross over a pedestrian plazas and form rolling hills of a sort–very much in keeping with the architects’ penchant for awesome roofs–and accessible green rooftops.


Vankely, as it’s called–from Vanke Alley–literally and visually connects a number of high-rise buildings (under construction). Thank goodness, because it appears to create a compelling public space out of what would otherwise be soulless plazas. Below the green rooftops of those buildings are retail patios at street level. You enter those patios as if you’re walking into a cut-out from the buildings above. The zigzag design increases the amount of retail space and the sloped gardens help keep the area between the retail and the skyscraper from feeling like a service alley.

The design is quite playful: The bridge buildings that connect across the plaza create a structural sense of rolling hills, the inevitable outcome of being taller than the outer ring of buildings. “As such a ‘natural’ silhouette comes into being; an undulation that brings in light and view,” the architects describe in a brief.

Underneath those gentle slopes is a vast network of offices. More than 200 SOHOs (short for Small Office/Home Office) fill these bridge buildings and the upper levels of the center. The 320-square-foot studios combine residential and office functions.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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