Shanghai Tower: Influences on Design
Dan Winey in Design in Asia, San Francisco, Shanghai Tower, Shanghai Tower, Shanghai Tower Construction Update, Tall Building Design, Tall Buildings
Shanghai Tower

The design of Shanghai Tower derives from three basic ideas related to the city of Shanghai and the rise of China as a worldwide economic and cultural influence.

As one of the senior members of the design team on the Shanghai Tower, I am continually amazed at the amount of incorrect information that exists in the marketplace about the project. Essentially my reason for writing this blog is to provide accurate, and hopefully interesting information, about the design and engineering of the building. I would like to share my personal thoughts, observations, stories, and anecdotes about our project as it progresses. I will provide you with periodic updates during the next three years of construction, share recent photographs, and point out some of the more interesting aspects of the design.

One of the greatest misconceptions is related to the conceptual design of the building. Over the last three years some people have referred to the building as the “Dragon” building, claiming the design is a reflection of a dragon emerging from the ground. Although that is a very strong symbol in Chinese culture, it was not an aspect of the original design concept. The conceptual shape of the building is derived from three basic ideas: the relationship of the building to its location and context in the city, the relationship with the other two buildings, and the importance of the building as a symbol for the reemergence of Shanghai and China as major economic and cultural influences on the rest of the world.

Shanghai Tower

At a macro level, the shape of the building is partially derived from the Yangpu River as it meanders and bends between the districts of Puxi and PuDong, where the building is located. This river has been a powerful symbol in Shanghai and the lifeblood of commerce and development for the city. This meandering shape is captured in the soft geometric form of the building.

The second major influence is the Shanghai Towers’ relationship to the two adjacent buildings: the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai Financial Center. If you were to draw a line around the three buildings, you would see they form a triangle. This triangular form is part of a composition and a gesture to the other two buildings and the shape reflected in the form of the Shanghai Tower.

Probably the most significant idea was to concpetually capture the idea of a dynamic, emerging, and powerful city and financial center. Our design team, led by Jun Xia, came up with the idea of the building twisting and tapering from its base. This gave the building its upward movement and reinforced the idea of emerging from the ground as it rose to the sky.

During the design review process, a few individuals referred to the design as a reflecting dragon, and no doubt, this was how the building got the label.

At this point in time the building is up to about 100 meters or so, with another 500 to go. Everything is progressing well with the challenges that one would expect on the construction of a building of this scale and magnitude. Next time I will share a little about the challenges of designing and engineering the second tallest building in the world.

Dan Winey is a member of Gensler’s Board of Directors and the Regional Managing Principal of our Northwest region. Our offices in Shanghai and Beijing were launched under Dan’s purview, and he’s been a key member of our Shanghai Tower team from initial project win through construction. Contact him at
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