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Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture

AIM Architecture turns shopping mall atrium into plant-filled plaza

Shopping centres don't have to "bright, white and shiny" according to AIM Architecture, which has transformed the Xintiandi mall in Shanghai by adding natural materials and plants.

The previously underused atrium has been reimagined in the spirit of a garden plaza, with wooden surfaces, plants hanging down from the balconies and natural light filtering in from above.

Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
A wooden trellis structure now frames the atrium

Architect Wendy Saunders, co-principal of AIM Architecture, said the aim was to bring nature into a type of space that is typically very sterile.

"The sheer scale and amount of shopping malls in Asia can be overwhelming," she told Dezeen. "Materials are usually very bright, white and shiny, and lack any natural feeling or environment."

"Here, we tried to defy that," she said. "Materials were chosen to enhance the feeling of an oasis."

Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
Plants feature throughout the interior

AIM's first move was to open up a skylight that had been partially covered over. This means that natural light can now filter into the Xintiandi atrium from all around.

A wooden trellis structure was installed around the three floors of galleries that surround the atrium. This acts a support structure for large planting boxes, which are filled with tropical greenery.

Plants in Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
Planting boxes are mounted on castors for flexibility

There are also some larger planters in the middle of the atrium, containing a mix of trees, leafy plants and succulents. These boxes are set on castors, so they can be easily moved around if necessary.

"Originally we wanted huge trees in the atrium planters," said Saunders, "but with the weight, and also the need for flexibility for the plaza, it made sense to reduce to a more manageable size."

Zones in Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
Groups of rugs create smaller zones within the space

AIM designed these planters, as well as a series of bench seats that are styled to feel like park furniture. They are arranged over four groups of natural-fibre carpets, which help to break down the space into zones.

"It was important for us to create areas where people could sit and not feel lost in the space," added Saunders.

The result is a space that can function as a destination in its own right, rather than simply as a transition space between the entrance and the shops.

Saunders hopes the space will become equally as vibrant as the pedestrianised streets that Xintiandi is known for.

Benches in Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
Bench seats are designed to feel like park furniture

"As an architect and resident of Shanghai, a city of 25 million, I am always very conscious of the fact that the city should have more places where people can get away of the hustle and bustle of city life," she said.

"If designed well, office lobbies and shopping mall atriums could become a new form of semi-public space."

Hanging plants in Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
Tropical plants hang down from planting boxes on the upper levels

Saunders leads AIM Architecture alongside Vincent de Graaf. Other projects by the studio include the apothecary-style Harmay beauty store in Hong Kong and Ruff Well Water Resort in Sichuan.

Photography is by Wen Studio.

Project credits

Client: SHUI ON
Design principals: Wendy Saunders, Vincent de Graaf
Project manager: Cindy Xu
Project architect: Davide Signorato
Interior team: Mavis Li, Ning Cai
FFE Team: Peichin Lee

More images and plans

Trees in Xintiandi atrium by AIM Architecture
Floor plan
Floor plan
3D diagram
3D diagram