At the Front

At the Front

Courtesy SWA

The LA office of landscape firm SWA has made a name for itself designing waterfronts in places as diverse as Tulsa, Los Angeles, and China. Last month, the firm won a competition to rethink a vital portion of the City of Shanghai’s waterfront. It enlisted Morphosis to develop the site’s architecture.

The site, known as Front City, for its location at the southern head of the city, includes a 940-acre mixed-use development and a 250-acre park along the Huangpu River, in the Pudong section of the city. The development is just south of the site of Shanghai’s International Expo Centre.


SWA divided the 1.4-mile-long park space into five diverse sections, also called fronts. These include the Eco Front (with a sprawling park), the International Front (a formal park with large plazas and landmarks), the Civic Front (with axial corridors and links to the larger development), the Community Front (including sports and recreation), and the Youth Front (for children’s activities). All the spaces can be traversed via a 4.4-mile loop.

Along the river itself, the firm has created a floodwall control system made up of walls that rise and fall according to the water level. The sinuous stretches of riverbank will also include snaking pedestrian bridges; reflecting pools; and colorful, whimsical shade structures.

“We try not to create a boundary between natural and built landscape; spaces flow into one another,” described firm principal Ying-Yu Hung.


Principal Gerdo Aquino lauded the willingness of Chinese clients (in this case the Shanghai Binjiang Tourist Resort Development Company) to push boundaries. “Once you’ve gained their trust and shown that you understand their culture, you can get as crazy as you want,” he said.

That ambition is evident in the development company’s excitement about designs put forth by Morphosis for the park’s architecture. (Morphosis has yet to be named the official architect for the project.)


A highlight of the firm’s design is its “friendship tower,” a multi-story structure that merges with the landscape, resembling a series of interconnected Taihu stones—a porous limestone produced at the base of Dong Ting Mountain in Suzhou by millennia of lapping water. Morphosis principal Thom Mayne also designed a spectacular ferry terminal and cultural center for the site. Both seem to emerge from the earth, with pieces seemingly designed to combine with those from the other structures, like merging continents.

The project is set to break ground in March. The completion date has not yet been finalized.