Best Public Project

This grand station serves as an intermodal hub for intercity trains, local rail lines, taxis, buses, and private cars. But with its enormous circular roof and glass drum, it also acts as an important landmark for the southern part of Shanghai and a symbol of a city that seems to be always on the move. The station serves trains to all destinations south, including lines to Hangzhou and Hong Kong, and two of Shanghai’s underground rail lines. By wrapping the circular building with a motorway viaduct, the architects at the French firm AREP VILLE and the Chinese firms East China Architectural Design & Research Institute and Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design Group created an efficient system for cars and buses to drop off passengers and reduced the distance passengers need to walk to get to waiting areas or directly to the train platforms. “When we started working in Shanghai we saw that a lot of people move around the city by car and take the elevated highways,” says Etienne Tricaud, a lead architect on the project and a general manager of AREP. “So we incorporated a highway viaduct in our design as an efficient way of providing access.”

Shanghai South Station
Photo © Didier Boy de la Tour

The station’s impressive roof has a diameter of 255 meters and covers 60,000 square meters, but appears to float thanks to an innovative structural system. Eighteen treelike pillars support a network of concentric rings of purlins and bracing cables, creating a structure that can withstand wind loads of up to 250 kilograms per square meter and strong seismic forces. The roof is made of  three layers: metal sun shades on the outside, transparent polycarbonate sheeting in the middle, and perforated metal panels on the inside. The sun shades are angled to let in sunlight during the winter but block direct sunlight during the summer. The polycarbonate sheeting and perforated metal panels also filter and diffuse daylight, spreading soft illumination around the building’s great waiting hall and reducing the need for electric light.

The waiting hall, which can accommodate 10,000 passengers, offers an array of shops and services, as well as views down through skylights to the platforms below. “We wanted to create a public place with a strong identity,” explains Tricaud, “a place made for people and for the city of Shanghai.” With its great bicycle-wheel roof and sleek materials like brushed aluminum, glass, polycarbonate, and perforated steel, the hall represents the city’s leap into the 21st century.

In addition to being an efficient form for moving people from perimeter to central hall to trains below, the circular building alludes to Chinese cosmology with the outer ring representing the heavens and the inner rectangular waiting area representing the earth. As such, the station acts as a gateway to the modern city of Shanghai and perhaps even to China’s past and future.