MVRDV Designs a Green Haven Among Skyscrapers

Two towers are covered in trees and have a big green gap in the middle.

Oasis Towers from distance


MVRDV has excited us and aggravated us for years, and I haven't quite decided on the adjective of choice for its new competition-winning design for the "nature-inspired Oasis Towers" in Nanjing, China. The Netherlands-based architecture practice describes it as a green landscape nestled between two 150-meter-tall towers, promising the building will provide a haven for residents in a dense and rapidly developing part of the city.

oasis towers from above


It spans two blocks on the edge of a new financial district filled with boxy boring buildings, so "the design has a formal, gridded façade on the outer faces of the perimeter block" and the "exterior skin gives way to the flowing curves of balconies, terraces, rooftops, and small pavilions clad in facades of recycled bamboo." Two 40-story towers wrap around the heart of the project, as described in the press release:

Oasis tower at ground level


"Peppered with trees and other greenery, the oasis forms a green landscape on the building’s cascading terraces, a lush environment for shopping in the building’s commercial floors from ground level up to the third floor. This park-like space has a number of functions: it provides cooling and biodiversity, the canopy offers privacy by shielding the residents of the upper floors from the shoppers below, and it creates a walkable environment that connects the two plots across the central road. At the very centre of the public space, the landscape steps down below ground level to connect beneath the road, providing a convenient crossing point and allowing access to the metro station beneath the site."

Oasis tower in evening


“The contemporary architecture of Nanjing takes its inspiration from nature in form and appearance," said MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas. “With Oasis Towers we wanted to push this trend to the max – not only emulating nature with curving, stratified ‘cliffs,’ but also to literally incorporate nature into the design with the greenery and by tapping into natural processes.”

looking down from above


Other sustainability strategies: "Rooftops in the oasis that are not accessible are densely planted with a variety of species that help to maximize biodiversity. Also included in these non-accessible roofs are two 500-square-meter reed beds that naturally filter and clean water as part of the building’s greywater recycling system."

view from river


"The positioning of the towers takes advantage of the prevailing western winds to maximize natural ventilation. The deep balconies are staggered to provide plenty of natural light while reducing solar gain in the summer, along with the carefully placed trees that provide extra shade in the warmer months. A water-source heat pump makes use of the adjacent river to reduce energy consumption."

Ground level view


So, back to the original question: Is this exciting or aggravating? I am leaning toward the latter.

From the ground level in this view, it looks like every other retail podium in China, with trees on top. But does sticking trees on a 40-story concrete building make it green and sustainable? This is an argument that has been ongoing since Stefano Boeri's vertical forest; I once called it "greenwrapping"—or greenwashing by wrapping a building in trees and green roofs but not considering how much more concrete and engineering is needed to hold them up and how much work it was to maintain them up in the air.

But compared to all the boring buildings surrounding this complex, it might be justifiable. I looked at the Vertical Forest in Milan and came to that conclusion: "Because these aren't just balconies, but a different way of looking at nature in the city. I was wrong about this."

Site Plan


Looking at the site plan, it is impossible to tell where the ground ends, and the building starts because of the terracing and layering. If we are going to get concrete towers, perhaps this is a better way of doing it. Perhaps I need another adjective; it's neither totally aggravating nor is it exciting.