Central Business District
Main street retail
ULI Global Awards for Excellence 2015 Winner
A brief is a short version of a case study.
Sino‐Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu is a retail-driven mixed-use project that weaves old and new, global and local, low-rise and high-rise, and religious and commercial uses into a pedestrian-centered urban fabric within a growing central Chinese city. The 18.25-acre site includes more than 300 retailers within 1.14 million square feet of retail space, a 335,000-square-foot boutique hotel with 100 rooms and 42 serviced apartments, and a 1.3 million-square-foot, 47-story office tower—all wrapped around an ancient Buddhist temple, six adaptively reused heritage buildings, and three on-site plazas. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Neighborhood Development Gold-rated community brought over 110 new retailers to the market.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is China’s seventh-largest metropolitan area with a population of 18 million. Its strategic location near China’s geographic center has made it a prime beneficiary of recent policy changes steering more investment from the country’s heavily urbanized coast to its interior: among Chinese cities, it has the tenth-fastest population growth, eighth-fastest job growth, and fifth-fastest income growth.
Historically known for its agricultural abundance, Sichuan has become an industrial powerhouse as improved infrastructure and lower costs draw manufacturers to western China. More than 200 of the Fortune Global 500 corporations have operations in Chengdu, and major exporters include Apple, Intel, and Texas Instruments. Chengdu also has nonstop flights to 50 foreign cities, and its giant panda research center is a destination for international tourists.
The 17.7-acre, roughly U-shaped site wraps around the 4.5-acre Daci Temple, a Buddhist monastery founded nearly 2,000 years ago. In the medieval era, it was China’s largest Buddhist monastery, with thousands of structures housing scholars from across Asia. The site is surrounded by many recently built high-rises, but also some apartment blocks and a few older low-rise lanes.
The site lies at the east end of Chunxi Road East, Chengdu’s principal pedestrianized high street, which has recently drawn global brands like Dior, H&M, Isetan, Prada, and Uniqlo. It is at the eastern edge of an area that Chengdu is actively redeveloping into a central business district. Just to its west is Chengdu International Finance Square, a recently completed 8.3 million-square-foot mixed-use complex with four towers above an eight-story, 2.3 million-square-foot enclosed shopping mall—an inwardly oriented podium design that has become commonplace in China. To the north of the site lies Dacisi Road, a major east–west arterial road named after the temple on the site, and one block west is Hongxing Road, a grade-separated north–south arterial.
The awkwardly shaped site posed a major design challenge—namely, respectfully wrapping the elements of a major commercial center around the ancient temple and the six heritage buildings on the site. Pulling foot traffic into the site was another challenge, since only a narrow block-long finger of the site reached southwest from the site to the busy intersection of Chunxi and Hongxing roads, or more importantly to the metro station there. Furthermore, the project would have to distinguish itself amid an increasingly competitive marketplace of look-alike enclosed malls—including one within the world’s largest building by floor area.
The local government wanted development on the Daci Temple site to honor the site’s long history while also embodying principles of sustainable urban development. They turned to a 50/50 joint venture between Beijing-based Sino-Ocean Land and Hong Kong–based Swire Properties, two real estate companies with a shared heritage in shipping.
Swire drew inspiration from its first successful development on the mainland: Taikoo Li Sanlitun in Beijing. Rather than a fortress-like podium, Taikoo Li Sanlitun is an open-air, low-rise, walkable development that quickly became one of Beijing’s premier retail locations—drawing, for example, the Apple Store’s first location in China. Complementing the center’s two distinctive retail zones are a cinema, scores of restaurants, two event halls, and Opposite House, Swire’s first boutique hotel, all drawing people through its dynamic public realm. Its joint venture partner, Sino-Ocean Land, is one of Mainland China’s largest publicly listed developers, with extensive experience with complex construction projects.
A modestly scaled open-air retail center at the Daci Temple site could also complement the temple, rather than overwhelming it—harking back to the temple marketplaces that gave rise to many ancient Chinese cities. An open pedestrian circulation pattern with numerous small blocks on narrow lanes could combine serendipity with clarity, drawing people into and through the site between anchors like the temple and metro station. Instead of stacked atop a podium-style mall, the mixed-use components—an office tower and a boutique hotel—could anchor a far corner of the site. Six heritage buildings, the site’s existing network of human-scaled lanes, and plazas both old and new would provide additional structure to the site’s framework.
Planning and Design
A 700-foot-long subterranean shopping arcade, capped by a landscaped plaza that serves as a continuation of the Chunxi pedestrian mall past two other retail centers, draws customers into the site’s West Plaza (roughly at its southwest corner) from both the Chunxi Road metro station and from the pedestrian mall at ground level. Two heritage buildings stand at the top of the escalators leading up from the metro and underground mall.
The 38 blocks of retail beyond are arranged into two corridors that loop around the entire site, providing tailored co-tenancy opportunities to the fragmented merchandise niches in today’s marketplace. Cosmopolitan fashion and global luxury brands line the outer “Fast Lane” that begins at the metro entrance, complemented by lifestyle and leisure shops along an inner “Slow Lane” that envelops the temple walls.
Outdoor circulation does not limit Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu to just ground-level retail. A system of mezzanine walkways links the upper-story retail spaces, and the subterranean mall continues under the heart of the complex. Three anchors draw traffic to the lower level’s corners: an Olé supermarket at the northeast corner, the Palace Cinema at its southeast corner, and a Fangsuo Commune bookshop in the northeast corner that boasts 150,000 titles and its own lecture hall beneath dramatic angled columns. The upper-level spaces are well suited for the center’s 70-plus dining options, since they can accommodate seating in mezzanines, on rooftops and balconies, and along the walkways.
Three key plazas, each with its own focal points of heritage architecture and sculpture, provide destinations within the plan. The West Plaza at the metro entrance is bordered by Xin Lu, a historic courtyard house that now houses a Swatch boutique, as well as Guangdong Hall, built as an opera house in the early 20th century that now serves as an event venue with superior acoustics. The primary east–west passage leads from there to the East Plaza, defined by a fountain and punctuated by a restaurant within the old Majiaxiang monastery. In front of the temple gates at the site’s center, the Temple Plaza’s reflecting pool surrounds a tree-lined, 25-foot-tall ceremonial pagoda dating from the 15th century and terminates an ancient processional route that leads north to the temple.
The retail pavilions’ architecture drew inspiration from the traditional Sichuan architecture, with pitched roofs and deep overhangs, but is executed in minimalist glass and steel so that the buildings upstage neither the heritage buildings nor the boldly designed storefronts. Flagship storefronts extend over multiple levels and are accentuated with custom materials, like local green ceramic bricks for Starbucks Reserve, translucent backlit marble panels for Hermès, and bronze for Cartier.
Temple House, a boutique hotel with serviced apartments, stands at the southeast corner of the site. Its lobby and an art gallery are housed within 15 Bitieshi Street, a restored 19th-century municipal building; its arcaded courtyard provides a serene entrance for guests. Beyond the lobby is a courtyard of grassy hillocks bound by twin L-shaped towers, with opaque perforated masonry facing out and transparent glass facing in, that respectively house the hotel rooms and apartments. Between the hotel and the retail are two grand restored courtyard houses along Zhanghuali Lane, which house the hotel’s spa and teahouse. Temple House is the third location of the House Collective, a brand developed by Swire that complements its mixed-use properties with “refined, highly individual hotels.”
Pinnacle One, the property’s high-rise office tower, stands on a T-shaped site another block to the southeast, adjacent to busy Xiadong Street. Its design places the circulation cores at the ends of the tower, shielding the interior from harsh southern sun.
The entire development’s plan is certified as LEED for Neighborhood Development Gold. A computer model of airflow helped determine the buildings’ siting and orientation, improving microclimates and natural ventilation and shaping the passive-solar design of the buildings’ deep eaves and vertical louvers. A graywater system uses harvested rainwater not just for irrigation but also for toilets.
Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu had a soft opening in October 2014 and a grand opening in April 2015. By June, nearly 100,000 customers a day were visiting the site on weekends, and 70,000 on weekdays. The property was 87 percent leased, and commanded the highest retail rents and hotel room rates in its market—levels comparable with China’s gateway cities. Furthermore, no tenant-improvement incentives were offered, which is unusual for retail in China. Over 110 of the retailers were new to the market, including the largest locations in China for Givenchy, Jimmy Choo, and Muji.
Observations and Lessons Learned
Placemaking pays dividends, especially in a crowded marketplace. By tapping into the site’s “genius loci”—the authentic spirit and essential character of a place—Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu created a one-of-a-kind experience. The idea of juxtaposing upscale retail alongside a Buddhist temple seems unorthodox, as does the idea of combining single-story heritage buildings with skyscrapers. However, these surprising and unexpected adjacencies are the moments that make cities memorable.
A successful urban environment needs a robust but flexible urban framework underneath. Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu built its permeable circulation network off a network of small blocks that evolved over thousands of years to facilitate commerce at its site. It multiplied that connectivity with strategically placed additional passages and levels to add connectivity, and a dual merchandising strategy that doubles as wayfinding. The architecture provides a subdued but flexible background, while not neglecting details like textures and shapes. Ground-level open spaces and openings between levels, like skylights into the subterranean arcade, provide both orientation points and visual relief.
Retail thrives on synergies and with complementary uses. The Fast Lane and Slow Lane racetracks provide retailers with optimal co-tenancies, creating parallel environments where Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li Chengdu can play to its dual strengths (luxury brands and dining/entertainment). A strong program of public art, events (held in an incomparable heritage space), and pop-up retail keeps the foot traffic going, complemented by a hotel that is a destination in its own right.
|Site purchased||December 2010|
|Leasing started||August 2012|
|Soft opening||Fall 2014|
|Grand opening||April 2015|
|Gross building area||Square feet|
|Number of parking spaces||1,610|
|Land use plan||Site area (acres)||% of Site|
|Streets, landscaping, open space||7.3||40%|
|Number of rooms||100|
|Number of serviced apartments||42|
|Standard room size||678||sq ft|
|Luxury room size||1,033||sq ft|
|Suites, range of sizes||968 - 3,089||sq ft|
|Apartments, range of sizes||968 - 1,646||sq ft|
|Standard room rate from||$219||per night|
|Retail GLA||1,226,870 sq ft|
|Percentage of retail GLA occupied (June 2015)||87%|
|Key retail/restaurant tenants||Retail type||GLA (sq ft)|
|Cinema Palace||Movie theater|
|Muji||Housewares and café||34,140|
|Let's Seafood||Seafood restaurant|
|Lime Garden||Vietnamese restaurant|
|Mango Six||Coffee and dessert café|
|Hot Iron||Japanese restaurant|
|Element Fresh||Health food restaurant||6,839|
|Swatch (Breguet, Blancpain, Omega)||Watches|
|Development cost information||Amount in RMB|
|Site acquisition cost (2010)||2,002,880,000|
|Total development cost at completion||9,000,000,000|
8 Middle Shamao Street, Jinjiang, Chengdu, Sichuan, China 610021
Swire Properties Limited
Sino-Ocean Land Holdings Limited
Chengdu Qiaohao Property Co. Ltd.
Architect – retail
The Oval Partnership Ltd.
Architect – office and hotel
Interior design – arcade
Elena Galli Giallini Ltd.
Design and engineering consultant
China Southwest Architecture Design and Research Institute Corp. Ltd.
Lighting Planner Associates
Graphia International Ltd.
Shen Milson & Wilke
Das Daring Energy Technology Co. Ltd.
Tsinghua University, Architectural Design and Research Institute
Patrick L. Phillips
Global Chief Executive Officer
Kathleen B. Carey
President and CEO, ULI Foundation
Senior Vice President
Case Studies and Publications
Case Studies and Publications
James A. Mulligan
David James Rose
ULI Global Awards for Excellence 2015 Winner
Note: This case study draws extensively on information and text developed by the Oval Partnership as part of the firm’s 2015 submission to the ULI Global Awards for Excellence program.