SKP Chengdu: The Sunken Shopping Paradise
with a Botanical Rooftop in the Heart of the City

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and led the Chinese to live in isolation, Chengdu, the third largest city in China, would have stamped a distinct impression on foreign visitors. For some, the chaotic atmosphere of a big city is one of the first images that come to mind. However, after a three-year lockdown, Chengdu’s new face is finally revealed to the world.

Over time, electric vehicles, or EVs, have grown in popularity due to changes in traffic conventions. As a result, the city’s air quality is purer and friendlier to living off one’s rooftop, making SKP Chengdu one of the most relevant new architectural master plans in the city for this kind of concept. The concept is a biophilic mixed-use master plan, which is an ingenious combination of community park and commerce. Located in Chengdu north of the Ring Expressway in the High-Tech Zone on Tianfu Avenue, this TOD (Transit Oriented Development) stretches across 260,000 square meters of land and is set within a green belt as such sustainability was key as was guaranteeing 75% green coverage. The site is bookended by contemporary department store SKP on one end and cutting-edge department store SKP-S on the other. The two complimentary yet contrasting retail offers are joined in a journey of momentum by two avenues, one for retail and one for cuisine – K and G avenues, each 250 Meters long.

Below level 0.0, five stories of luxury stores are aligned side by side, but why?

From above, SKP Chengdu appears to be the best recreation spot in the vicinity, inviting people to enjoy their time with nature. The beautiful bio-diverse public park was designed by Field Operations, a New York-based landscape architecture studio (well known for their project, the High Line in New York City), as a gift for the citizens of Chengdu. Purposefully, there is no hint of what lies beneath from arrival; this is because the entire arrival experience is a pure park and only strategic canopies to access the below-ground level. What lies beneath is sunken luxury retail, the first of its kind and magnitude in this hybrid retail format. It required creating a new blueprint in architectural and engineering terms that was not in existence and an opportunity to develop something truly of this moment to serve the future of luxury retail and hospitality.

The image of SKP Chengdu is the antithesis of its neighbor’ New Century Global Center’, the project labeled as the world’s largest building in terms of floor area that is sitting imposingly across the street. It shows a new way forward for retail at a large scale that is a hub for the local culture.

SKP is the top department store and is globally ranked and renowned for its exclusive luxury brand mix and its sizable turnover in the Chinese market. Around 10 years ago, Sybarite rebranded and repositioned SKP, commencing with Beijing and then Xi’an. Torquil McIntosh, the co-founder of Sybarite and long-term architectural partner for SKP, said in one of his interviews that the design concept of SKP Chengdu has evolved from the first two projects on an exponential level. The design and architectural codes remain constant in all stores; this is a bespoke design that gives SKP stores a recognizable sense of place. The codes are derived from the geometries set out in the logo itself, applied at varying scales, and evolved according to location and context.

As a TOD, SKP Chengdu plays an essential role in this particular area. Besides existing as a major intersection for three city subway lines and a station for Tianfu International Airport, SKP Chengdu also consists of various kinds of experiences that aim to give diverse vitality to the avenue and make it a gravitational point.

The first feature that would draw most attention is ‘The Tower of Life,’ a series of six lantern-like towering water beacon sculptures that are set in the ‘Land of Abundance,’ the zone that is full of youthful high-end brands’ stores called SKP-S. This set of futuristic towers has the extraordinary ability to create dramatic microclimates and changeable light settings, as well as being equipped with purification, softening, and disinfection devices. They are the only silhouette on the Chengdu skyline, signifying the project as all other built environments exist below ground.

The cube-shaped glass structure in the middle of the master plan is a beautiful feature that is there for orienteering the site below – it links the above-the-ground and under-the-ground worlds together. Users can access the shopping levels through this glass cube with a unique indoor bamboo garden and escalate downwards through kinetic baffles of movable metallic gold, which emulate the feeling of blowing leaves, thus linking the landscape to the below levels.

The Botanical Patchwork Quilt atop the shopping area comprises 33 crafted landscapes and scenic natural spots.

The concept of ‘sponge city,’ a prime solution for managing China’s critical flooding crisis, has been applied to the project deliberately for the purpose of sustainability and to support a mature park’s growth. The project also consumes energy based on scientific calculations and the utilization of technological advancements to achieve energy conservation, environmental protection, pollution and emission reduction, and low-carbon production methods.

This sunken world fits just right in the new context of Chengdu. Since its introduction this year, the place has grown to become the current unique icon of the city in the eyes of global citizens. This is a feat from the micro to the macro, which gives it a unique identity and a wide series of diverse experiences, thus bringing the world of retail, fashion, technology, and experience into another dimension and creating another first for SKP.

Project Name: SKP Chengdu
Architecture Firm: Sybarite
Lead Architect: Torquil McIntosh
Location : No. 2001 Tianfu Avenue North (across Global Centre), Wuhou District, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Year : 2022
Area : 370,000 sq.m.
Owner: SKP
Landscape Designer: Field Operations
Interior Designer: Sybarite
Engineering: Eckersley O’Callaghan
Photographer : Nick Kuratnik, Shihao Xiao

Chanikarn O. Lee

Chanikarn O. Lee