Press Release

SOM Designs Dynamic, User-Controlled Headquarters for Alibaba’s Shanghai Campus

Located in one of Shanghai’s premiere arts and innovation districts, a healthy new workplace turns the typical headquarter building “inside out” to showcase the company’s talent, collaboration, and creativity.

Today, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) unveiled designs for a new headquarters for leading global technology company Alibaba in Shanghai’s Xuhui District. The building was designed to resemble a cloud, symbolizing both Alibaba’s extraordinary digital presence in the Cloud, as well as the technology industry’s shifting skies of innovation. Founded in 1999, Alibaba is a Chinese multinational technology company specializing in e-commerce, cloud computing services, digital media, entertainment and innovation.

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The 75,000 sqm headquarters will accommodate the rapid expansion of Alibaba’s multinational team with design features that prioritize flexibility and healthy working habits for their employees. The building greatly expands Alibaba’s Shanghai campus, and is located adjacent to a public-facing building for offices and programming.

Upon completion, indoor-outdoor workspaces will support hybrid work and dynamic and collaborative team structures. Smart technology infrastructure and biophilic design features will further enhance employee wellness, including natural ventilation, terraces, and green roofs. The distinctive, modular design is both highly efficient and flexible over time, allowing for expansive long-span spaces and a variety of enclosed areas for a diversity of workstation layouts as teams ebb and flow.

“‘The only constant is change’ is one of Alibaba’s guiding principles,” says SOM Design Partner Scott Duncan. “We took this ethos to heart, designing a workplace capable of evolving and adapting to new needs, teams, and technologies over time. The headquarters is designed in dialogue with the existing campus, inverting the neighboring building as it unfolds across cantilevered masses and staggered, green terraces.”

At the center of the cloud, an interior courtyard becomes a central location for programming and teaming. Along the exterior perimeter, collaborative work and gathering spaces seamlessly extend onto outdoor terraces, providing classmates with access to nature, fresh air, and views of the Huangpu River, which weaves its way through the heart of the city. An optimized, long-span structure enables column-free interior space for ultimate flexibility as teams expand, contract, and overlap. “Collaboration bridges” and communicating stairs create places for smaller-scale exchange and connections between individual team members.

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The high-performance facade is designed to redirect up to 40% of solar heat gain and minimize glare and wind tunnels for occupants on the terraces. The building will be naturally ventilated, with smart systems that cycle fresh air and reduce cooling needs in Shanghai’s sub-tropical climate. Temperature moderation is further enabled with an AI-controlled shading system that responds to the sun’s movement and mitigates solar heat gain, further improving the building’s performance. At the top of the building, roof gardens will harvest rainwater. 

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Designed to exceed the requirements for LEED v4 and China Green Star, the new headquarters is targeting both low embodied and operational carbon.