Bedford Travel Scholarship 2019 Destination: Shanghai, China
ABOUT ME I was born and raised in Bulgaria in a family of architects and urban planners, so I naturally developed an interest for the built environment and decided to major in Architecture. Keeping my mind one step ahead, I chose the University of Sheffield, as it was one of the few universities in the UK that offer exchange programmes for architecture students. After successfully completing my first year, I embarked on a year abroad in Singapore, which turned out to be the best 10 months of my life so far. I had the chance to visit 11 countries during my stay there, which together with my previous travels, added up to a total of 44 countries visited. Having been a tourist in the majority of these places, I realized how different the experience of staying in one place for a bit longer actually is. During my stay in Asia I became very interested in how strong the Chinese presence in the eastern part of the world is, how Chinese people have so much influence over all of Southeast Asia. I started to better see how fast China is rising as an economic superpower, taking second place after the USA. Witnessing how the Orient is defying the boundaries of what is possible in terms of architecture and construction, I felt inspired to further develop my understanding and connections with that part of the world and possibly collaborate with it in the future. That is why as a destination for my Bedford Scholarship trip I chose Shanghai, the economic and financial heart of China.
I am purposefully going to keep this report to a more casual tone instead of presenting it as an academic paper. It is rather an illustrated story of my experience in Shanghai, sharing the idea that the city is an emotion and can be perceived in many different ways by its various visitors. I hope my report manages to take the reader on a journey through the megacity with me and feel like a casual conversation that is enriching and inspiring. One could use my work as a guide, as an informative collection of insights, or simply as a leisure read.
CONTEXT INTRODUCTION Shanghai is the largest city in the world with a population of 24.3 million, so I inevitably had to choose one specific area to focus on. The Huangpu river divides Shanghai into two parts. On the Western bank of the river (Puxi) is the Bund and the older (beginning of the 20th century, Art Deco) part of the city, where the foreign concessions used to be. Inhabited by western colonialists, the architecture and town planning there have been influenced by European traditions. On the other hand, the eastern bank of the river (Pudong) used to be mostly rice fields until around 25 years ago. What is now the financial hub of the city, was underutilized and barely inhabited. When China changed parts of its foreign policy and became more internationally open, the region of Pudong started to develop rapidly, with its most remarkable buildings (the famous skyline of Shanghai) located in the area of Lujiazui, or â€œthe modernization at Lujiazui.â€? This was the area I based most of my research on.
Shanghai: an international socialist megacity, a combination of old and new, of mystery and unbelievable technological advancement. The most populated city in the world. An open-minded art hub with a bit of prejudice. A paradoxical and chaotic place that works reliably and steadily, providing a livable environment for its residents and becoming one of the most important financial and economic centres of the world.
The image of this city reaches people in various ways, but especially in recent years, its name could hardly remain unnoticed. Thus, every visitor arrives in this megacity with different expectations and ideas of it. And so it is interesting to compare this initial image of the place, created by the media and the available sources with the real, living city. Can a city of 25 million be humane? Where is the thin difference between the faĂ§ade and what lies behind it? How does the townscape accommodate localsâ€™ needs versus those of foreigners?
The Huangpu River is the city-forming factor of Shanghai, it is its epitome. The hundred years of rapid development of the city can be clearly seen on both sides of the river. One can only imagine what trade here used to be like in the past, looking at the number of vessels carrying various goods through the river now (although not all ships go through the centre of the city now, as the big ports are further down the river).
People can not get enough of the view of Lujiazui (or as some call it, â€œthe modernizationâ€?). That is why at any moment there are thousands of people on the Bund, gazing over to a fantastical and shiny future which has become real and within reach.
Lujiazui is the largest financial zone in mainland China. It is part of Pudong, the part of Shanghai east of the Huangpu River and right opposite of the old business district- the Bund. Until the 1990s it was barely inhabited, with mostly low-rise buildings, warehouses and factories but in 1992, due to its strategic location, the area was allocated as a special investment zone and started rapidly developing.
ORIENTAL PEARL TOWER, Jiang Huan Chen, Lin Benlin, and Zhang Xiulin; 1994
JIN MAO TOWER Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM); 1999
SHIMAO INTERNATIONAL PLAZA Ingenhoven, Overdiek und Partner, East China Architecture and Design Institute; 2006
SHANGHAI WORLD FINANCIAL CENTRE Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; 2008
SHANGHAI TOWER Gensler; 2015
The first tall building was completed in 1994- the Oriental Pearl Tower. Ever since, it has been a symbol of Shanghai, an unmistakable landmark. Every year now there are new skyscrapers being built, each more technologically advanced than the previous ones, pushing innovation forward.
The city is quite spread out and has a central part bigger than any other city I have been to, which allows for a more manageable population density. Unlike Hong Kong, where the population density is skyrocketing and people are left with no choice but to live in capsule apartments together with their family, the streets are very busy, and sidewalks tend to be a bit too narrow for the number of people that need to use them, in Shanghai this is not the case. Attraction points seem to be evenly distributed around the central area of Puxi, so people have a big variety of options for where to hang out. This polycentric arrangement allows for a slower pace of living to be possible and sustainable. Honks in the streets are relatively rare, it seems to be of no issue if a driver hasnâ€™t seen the green light for a few seconds or if a pedestrian is crossing on a red light. However, the same goes for crossing on zebra crossings- some cars would stop, others would not.
WALKABILITY AND EXPERIENTIAL QUALITY OF THE PUDONG NEW AREA
Century Avenue STATION Station
In this section of my report I am going to introduce my expereice of walking down the route indicated in red on the map above, as studying the walkability of the Pudong New Area was my main goal for the research trip. To get to Pudong from the Puxi side (west of the Huangpu River), I took the metro and got off at the seemingly biggest and best connected station there- Century Avenue. Like many metro stops, it was directly connected to a big shopping mall above. Going out of the station, I found myself on a big street (Century Avenue)- 4 lanes in each direction, with very wide sidewalks with numerous benches and patches of trees and bushes, stretching as far as I could see, with the tall buildings far in the distance.
I started walking down this relatively monotonous pavement to see where it would take me. I found the walk enjoyable, even though I was the only pedestrian there- everyone else was using scooters or bicycles. I was in no rush, but I can imagine how much of an obstacle these few kilometres of straight road can be if one needs to get to somewhere and can not afford an hour of walking. And it is definitely not a place one would choose to stroll down. So, I can tell this well executed generous walkway is doomed to stay transitory and lifeless as long as no street-level attraction points are present on it (and such have not been allowed for at this point).
Had I walked only down Century Avenue, I would have experienced this. And only this for 40 minutes. A perfectly executed sidewalk with the capacity to hold thousands of people, with some benches and nicely designed spaces to the side, with a lot of greenery. But with no people, no shade and no destination.
On one side of this wide pavement was the wide boulevard with some big shopping centres and office spaces and some empty follie-like structures.
On the other- a lot of nice-looking and well maintained greenery, that seemed to be hiding some relatively run-down residential blocks that I could find no access to.
I was intrigued by the very strong contrast between these two. Interaction between them seemed unlikely, and they were rather coexisting than enhancing each otherâ€™s presence and the experience of their users. My further research showed that these blocks were built around 30 years ago to serve as factory dormitories. I realized how different the social status of the people living around this area was, compared to the shine and glamour of the business district. The boundary of Lujiazui is drawn so precisely, that the character of the townscape changes with the crossing of a street. This was a very clear example of top-down administration, of giant-scale gentrification and of giving little voice to citizens.
I managed to enter one of the residential districts. I was confronted with this gate, which suggested the area behind was relatively private and I shouldnâ€™t probably go in. To which my natural response was to go in.
The middle-sized residential zone I found myself in consisted of the typical socialist living blocks with 8-10 storeys and a lot of greenery. It was all single use- residential. No commercial activity was going on within its boundaries, there were no public venues, but instead every so often there were gardens.
Some gardens had narrow meandering paths and a strong Chinese character, others with bigger open spaces where older people would gather and chat during the day, or where the community could have some celebrations and gettogethers. The smaller green patches have less of a social character but are instead something for residents to look onto from their apartments and improve the quality of the environment.
Century Avenue Station
To the left is the boundary of the district in question. Zooming out on the map, I realized the scale of this housing solution. Every big street intersection marked the boundary of a new district of that type- with its own common areas, sports field, playgrounds, trees, and as locals claim- very distinctive atmosphere, character and community. Along the bigger streets I saw some small shops and restaurants providing for the residentsâ€™ everyday needs. So, pedestrian traffic there could be seen. But this is not the case on the other side, where the malls are. The residents of these estates are usually workers with long working hours of hard physical labour, so it is not common for them to go out to stroll. Especially down a monotonous sidewalk beyond the human scale that in 45 minutes would take them to an area that has nothing to cater to them. So yes, it is walkable, but there is no reason to walk.
The next area I got to did not have a distinctive character and was not particularly inviting, it rather felt chaotic, but still a bit more sincere than the faceless boulevard. People were walking there, probably to and from the adjacent offices. Looking at the map again, we can see how this triangular patch of land seems to be cut out of the grid and developed on its own to be very different from the residential areas surrounding it.
I wonder if they are using it as an experiment to see if they should tear down the old factory dormitories and expand their financial zone. The more powerful China becomes, the higher the standards of living, and thus prices are increasing. This land is becoming more and more valuable every day, so how long can the government sustain such a low-income community in the heart of the richest area? Will there be a massive change of the townscape of Pudong? Are the big roads being built to accommodate the masses of working people commuting to that area in the future? What is going to happen to the current residents, are their communities going to be displaced? What image would such an inhumane decision give to the socialist government? Or does censorship give it the freedom to do whatever? Seeing how much respect there is for everything that looks and sounds good, I wonder what the fate of this land is going to be: office, retail, high-end residential?
There are currently a few newer residential complexes right beneath the big towers. They too consist of identical building blocks but are 3-4 times taller than the old ones.
However, the general approach to their design seems similar- they do have common spaces, some sports facilities, lots of greenery, and of course- a tall solid fence that runs along the whole perimeter of the district. While the older gated districts do have guards but are open to anyone, these ones have controlled access. Only residents of the complex are allowed in. And me, they allowed me in too. On a side note, on a few occasions I was given privilege for being a foreigner. I was given discounts, served with a better attitude or allowed into places that locals were not. In fact, that used to be the case back in Bulgaria too, but now it seems to be changing a bit.
The people strolling around in this complex were very different from the ones in the adjacent older districts. Here they seemed to be of a higher social status, there were some expats walking their dogs, there was a cafe, and the cars were very clean. The overall living standard could not compare to the aforementioned residences, and so could the price of the units.
And this wall I mentioned- I guess on the inside they are happy about it, because the environment looked pleasant. But on the outside, it looks like this. The sidewalk is mostly used by scooters. As in fact many sidewalks in Shanghai are, and I cannot explain why- I did feel unsafe with them driving right past me. This was probably the least exciting walk of my stay in the city, and it was quite a walk. I do not have a solution to how this could be solved, there seems to be little that can be done currently. But I am afraid that if gentrification causes such complexes to take the places of the factory dormitories, the Lujiazui Residential District would completely lose its identity and become even more hostile to pedestrians. In fact, there would be no pedestrians, as the people from these complexes tend not to walk in that part of town.
Within a 10 minute walk down the unexciting street we reach the famous elevated walkway of Lujiazui. It spans between the tallest skyscrapers and is an ideal picture spot- hence its popularity. It is in fact quite uplifting and makes one feel right in the heart of it all, but is used mostly by tourists.
This pathway is quite pleasant to walk on when it is warm and cloudy, but this is not the case on rainy or hot days, when having no shade for almost a kilometre could become uncomfortable. Meandering around some malls, the path occasionally goes through them, giving walkers a break from the hot/cold/wet outdoors. Later did I learn that there is also a fully covered passageway going the same length a couple of storeys down, so one does not need to go out at all, but walking under ground is not nearly as scenic or exciting as using the walkway above.
On one side of the elevated path there is a park that I later tried to access from the street level, and learned that was a mistake. Fenced out, the not-that-small park only has two entrances, meaning that one might need to walk for nearly 20 minutes to reach either of them. Inside the park there are not many opportunities to sit down, and doing this on the grass is not common. Very few people live in the Lujiazui area, so the park is not used as a community area either, so it is mostly used for transit by people whose route to work goes from one of the park entrances towards the other, not nearly fulfilling its potential.
The elevated pathway takes you to a big pedestrian roundabout, from where people wonder at the Oriental TV Tower, which was the first tall building completed in Pudong 25 years ago. And then they either go to the metro and back to the Puxi side, or to the riverfront to see the Bund.
The view is very exciting- you can see the old buildings, and the very new ones, and some Art Deco, which can be found throughout the city, and even some kinetic architecture like the theatre by Heatherwick Studio and Foster+Partners.
A DAY TRIP TO SUZHOU AND THOUGHTS ON GARDENS
One of the days I visited Suzhou, a city 1.5 hours away from Shanghai, famous for its beautiful traditional Chinese gardens and its protected historic central area. There I got a better idea of some traditional ways of garden-making, of the values and beliefs incorporated in the layout of these peaceful and beautiful green spaces.
And when I got back to Shanghai, I realised the extent to which Pudong and its townscape are falling victims of globalization. For good or bad, all gardens and parks in the newly developed area follow western models and do not pay much respect to the traditional landscapes, park architecture and gardening techniques of the past. The new parks and waterfront lanes of Lujiazui are perfectly executed, work well and are more sustainable to maintain than some traditional equivalents, but also if we took out the landmark buildings from the area, it would be quite hard to tell which country, or even which continent we are in.
Pudong also has a lot of shopping malls. Almost every building there has some retail going on on the street level and in the case of the elevated pedestrian path and roundabout in the heart of Lujiazui, that includes a few floors above. Most of the metro stations are in the basements of malls. I wonder if the state gives building permission to those big buildings only under the condition that the developers also fund a station that has been planned for that location. There are many people in the malls, but unlike in Singapore for example, malls here are not the only centres of public life, so the outdoors still feels like the place to be.
Looking at Pudong from above and from the Puxi side as the night falls and the lights come on, I did not feel like I wanted to be in Lujiazui at that moment. Rather, I wanted to look at it from a distance and visually consume all of it at once. It is beautiful and shiny, and the lights are composed in such a way that one automatically considers the Bund the best place to observe the skyline from, and not from underneath the Oriental Pearl Tower (TV Tower). I wonder if this is modelled by social media, as most pictures of the city are exactly this- of Pudong, as seen from Puxi. Also, I now feel like I know and understand the streets of Lujiazui pretty well, so my feeling towards it has changed- it is not that mysterious to me anymore
FRENCH CONCESSION â€“ A COMPARISON
The French concession was established by French merchants in 1849 and functioned as such until 1943. It is the only concession that still remains intact and is a very famous and liked part of the city centre. Some time ago there were other concessions too- the British, Dutch and American, but they have been destroyed to make way for new developments to house a larger number of the residents and provide infrastructure and amenities for them.
The French Concession has a very different atmosphere and dynamics from Pudong. With its narrower streets forming a web of intersections, public and private lanes, it is much more cosy and mysterious. Getting lost around the districts is a very pleasant experience, as that way one can discover new cafes, little shops or old and protected houses. With this, it slightly resembles Europe, even though one could clearly tell they are on a different continent- but at least it has a stronger European feel than Lujiazui.
The main differences from the â€œOld Continent,â€? I would say, are the movement along the street/pavement and the relation of the housing estates to the street. In Europe one would very rarely see bikes and scooters use the sidewalk when the street is empty, pushing pedestrians to walk on the asphalt. Also, as I have previously mentioned when speaking about Pudong, residential buildings are usually not entered directly from the street, but instead are located onto smaller semi-private lanes and do not take part in the life on the street. Instead, pedestrians on the sidewalks often walk past long unexciting fences. Even when there are small shops on the street level, the abundant trees create a thick shadow and one does not think about trying to see what there is above the stores- the second level and above remain unengaged with the street dynamics and thus feel very private. This is not the case in Europe, where one often remembers a street with its buildings and its general colours, age and street activities.
There are cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians walking on the street, which is something one would not see on a bigger street. This completely changes the dynamics of the place and oneâ€™s perception of it. Due to the slight chaos on the road, most vehicles go slowly. The pace of the street is not as fast and intense as on the road one just turned from or as in Pudong. The activities on Wukang Rd are also very different: while on Huaihai there are various chain and independent stores selling everything from clothes to food and electronic gadgets, here the stage is given to smaller businesses and some workshops. They have their doors open to the sidewalk and the action from the outside spills in, while in return the atmosphere from the inside influences life on the street. This is something that could not happen in Pudong New Area. There are no streets like that in Lujiazui, but rather wide boulevards and the wide sidewalks. There is a much stronger sense of anonymity and a more apparent showcase of wealth and of the power of the government. There are, of course small streets there too. Walking next to the 10 lane road, one turns to their side and walks through the gate of a small district. The scale changes completely- it becomes much more humane, quite green and very slow. The French concession is a place targeting expats, and thus there are many western cafes and restaurants. Of course, locals visit these places too, but having a bagel cafe next to a French bistro, next to an Italian winery, creates an environment that embraces the needs of westerners and satisfies their nostalgia-driven needs. With the general population being quite uniformly Chinese (unlike London, for example, where one could find people from every corner of the world), it is interesting to see such a cultural enclave in the heart of the city. This seems to be characteristic of the more internationally renowned Asian cities, as in Singapore, for example, there is a similar place- Holland Village, which is where western people go to meet other western people and drink overpriced cappuccinos. However, from my experience I could tell that it does provide a more inclusive environment and rather than segregating the cultures, it brings them closer together by introducing them to one another and allowing them to mix.
MUSEUMS AND ART VENUES
Long Museum What used to be a river-service building is now turned into a private gallery for contemporary art. Its design is quite intriguing, as there is no clear path for visitors, which gives the gallery a sense of exploration. Also, it has exposed concrete mushroom structures the vaulted ceilings and arches of which shape an uplifting gallery space and create a perfect setting for pictures. In fact, this is a big part of what the gallery is used for- girls dress up and go there to have their Instagram pictures taken. Besides that, the exhibition was good but not too impressive- I have noticed that there are few galleries that can beat the London art scene in terms of curation of their exhibitions. There was an interesting installation with different-sized papier-mĂ˘chĂŠ globes hanging from the ceiling, but people seemed to be as interested in it, as they were in the numerous guards trying to stop visitors from touching them.
Slaughterhouse 1933 The Art Deco slaughterhouse, which is now turned into a big art space with galleries, offices, yoga studios and cafes, is one of my favourite art sites from the ones I visited during my trip. It is an impressive structure on its own- feels a bit like a spaceship with all its narrow bridges and unclear pathways, while it also has the mystery that a site of death inevitably invokes. Most of the pathways going up to the higher levels have a very coarse asphalt finish that, according to an info board, used to keep the passing cattle from slipping and hurting itself (which feels a bit ironic, but is still appreciated). There are a lot of narrow staircases and pathways, and the brutalist style combined with the art deco that can be seen throughout Shanghai made me feel like in a game set, where I need to accomplish some missions and find a way out, and that made the whole experience in this art space a lot of fun.
Tadao Ando Poly Theatre The Poly Theatre was designed by Tadao Ando and is a very impressive and grand structure. It is a part of a bigger complex that includes a hotel (showed on the leftmost picture), a lake with a park surrounding it and multiple open public spaces. I found the building itself uplifting and exciting, as its openings and unexpected views and geometries evoked in me a sense of play. The theatre complex is located in a comparably new residential district, larger than any residential area I have seen, with wide and empty streets and massive public spaces with only 4-5 users at a time. This area is quite far from the city centre. The metro ride takes more than an hour, after which theatre visitors need to walk for 20 minutes to get to the venue. I found it interesting how the socialist government invests a lot in providing high quality art spaces for the residents of all parts of the city but somehow fails to manage them. At the same time, it is not within localsâ€™ main priorities to attend cultural events often. This results in these spectacular buildings and spaces remaining underutilized and lifeless. I believe it is very valuable to have such beautiful buildings as art venues welcoming the community and I hope with time the government manages to bring more meaning and purpose to them.
M50 The M50 is an art district in the northern part of central Shanghai. I had high expectations of it, as I had read about it in many guides that stated it is a must see. It is situated by the river and is open to everyone- a former industrial site with a system of narrow streets that have been revived through giving the spaces around them to artist studios, galleries, art stores, cafes. They have come together to form an attractive space, which however, did not appear too exciting to me. With prices of items there being higher than one would expect for an up-and-coming art area, it does not invite a lively crowd, but rather creates a niche luxurious environment that does not feel very welcoming for the wandering person. However, from an architectural point of view, it is still an interesting and successful (in achieving its apparent aim) spatial intervention for reactivating a previously run-down district. It is in direct proximity to the 1000 Trees building by Heatherwick Studio due to open in 2020.
China Pavilion EXPO 2010 This structure is left from the Shanghai EXPO 2010 and is repurposed from a follie-like pavilion into an art gallery. On the outside it is attractive and bold, inviting visitors to approach it and check it out. However, from an architectural point of view I found it a pretty unsuccessful building. Firstly, the building and its tall fence are perfectly symmetrical, which makes it hard to find the entrance. Once I paassed through security, I got to the base of the pavilion and was confronted with two long escalators (rightmost picture) that I believe would not score very high on a health and safety evaluation. Once upstairs, visitors start walking in (often overlapping) circles to explore the numerous gallery rooms, as well as a long wide ramp with paintings on both sides. There seemed not to be a designed route through the exhibition and sometimes there was a clash in the direction of movement of groups. It did feel a bit random and excessive, so it did not leave me with a happy feeling. None of the elements seen on the facade served a structural purpose, which was a bit of a shame.
Due to the sheer scale of the city, walking for an hour might not take you to a location very different from where you started from, which means one could either choose to stay in, or use a taxi to get around, which is not the most sustainable mode of transportation. Metro stations are quite afar and information about the bus routes and schedules is not easily available to foreigners who do not speak Mandarin. From what I saw, I believe one could live quite comfortably in this megacity, as it offers many kinds of conveniences, entertainment, educational opportunities and almost anything one might need. The city does take a lot of oneâ€™s time- travelling on the metro can be slow, and traveling above ground could be even slower, depending on the time of day. On the day I was leaving, I thought â€œCan I say Shanghai is a favourite city of mine?â€? I truly enjoyed my stay there, it has been very enriching and eye-opening, it allowed me to get a deeper insight into the Chinese culture and mentality, and it was a lot of fun. However, to experience this city, one needs to put effort into it, it does not just present itself to its visitors. The Bund and the view of Pudong do, as well as East Nanjing Road, which is one of the main shopping streets in Puxi, but besides that it might be hard at times to follow a route with a constant level of excitement. It is common that a main street would finish abruptly and not hint at walkers what their next move should be. Or some attraction points would be so far from the main clusters of city action, that one might get discouraged from visiting them. However, the attraction points that create micro centers are abundant. Even though many of them are not used to their full potential, they do excite and intrigue their visitors, and create a sense of belonging to the inhabitants who proudly say they really love their city.
By Ivana Kafedjian 2019 Property of the West Yorkshire Society of Architects
This document is the full report of an architectural study trip to study Walkability and Experiential Quality in Pudong New Area of Shanghai...
Published on Jan 17, 2020
This document is the full report of an architectural study trip to study Walkability and Experiential Quality in Pudong New Area of Shanghai...