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LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS - scape - Landscape architecture and ...

Environment and tradition pay

the price for change

The giant scale model of Shanghai.

Higher, bigger, faster in China

The political and economic transformation of China is fuelling an unprecedented

growth of its cities. China has opted to adopt a Western model of urban development.

Western architects and planners are being hired to replace its old districts with copies

of European urbanism, often including spectacular high-rise buildings. But despite

breaking all records, new problems loom large on the horizon. Will it be possible to

run an Olympic marathon through the smog-filled streets of Beijing in 2008?

Hank van Tilborg

34 ’SCAPE 1 / 2006 1 / 2006 ’SCAPE 35

Photos: Alex Sievers en Hank van Tilborg

Next to the People’s Park in the heart of

Shanghai stands the Urban Planning Exhibition

Hall, a rather insignificant five-story building in

this city of skyscrapers. The only eye-catching

feature are the four steel structures on the roof

that represent magnolias in bloom – the city

flower. Once inside the building the real spectacle

unfolds: a large 1:500 scale model of the city

covering dozens of square metres. With its thousands

of high-rise buildings seemingly dotted at

random throughout the city, the model reveals a

bizarre reality that outstrips the logic of West

European city planning. China is hot. The attention

devoted to China by the European media

might seem somewhat exaggerated, but in fact it

receives too little coverage for a country that is

rapidly becoming a global economic powerhouse.

On its route to the top it looks specifically

to Europe for inspiration rather than the

United States. Europe is now a more important

trading partner for China than America.

Shanghai is a good illustration of China’s

precipitous growth. Its port, once known as the

Paris of the East, is now its economic heart.

Shanghai is the fastest growing city in China’s

fastest growing region. After a period of hibernation

during the Communist regime, the city

gradually reawakened during the 1980s. Development

picked up rapidly in the early 1990s and

has really taken off over the last few years. In

1843 Shanghai had 250,000 inhabitants, rising to

about three million in 1930, but now the city is

home to more than twenty million people, about

the same as Beijing. Two years ago Shanghai

took Rotterdam’s crown as the largest port in

the world. Five of the ten biggest ports in the

world are in China.

New face

Shanghai’s business district, Pudong, was still

farmland in 1992. Anting new town, a satellite

city of Shanghai, was just a farming village seven

years ago. Five years ago Volkswagen established

a presence there, followed shortly by General

Motors, and in a short time the town has become

the Detroit of Asia. Formula One Grand Prix

races have been held there for two years on a

race track built in just nine months.

China is eager to present itself to the outside

world as a new economic superpower. The 2008

Olympic Games are being organised by Beijing

and two years later Shanghai will host the World

Expo. In preparation for the World Expo 2010

work began recently on the Xizang tunnel under

the river Huangpu. It was designed to relieve

pressure on the existing river crossings in the

city, particularly the Nanpu and Lupu bridges.

The Olympic Games and the World Expo are the

motors behind many new construction projects.

China wants impressive and striking new archi-

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