German
01/01
Text

Unlike Tokyo, whose development has evolved slowly, Shanghai is characterized by a tremendously fast process of economic and architectural modernization. Although the Chinese economic metropolis, like the Japanese capital, exhibits a spatial structure characterized by architectural opposites, mixed use and high activity density, and is thus equally suitable as a case study, the city is very different when looked at in detail.
Shanghai’s special political status, which it has enjoyed since the 19th century, allows it to serve as a link between China and the West. What was hitherto an unremarkable location grew into a quasi-colony of the great Western powers, becoming one of the largest agglomerations in the world within a few decades. European/American economic and technological developments were superimposed on a traditional Chinese society. This special status, which continued throughout the communist era of the post-war decades, was renewed following the reforms of the 1980s, producing China’s most important link to the global economy and the country’s most Western-oriented city.
This cultural peculiarity of Shanghai is mirrored by the city’s architectural structure and open space. It is a city that was planned according to Western standards but whose utilization is characterized by Chinese traditions. Although the walled Old Town covers only a very small area of Shanghai – most of the city consisting of a grid of city blocks designed by Europeans – the small-scale use of space on a pedestrian level corresponds, in both parts of the centre, to the traditions of the Chinese inhabitants in the same way. It is similar in most of the inner city residential districts, where a type of construction known as lilong predominates, which is a modified form of the British working-class terraced house. These buildings, which consist of street-facing wings with areaways and several rows of houses behind, only resemble their 19th century European counterparts when seen from the street. In the off-street areas, housing is arranged in a fish-bone pattern or sometimes in a labyrinth-like system of narrow alleyways, whose pattern of use again corresponds to the spatial organization of traditional Chinese cities. These alleyways represent a semi-public space that, although accessible in principle, represents in practice, due to the intensive appropriation of local inhabitants, collectively used extensions to their cramped flats. Many of these lilong estates are falling victim to the current building boom, so that Shanghai, like Tokyo, is experiencing abrupt changes. As Shanghai’s settlement density is even higher than Tokyo’s, and commerce and trade are still to a certain extent conducted on street level, the paths of the global business elite and the traditional service providers intermingle and overlap in various ways. Our research project therefore addresses in detail the perception of these contrasts between the highly different spaces, their appropriation – including unplanned use, and their utilization.

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