China Beat Archive



Anna Greenspan

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September 11, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright September 11, 2009 Anna Greenspan. Used by permission.


The future is by definition modern – Carol Willis

Modern means Shanghai – then and now – Ben Wood

At the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park, where lower Manhattan meets the water’s edge, Shanghai is currently on display. Though the museum only occupies a small space, the design by architectural firm SOM gives the illusion of height, and the show is packed with content (including maps, floor-to-ceiling photographs, architectural models, video, and a 20-minute floating streetscape by Shanghai-based photographer Jakob Montrasio).

For those who can’t make the trip to New York, much of this material is now available online at the museum’s superb website. In the coming months, this should be supplemented by recordings of a fall lecture series on the Shanghai skyline, which features architectural talks from many of the most notable firms working in the city (Portman, Gensler, SOM, KPF etc).

The exhibit is designed as an introduction to the urban landscape of contemporary Shanghai. Yet, there is much of interest here even for those deeply familiar with the city.

Near the entrance, where the vastness and intensity of China’s current wave of urbanization is documented by a series of diagrams and maps, Shanghai’s contemporary transformation is introduced through ‘3 forms of urban planning and design.’

The first, the ‘patchwork model,’ is found mainly in Puxi, where modern tower blocks are set amongst more traditional architecture and street life. The second model consists of the supertowers of Lujiazui, and the third, again mostly in Puxi, is the trend towards architectural preservation, which began with the now somewhat controversial development of Xintiandi. (The museum’s display on Xintiandi includes a fascinating sketch by architect Ben Wood, who has scrawled across the bottom of the page: ‘What is Chinese? A question that demands an answer every day.’)