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Notes on the Geography of China: Shanghai: the New Chinese City

Geography Bowl question: what city since 1990 has built almost 3,000 buildings of 18 or more stories?  "New York?"  BUZZZ.  Sorry, team, the correct answer is Shanghai.

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Because the Communist government declined for many years to invest in a city as accessible to invaders as Shanghai, the city has few Socialist-era architectural monuments.  Here's one, on the right: now the Shanghai Exhibition Centre but built as the Hall of Sino-Soviet Friendship to mark the tenth anniversary of China's Communist revolution.  The architect was a Russian, Sergei Andreyev.

The building sits along Nanjing Xilu, formerly Nanking Road, sometimes called Shanghai's Fifth Avenue.  There's a reason it's here.  A Baghdad Jew named Salih Harun came to Shanghai and went to work as Silas Hardoon in the real-estate business.  Soon Hardoon became an independent operator, specializing in land along Nanking Road.  It made him fabulously rich, and in 1909 he built a mansion and Shanghai's most extensive private garden, Aili Garden.  Hardoon died in 1931, and a fired destroyed the place a few years later.  Japanese troops used the site as a camp until they were driven from China.  The land sat vacant until chosen for this building. 

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"No other business street in the Far East shows such activity by day or such a blaze of brilliancy by night (with the possible exception of the Ginza in Tokyo)." So spoke the Far Eastern Economic Review in September, 1916. Since then, Nanjing Xilu has had its ups and downs, but it's still a very important shopping street.  It's glitziest at night.  The idea of pedestrianizing the street came, it seems, from Jean-Marie Charpentier, who opened an architectural practice here in 1984.

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The Plaza 66 mall, Nanjing Xilu's fanciest.  It comes with two highrises.  Here's how the designers, Frank C.Y. Feng and associates, explained their design: "The solution arranges a series of near-primary, radially derived volumes (lozenge, cone, almond and arc) in the manner of a collage. They are bound together by a five-storey podium, but each one establishes its own entry and formal independence by coming cleanly down to the ground." 

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Here, south of People's Park--and only a mile from the old Chinese city, is the Hong Kong New World Tower, whose occupants include Dupont, Fuji Xerox, Mitsui, and Toshiba.

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Flanking it is Hong Kong Plaza. Notice anyone?

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There they are, swinging on the ends of ropes. 

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Streetside, busy shoppers.

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There's lots of action elsewhere, too.  Here we've been drawn to the Bart Simpson Building... OK, OK, the Bund Center.

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Ah, but as Deng said, it's glorious to be rich.

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Downstairs, the hoi polloi.

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Across the river is Pudong.  It's an immense area, roughly triangular with one side the Huangpu, another side the ocean, and the third side a line connecting the two and stretching roughly due east from the Huangpu to Shanghai's new airport on the coast.  Pudong contains the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, several export processing zones and residential areas, and the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone.  That's the area directly across from the Bund.  It's littered with icons, including the Oriental Pearl Tower.

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A cluster of Lujiazui towers.  The arc-topped building is the World Finance Tower.  To the right of it is the China Merchants Building.  The double-topped structure is the China Insurance Building.

Impressive? The Shanghai Development Corporation sought masterplans for Pudong from several famous architects, including Richard Rogers; it implemented none. In Building Shanghai (2006), Edward Denison and Guang Yu Ren are caustic about the result: "The city's chance to become a truly great metropolis was sacrificed by big business and politics. Money ensured that ill-considered short-term plans and vacuous designs won approval for Pudong, turning the show window of China into a grisly spectable of brash and irrelevant structures whose sole yet empty claim was their height" (p. 218).

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Among the "brash and irrelevant" is the Jinmao Tower, currently China's tallest building.  Floors 53-87 are a Hyatt hotel, designed by Skidmore-Owings-Merrill, a fine old Chinese firm.  You can swim on the 50-somethingish floor; the water is supposed to help steady the building in strong winds.  Sleep tight!

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The heavenly mists clear to reveal a structure whose setbacks are supposed to echo a pagoda.

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Let's shop! It's in Lujiazui, close to the Oriental Pearl tower.  Name: Super Brand Mall.  Owner: Thailand's Charoen Group.

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There's a supermarket downstairs.  Plenty of choice when it comes to rice.

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Greens.

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Racks of rags in an upstairs department store.

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Mall candy.

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You still think that modernization doesn't mean Westernization?

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Tradition as lipstick, a cosmetic layer. Nanjing Xilu.

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Stylistic battle field. 


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