Shanghai, a dreamland for international architects: a challenge to build the city of tomorrow

By Eleonora Pallavicino on April 26, 2011 in Creating Opportunities
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When you wake up in Shanghai you don’t know what you will see from your window, especially if you live downtown. No kidding! The landscape and the skyline are literally changing overnight sometimes: building sites are open 24/7 allowing the light-speed growth of modern compounds, skyscrapers, malls, hotels and some of the most iconic building of this century. It’s a paradise for contemporary architecture and designers, a land of opportunities which has it all: money, space, courage to push the envelope with the objective to make Shanghai not only the financial and economic hub of the new China but also its visual and aesthetic pivot.
As a starting point for the architectural new era of this megalopolis, we have to recall the 1990 opening of the Shanghai Center on Nanjing Lu, designed by the American Architect Jack Portman: a gigantic modern multifunctional building, the first of its gender in town, aimed to host the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a residential complex and western style facilities.
Since then the leading international architectural firms have been able to win the biggest projects in town, have worked in close collaboration with local designers and have opened their branches in Shanghai and Beijing. It’s impossible to mention them all, but first of all just think about the sparkling Jin Mao tower, opened in 1999, designed by the American firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill and inspired from traditional Chinese architecture and concepts: it’s a postmodern pagoda with proportions revolving around the lucky number eight. Then in 2008 the 492 meters tall Shanghai World Financial Center, another wonder building, the tallest in China, was completed and immediately awarded as “the best tall building in the world” from The council of tall buildings and Urban Habitat; it was designed by William Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox, again an international firm headquartered in NY city. A third building, The Shanghai Tower, is in the process of being built and will stand at 632 meters, becoming in 2014 the second tallest building in the world; this time the genius designer is the architect Marshall Strabala of the “global” architecture firm Gensler from San Francisco, who was awarded the project for his innovative idea of a building which is twisting as it rises, representing “China’s dynamic future”.
But the city is not only about futuristic skyscrapers, hotels and office buildings, there is also space for culture and sports. This spring, 3 outstanding projects have come to their accomplishment and again stand for being innovative in architecture. Richard Blinder from Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners of NY City has designed the new Culture Square Theatre, a “phoenix ready to spread its wings” shaped theatre, that with its hi-tech stage, equipment and 2000 plus persons’ capacity is going to be the world’s largest and deeper underground theatre.
The Pudong side reply to the CS Theatre, is the Zendai Himalayas Center that has been designed by architect Arata Isozaki to be an “ode to the new architecture” – as the designer himself defines it. The complex has a stunning exterior resembling a metallic forest and is going to be a cultural center that will house a museum of Art and a 4000 seats theater.
Another big opening in Pudong will take place in July for the 14th World Swimming Championship: the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center; it’s a dazzling group of buildings, designed from the German Firm Architekten von Gerkan Marg und Partner(GMP), that includes, besides the main stadium, a swimming pool arena and an outdoor diving pool.
And if this wasn’t enough think that all the newest projects are committed to sustainability: waste management, renewable materials, insulating windows, passive solar control, reduction of energy needed to produce the buildings, rainwater recycling systems, and structural efficiencies are some of the key features; but this is another interesting story and I’ll keep it for another time.
When you wake up in Shanghai you don´t know what you will see from your window, especially if you live downtown.
No kidding!
The landscape and the skyline are literally changing overnight sometimes: building sites are open 24/7 allowing the light-speed growth of modern compounds, skyscrapers, malls, hotels and some of the most iconic building of this century.
Shanghai is a paradise for contemporary architecture and designers, a land of opportunities which has it all: money, space, courage to push the envelope with the objective to make Shanghai not only the financial and economic hub of the new China but also its visual and aesthetic pivot.
As a starting point for the architectural new era of this megalopolis, we have to recall the 1990 opening of the Shanghai Center on Nanjing Lu, designed by the American Architect Jack Portman: a gigantic modern multifunctional building, the first of its gender in town, aimed to host the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a residential and western style facilities complex.
Since then the leading international architectural firms have been able to win the biggest projects in town. Working in close collaboration with local designers, they have opened their branches in Shanghai and Beijing. It´s impossible to mention them all, but first of all just think about the sparkling Jin Mao tower, opened in 1999, designed by the American firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill and inspired from traditional Chinese architecture and concepts: it´s a postmodern pagoda with proportions revolving around the lucky number eight.
Then in 2008 the 492 meters tall Shanghai World Financial Center, another wonder building, the tallest in China, was completed and immediately awarded as “The best tall building in the world” from the Council of tall buildings and Urban Habitat. It was designed by William Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox, again an international firm headquartered in NY city. A third building, The Shanghai Tower, is in the process of being built and will stand at 632 meters, becoming in 2014 the second tallest building in the world. This time the genius designer is the architect Marshall Strabala of the global architecture firm Gensler from San Francisco, who was awarded for his innovative idea of a building which is twisting as it rises, representing “China´s dynamic future”.

But the city is not only about futuristic skyscrapers, hotels and office buildings, there is also space for culture and sports. This spring, 3 outstanding projects have come to their accomplishment and again stand for being innovative in architecture. Richard Blinder from Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners of NY City has designed the new Culture Square Theatre, a “Phoenix ready to spread its wings” shaped theatre, that with its hi-tech stage, equipment and 2000 plus persons´ capacity is going to be the world´s largest and deeper underground theatre.
The Pudong side reply to the CS Theatre, is the Zendai Himalayas Center that has been designed by architect Arata Isozaki to be an “ode to the new architecture” as the designer himself defines it. The complex has a stunning exterior resembling a metallic forest and is going to be a cultural center that will house a museum of Art and a 4000 seats theater.
Another big opening in Pudong will take place in July for the 14th World Swimming Championship: the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center; it´s a dazzling group of buildings, designed by the German Firm Architekten von Gerkan Marg und Partner (GMP), that includes, besides the main stadium, a swimming pool arena and an outdoor diving pool.
And if this is not enough, just think that all the newest projects are committed to sustainability: waste management, renewable materials, insulating windows, passive solar control, reduction of energy needed to produce the buildings, rainwater recycling systems, and structural efficiencies are some of the key features. But this is another interesting story that I will tell you soon.
Fotocredits:
Marcus Bredt; Gensler; Luca Isola

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