July 29th, 2009 § Jack
Over the past two years 3six0 Architecture has been participating in the mentor program of Providence’s Met school. The Met School, short for Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, is a state-funded school district that serves 690 high school students. The school was created under the direction of Doctors Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor who were given the opportunity by the state of RI to create a “school of the 21st century” that would involve “hands and minds.” The Met is divided into six smaller schools, with four of them sharing a campus on Providence’s South Side. The schools are intentionally kept small at 120 students and the curriculum focuses on “Authentic Experiences”.
“Education research tells us schools need to be smaller, with more parent involvement and more personalized curricula. Brain Research shows people learn by making sense of information, by connecting things, and learning by real context. Learning theory asserts the value of hands-on experiences. Development psychology says kids are fragile and must be nurtured by adult mentors to thrive. Gang research tells young people need to feel a part of a culture, something larger than themselves. The Met incorporated all of these notions and opened its doors in the fall of 1996 with 50 freshman in the Shepherd Building in downtown Providence.” The Met School
Alejandra Vidal, Met school junior, interned at our office this past January to June. Brandee Lapisky, her Met advisor, introduced Alejandra to us when she expressed a desire to learn about green architecture practices. Alejandra and I decided to divide her internship into two parts, with the first part focusing on research into passive methods of heating, cooling and shading used in the design of structures to create comfortable environments and reduced dependence on energy. The second portion of the internship would be her own design proposal involving both a real client and a project that would be ultimately constructed.
Jack Ryan and Alejandra Vidal at 3six0 office (center photo)
The mentoring experience has proved to be a rewarding experience for both Alejandra and 3six0.
To learn more about the Met school or about becoming a mentor, visit: www.themetschool.org
May 1st, 2009 § Jack
The perimeter of the original walled city of Shanghai is still evident from aerial photography. The city wall was initially constructed in 1553 during the Ming Dynasty to protect the fishing village from Japanese pirates who were pillaging the coast. It is quite unusual for a village of such little importance to have an extensive city wall as the one that was constructed. This construction is testament to the strategic location of Shanghai on the Huangpu River just south of its convergence with the Yangtze River. The city wall was 8 meters high with a total length of 4.8 km.
After Shanghai became one of the treaty ports in the second half of the nineteenth century new urban development occurred to the north and west of the walled city. These European and American developments were referred to as the Concessions. Foreign residents in the Concessions lived and operated under their own governments and were exempt from Chinese law. The native Chinese population withdrew to within the city wall and the area became know as Old Town. The traditional Chinese character was preserved within the wall while the new architecture of the concessions was of a European style with traditional Chinese accents.
The city wall was eventually demolished and the moat was filled after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The wall was replaced by two curving roads, Renmin Lu to the north and Zhonghua Lu to the south. Replacement of medieval city walls and moats with modern ring roads was a common occurrence in twentieth century Chinese cities. Nowhere is this as strongly recognizable as in Beijing, where the square city wall was replaced by the Second Ring Rd in the 1950’s.
Location of original Shanghai city wall shown in red
Locational of Beijing city wall and its southern extension
Today much of the architecture in this portion of the city retains the traditional scale and density of Old Shanghai. Many of the buildings are well over 100 years old and are in deteriorating condition. Electricity has been brought to the structures as evidenced by all of the overhead power lines, but most of the structures lack plumbing. Public latrines and sinks are located along the lanes. This lack of infrastructure and the low rise/high density nature of the neighborhood have created a truly active street life. Shops and markets line the lanes and the distinction between private and public is blurred.
Traditional housing within city wall
Traditional housing within city wall
Currently there is much debate on how to handle these historic neighborhoods in quickly expanding Chinese cities. Activists are now speaking out against the widespread razing of the traditional urban fabric and are pushing for preservation. Preservation in the strictest sense is not a feasible option since much of the fabric is in such squalid condition and the needed infrastructure improvements are overwhelming. Turning the area into a “museum” is not a solution either since it would merely preserve the structures and not the active civic life.
Traditional building of Old Town
Portion of neighborhood being razed
With its transition from a production economy to a consumer economy, China is realizing its great potential as a tourism destination – both to domestic and foreign visitors. This opportunity has not been missed in Old Town with the development of Shanghai Old Street, a new shopping district created in the traditional architectural style complete with Starbucks and Pizza Hut.
Shanghai Old Street - modern recreation of traditional structures
The preservation/development situation in Shanghai is considerably different than in Beijing where the medieval urban fabric extends across the whole city and is quite expansive (although quickly disappearing). Since Shanghai was a village until fairly recently its area of old urban fabric is rather small and concentrated and is definitely of a manageable scale.
In any case it will be interesting to see how Shanghai responds. We will certainly have our answer within the year as the Shanghai World Expo 2010 site is a short walk to the south of Old Town.
March 9th, 2009 § Jack
To understand recent transformations in Shanghai it is critical to understand the short history of the city. Here is a brief summary:
History of Shanghai
Prior to the 1842 Treaty of Nanking ending the first Opium War, Shanghai was a rural fishing village along the Huangpu River. As part of the treaty concessions, Shanghai along with the four other coastal cities of Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo and Guangzhou were selected by the British to become treaty ports. The British and Americans were quick to develop the fishing village of Shanghai into the “Paris of the East”. Exempt from all local laws the foreigners were able to create a city in a western style. By the 1900’s the international image of Shanghai’s financial success became The Bund – the waterfront boulevard along the west bank of the Huangpu River. The hotels, banks and trade houses along the Bund were designed by foreign architects and in the neoclassical style popular at the time in Europe and the United States. To the Chinese populace The Bund also became a symbol of foreign dominance.
The Bund 2009
The Chinese began developing various plans to reclaim the symbolic heart of Shanghai as far back as Sun Yat-sen’s initial plan of 1919. Many plans have involved the undeveloped east bank of the Huangpu River, known as Pudong (Pu referring to the Huangpu river and Dong meaning east in Chinese), but these plans for Pudong were considered too ambitious and the focus remained on Puxi, the area of the existent city. Attempts to create new civic centers Puxi all ended with results less than hoped for and these new developments were unable to unseat The Bund as Shanghai’s symbolic center.
In the mid 1980’s China as a nation began to open itself up to foreign investment with the Open Door Policy. The opening of the nation to foreign investment followed the three decades of isolationist policy under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Eyes turned again to Pudong and in 1990 this area of farmland and villages was named a Special Economic Zone (S.E.Z.) by the Chinese Government. China now had its chance to redefine the global image of Shanghai.
View of Pudong in 1990. The Bund in foreground.
Pudong was divided into several development areas with Lujiazui, the area directly across the river from the Bund, designated as the new financial hub of China. A team of French urban planners hired as consultants suggested three closely placed signature towers surrounded by many secondary high rise buildings would be a winning formula for developing a memorable skyline. Since one of the major ambitions of the Pudong development was to create a new symbolic image of Shanghai, this plan had great promise to city officials.
Pudong viewed from The Bund 2009
Visiting Shanghai I found it hard to perceive the scale of the recent development and growth of the city. Everywhere I traveled there seemed to be buildings under construction, new overhead highways and recently completed bridges across the Huangpu, but I was only seeing portions of what was happening. Even from the top of the World Financial Center the scope of the city’s growth was obscured by overcast skies.
View of Puxi from World Financial Center
Finally when visiting the Shanghai Planning Museum and seeing the city model I understood the scale of the transformation. I was overwhelmed by both a sense of excitement and fear. Excited by the transformations and everything new in the city and a fearful that the city is growing too quickly and perhaps blindly.
Shanghai Planning Museum
Thomas J. Campanella , “The Concrete Dragon” (New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2008) was referenced in writing the above entry on the history of Shanghai.
February 6th, 2009 § Jack
I have recently returned from an extended 26 day trip to China. I made two earlier trips to China in 2004. On the previous visits my travel was limited to the three major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing due to the shorter time period of 10 days each trip. This time I was able to visit some of the more remote cities and locations missed on the previous trips and revisit Beijing and Shanghai to observe the epic changes there in just 4 short years.
The many contradictions and struggles within China today are compelling. A rich culture dating back to ancient times transitioning into the modern era at a speed and scale that has never been witnessed. What happens in China, the third largest country in the world with 20 percent of the world’s population, will undeniably shape the immediate and distant futures of us all.
On this blog I will be posting a travel journal of sorts with photographs, observations, sketches and other miscellaneous information from the trips. Labeled on the map are the cities and villages visited while in China.