I am normally impressed more by nature – with what the world comes by naturally. Urban settings don’t capture my attention as easily. Shanghai and Hangzhou might be the exceptions.
Shanghai did not truly begin its modern expansion until the 1990s, so there was a lot of space available. Pudong, where the now famous financial skyline sits, was originally just a swampy residential area. Now, everywhere I look there are towering structures, but they have an artistry in them. A curve of a wall, a cutout in the middle, spheres and arcs. With the advent of our modern construction techniques, and the lack of previous buildings, this modernization of China is a playground for the architects. And where there is not artistry, there is volume. High rise upon high rise stretch on and on:
This is the view from my hotel room – an unending vista of tall buildings.
It comes at a cost, though. You don’t hear much about it from the Chinese, and I have enough sense not to ask them, but this doesn’t come without costs. In Chengdu, when they built the new highway system, they simply demolished whatever needed to go. No debate. Sure, people were upset, but the government structure does not have to listen. Three Gorges Dam ousted millions of people from their homes, but that did not stop the Dam from being built. I get the same idea here – as Shanghai rockets upward, and Hangzhou alongside it, I have to wonder about the people who lived in the original buildings, and the farm land which is now under tons of beautifully twisted metal and glass.
I wonder if this is an example of reach exceeding grasp. I don’t know if the system can maintain what is happening here. And I worry if this is like watching a firework explode – it’s bright and beautiful and then it’s gone. There is worry that Shanghai is sinking under its own weight. I believe I first read about it in Fareed Zakaria’s book “A Post-American World” (excellent read, by the way). I did some quick internet research, and found this article from Time Magazine which says that geological problems are affecting all parts of China as it grows willy-nilly out and up. It focuses specifically on Shanghai for part of the article, and I can see why.
Still, there are absolutely gorgeous forms here, on a scale and ratio the likes of which I have not seen in the States. The heights, the shapes, the almost whimsical touches in the skyscrapers. It’s impressive.
And so many of these buildings have a futuristic, fantasy vibe to them. Take this building – a “community center” in Hangzhou:
I mean, does this not scream EVIL HEADQUARTERS? I think it does – It’s all big and dark and round. I walked by it at night, and there was a solitary light on in one of the office windows. It looked very suspenseful.
Or this one, which looks like a giant, golden Epcot Center / EDI :
And then there are the shapes of the now famous Shanghai skyline:
The building featured on the photo to the right is going to be over 600 meters tall. And next to it is the “Bottle Opener” so named because they couldn’t figure out how to put a circle up that high safely, and had to settle for the rectangle.
That must be a debatable benefit of living in a state which does not really have to worry about political consequences via an electorate. You want a new skyline? You can tear down everything and build it up again! Everyone else can just get out of the way! Time will tell if the race to condense and climb will reap benefits or face the consequences.