Ordinary Metropolis--Shanghai: a Model of Urbanism

Curator Zhang Liang
Organizer PSA
Co-Organiser Shanghai Film Museum 、Putuo District Shanghai Cao Yang Village Street Office、Shanghai Library Shanghai Library (Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of Shanghai)
About the Exhibition

Is modernity and the modern experience confined exclusively to canonical or European models? Does modernism only follow the pattern of locally received foreign influence? If modernity is not only about foreign influence, how do we interpret the autonomous features of Shanghai's modern urbanism?

To answer these questions we need to consider not only modern architecture and the city, but as well examine a broader horizon that includes other aspects of culture such as literature, film, and everyday life to provide a wider context for understanding. This exhibition has four sections: 1) The Greater Shanghai Plan: A Model of Modern Metropolis Planning; 2) Archipelago: A Model for Modern Life; 3) The New Workers' Village: Chinese Modernism Life; 4) Ordinary Metropolis: "Utopia" for Living.

The Greater Shanghai Plan: A Model of Modern Metropolis Planning

The Greater Shanghai Plan is a model for modern urban planning that went beyond just a mode of an expansion of a colonized city to become a spatial manifestation of the nation state. The style of public architecture emerging from the plan is referred to as "Chinese inherent form", which created an image for the national revival. The plan, for public spaces — roads, squares and parks — shows the revelation of modernity, for the style of the urban planning, represents a continuation of the modernist garden residence. The construction process used for new residential areas and infrastructure respected public rights in land development. For the style of the residential buildings, the plan advocated for a new life and spirit for individuals; its social progressiveness guided the community leaders, represented the reason and optimism of modernism.

Archipelago: A Model for Modern Life

In the 1930s, the International Settlement, the modern "urban archipelago", is synonymous with "the fashionable", which represents an unwillingness to fall behind and an embracing of new trends. The Art Deco modern apartment entered the everyday lives of the middle class in the metropolis. It is not only a new architectural style and form of urbanism, but also a manifesto on a modern way of life: now there are elevators, flush toilets, heating systems, and air-conditioners. The owners of the apartments can move easily in and out of cinemas and ballrooms, stroll the streets, go to bookstores, welcome friends in western-styled living rooms, have dates in cafes, and are avid readers of novels and The Young Companion Pictorial. Rather than saying that the embrace of the "modern" by Shanghai's urban community is an openness towards ever-changing foreign novelties, we should see it as a kind of incorporation of the diverse nature that is firmly rooted in the local, and a cultural pattern that blends hybridity, which creates a multi-dimensional sample for modernity.

The New Workers' Village: Chinese Modernism Life

Like developments in suburbs and other residential areas, we can take the Caoyang New Workers' Village built in the 1950s as an example of unique modernist practices in China: the Socialist "production of space" had once again brought the "utopia" into reality. As with the Frankfurt Plan that laid a foundation for modernist planning theories, the Soviet Union's promotion of these ideas, and the European suburban collective housing construction between the 1950s and 1960s, the New Workers' Village in Shanghai is as well a living proof of the localization of modernism.

Housing, often produced through the practice of public expropriation of land and real estate development, usually reflects ideological views gained through the filtered lens of social policies. However, housing that embodies the details of the everyday not only is the fountainhead of local cultures but also displays a modern spirit. Citizen participation is not only an indispensable component of modern society, but it also provides the everyday living experiences that develop modern thoughts and ideas. The grand scale of the revolution of contemporary Chinese cities' housing has influenced the urbanization movement around the world, to the point that it has affected the dominant position of the developed countries built through history. Over the past thirty years, the unique experiences in the modernization of Shanghai's housing has provided a contemporary example of everyday life for the global citizen's metropolis, as a time order of modernity.

Ordinary Metropolis: "Utopia" for Living.

A utopia of styles, technology, and new economies was released from Pandora's box in the twentieth century, like the Red Phoenix emerging out of newly born cities around the world. The important milestones of urban development from the twentieth century are no longer considered just the signposts from European history before World War II or the witness of the optimistic promises of Capitalism's economic growth from the so-called "Thirty Years of Glory" in the post-war era. It also provided various "relay" samples, a kind of diversified modernity. Shanghai is namely an important reading text of it. From the Vienna Plan (1911), the Amsterdam Plan (1916), the Frankfurt Plan (1925) to the Greater Shanghai Plan (1929), the evolution of the knowledge power structures for modern urbanism is more like a rotating interactive experience between various conceptions of modernity.

About Curator

Zhang Liang, architect, graduated in DPLG from the National Superior School of Architecture at Paris-La Villette, and in Ph.D.(in architecture) from the University of Paris 8. As associate professor, he teached at the National Superior School of Architecture at Paris - La Villette and then at Paris-Belleville. Researcher member of the laboratory LAA-LAVUE/CNRS-UMR 7218, he conducts works on morphological problematic of contemporary cites. He was the research director of the pluridisciplinary program “Architecture of large-scale” (PUCA, BRAUP in French). Specialist in the heritage, he has published The Birth of the Concept of Heritage in China.