| A view of the Shanghai skyline
Shanghai, June 29: As Shanghai booms, western architects are once again playing a leading role in building it. But critics say their ultra-modern towers are alienating locals and turning this historic city into a soulless shell.
Over the years, Shanghai developed some of the most eclectic architecture in the world. Built in the 13th century as a traditional Chinese circular city with narrow streets and Venetian-style canals, Shanghai became China’s most cosmopolitan city in the 1840s, when western traders established self-governing enclaves around its bustling port. But the city remained quintessentially Chinese.
Now, as Shanghai has re-established itself as the economic powerhouse of China, it seems determined to revive its taste for designer architecture ' this time, in a mostly western style.
Ben Wood, an American architect who has made Shanghai his home, was chosen to breathe new life into Shanghai’s historic Xintiandi district, an area of old shikumen, or alley houses, where Mao Zedong formed China’s communist party in 1921.
In a move symbolic of the new Shanghai, Wood turned the area, which once housed traditional shop-houses and dimly-lit tea houses favoured by intellectuals, into a ritzy shopping and recreation centre. Not everyone’s toasting the changes.
Gu Qin, 27, an advertisement manager in the city, said Xintiandi is a hedonistic watering hole for the rich and expatriates. “Good girls like me don’t like to go there, especially at night,” Gu said.
The city is crammed with such mega projects being built by foreign architects.
Kohn Pedersen Fox, an American firm, is building the 1,614-foot Shanghai World Financial Center that will be one of the world’s tallest buildings; Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed the city’s Grand Hyatt, which at 1,380 feet is the world’s tallest hotel; and John Portman has endowed Shanghai with the garishly grandiose Bund Center, a business complex whose tallest building sports a massive golden crown.
Parts of Shanghai are literally sinking about a centimetre a year under the weight of the more than 3,000 skyscrapers now crowding its skyline. But few seem to care about how modernity is encroaching on their historic city ' they’re just happy it’s coming.