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« Shanghai Tower: A Tower for China’s Current Moment | Main | Shifting the Focus in Philadelphia »

A Warm Weather Walk in Shanghai

Image © Gensler

Shanghai is one of 17 cities worldwide that recently hosted a walking tour focused on outdoor urban spaces, organized by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). The outdoor spaces that participants visited were selected based on their relationship with the buildings that shape them. The September “warm weather” tours followed a similar event this past January during the winter weather. The topics of better urban design and more efficient use of outdoor spaces surrounding tall buildings are particularly relevant to CTBUH and its http://www.ctbuh.org/tabid/6686/language/en-US/Default.aspx?group=20Urban Habitat/Urban Design Committee. In 2016, the committee will publish a technical guide for the design and development of urban public spaces.

In Shanghai, the tour explored a wide variety of outdoor spaces that could be conveniently visited by a large group within two hours. These outdoor spaces included two of Shanghai’s recent developments: Xintiandi and Sinan Mansions. Both these sites have restored and reused the city’s charming and historic shikumen lane houses that characterized much of Shanghai in the years and decades prior to China’s economic resurgence.

The tour began at the showroom of Shui On Land, the real-estate developer of the Xintiandi district. Albert Chan, director of development planning & design for Shui On, utilized a new model of Xintiandi to provide the tour group with a brief overview of the development phases and some key elements, such as the open space components. In Xintiandi, these spaces include a large centerpiece park and several courtyards and plazas laced through the district.

The tour then forged its way to the ground-level plazas of the Andaz and Langham hotels. The two adjacent hotels are situated on the northern side of Xintiandi. Both hotels have particularly challenging sites, considering the density and complexity of their programs. Each site juggles hotel drop-off and service entries and access, freestanding retail, plaza spaces and the hotel footprints on the small Xintiandi blocks. Each parcel’s site plan focuses its plaza toward the core retail activity of Xintiandi, with the Langham positioning its outdoor and café seating on the axis that extends from the hotel’s lobby to the primary route through the Xintiandi retail experience.

The tour group then strolled through Xintiandi’s mix of retail and office buildings, set in the renovated shikumen homes. The retail complex also includes the memorial site of the first meeting of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The original buildings have been mostly retained with the original walls, roof tiles and building façades.

The group then crossed to another block of development: Xintiandi Style. Comprised of shops, restaurants, and an interior courtyard framed by three and four-story buildings, Xintiandi Style is built at a larger scale than the previously-visited block. Along the Madang Road frontage, Xintiandi Style has recently been retrofitted to allow for outdoor seating areas for tenant restaurants, slightly above the sidewalk and bike parking area level.

The tour’s next stop was Danshui Road—a one-block-long street of pedestrian-scaled food and beverage businesses. More than a block away from the main Xintiandi area, this street offers a grittier and cheaper outdoor dining and bar experience, due to lower rents and property values. The street also contains a high concentration of homes, which influences the local neighborhood character of Danshui Road.

The group then proceeded to Fuxing Road, an east-west artery that led us to Fuxing Park, one of the larger parks in the Puxi area of Shanghai. The park serves as a vital open space amenity for local residents who desire both active and passive recreational activities. After exploring a small part of the paths, ponds and small interconnected gardens in the park, we crossed Fuxing Road and arrived at Sinan Mansions. This is a series of refurbished villas that have been reconstructed into a series of pedestrian-friendly retail buildings. The low pedestrian activity demonstrates that this development is not as successful as Xintiandi. The reasons for this are perhaps due to the lack of pedestrian and subway connections, as well as the size of the adjacent Fuxing Park, which limits the amount of residential development within walking distance of Sinan Mansions.

After two hours of walking and touring, we did what any sensible tour group does at the end of a long journey: retire to a small brew pub within Sinan Mansions to continue our discussions and swap business cards and stories about the places and outdoor spaces we had visited.

Image © Gensler

Tom Ford is the Community-1 Studio Leader in the Shanghai office and is the Asia Region PUD Practice Area Leader. Contact him at tom_ford@gensler.com.

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