Shanghai Playscape is a new public space, a micro-intervention and low cost project. It has been realized in 2018 as part of the 4th Edition of Open Your Space (OYS), which is an ongoing research and design project initiated by the College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University since 2015. OYS focuses on studies and practices to enhance and improve residual public spaces in the Siping Community, where the Tongji Campus is located. Siping is essentially a residential area built in the 60s and located in the north of Shanghai, which hosts almost 100.000 inhabitants. OYS involves local authorities and residents, students of the university, designers, and artists. The overall target is to help the community to acquire a better sense of sustainability, comfort, and accessibility to public spaces through the transformation and the improvement of the built environment. Moreover, the OYS research project explores the Siping Community in its physical spaces and in its social and cultural significance. It follows three main design strategies: empower multiple-stakeholders to drive local change, encourage creativity and re-appropriation, and enhance the diversity of community environment.
Shanghai Playscape project “flourished” within the OYS framework.
It is a collective and participated project which involves three kinds of participants:
1. Siping sub-district office: it plays a significant role in financial and policy decision making process as representative from the public sector. Three departments from the office are involved: Department of Party and Government Affairs, Department of Culture, and Department of Administrative.
2. Local residents of the Siping community, the final users of the public space. I the project, they were encouraged to express their memories, life stories and wishes related to local community.
3. Professional designers, researchers, PhD students and students from Tongji University (College of Design and Innovation and College of Architecture and Urban Planning) along with professional fabricators and construction companies.
The project area is located along Fuxin Road, in the core of Siping community and faces the main entrance of the College of Design & Innovation. It is 80 meters long and 3,8 meters wide and it was a leftover space completely forgotten by the community.
The project brief included the definition of the identity of the residual public space, its re-activation by means of micro-intervention and the creation of a connection between the people and the place itself.
The design process has started with one-month observation and interviews to local people. Tongji design team drafted the first project’s scheme after the survey and two community workshops with local residents were held, as a chance to collect opinions by users. During the workshops, residents shared their concerns about how public spaces were used in the community, pointed out the positive and negative spaces and initiated an open discussion on their wishes and desires about the public space they would like to see realized
Starting from the data collected, our project has turned the residual space into a sophisticated 80 meters long pocket garden and a playground through a series of simple actions.
In order to highlight the cooperation between the College and the Siping Community we decided to place the initials of Design & Innovation (D&I) together with the Chinese characters 四平 (SiPing) and to give them a playful function. In this way the letters of the logogram has become a playground for kids with a seating area in the D, a slide in the &, a swing in the I, a small playhouse in the 四 and a seesaw in the 平 (this character means also “balance” in Chinese).
A new colorful rubber pavement has been realized to provide a new walking experience while the 6 existing flowerbeds have been enriched with new flowers planted and maintained by the local residents, schools and enterprises. This solution creates an overlay of signage and interactive experience which offer the space a visual continuity while activate overall space.
Identification and graphic treatments are designed to serve as place making features and to enhance the quality of residential public space. The project has achieved a positive impact to the local community and the partial involvement of the people in the process helps to boost the chances of engagement with the space and participation. It gives an identity to the community and contributes to activate the space beyond merely being a signage. The bottom up initiative pays particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing progress.
Shanghai Playscape project draws on the relationship between design solution and social innovation ideas in Chinese urban context, as well as it explores how design intervention collectively shapes the public realm to maximize shared value and catalysis in the built environment.
Shanghai Playscape project is of, and should be considered of, great impact and innovation in Shanghai and in the Chinese system. In contrast to the state control of urban design and planning prevalent in China, these bottom-up action suggests an alternative method of development that embodies the subjectivity and agency of urban dwellers to pursue a more open, democratic, and dynamic form of urban design and place making in Shanghai, in China and beyond.
Ni Minqing, Tiziano Cattaneo and Eugenio Mangi are researchers and architects running complementary research projects, applied research and practices for public interests and nonprofit scope under the supervision of the College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, Shanghai, China.
Namely, Ni Minqing is executive vice-director of Tongji DESIS (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability) Lab. mainly focusing on rural-urban interaction, public space and urban resilience, urban food sustainability, Digital Social Innovation by integrating experience among research, teaching and extension education through design.
Tiziano Cattaneo is founder director and, Eugenio Mangi is research member, of the Environmental Futures Lab., which is both a research laboratory and international research network that conducts investigations inspired by China’s rapidly progressing urbanization with focus on design for sustainable development and improvement of the built environment.