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Architecture and Identity

Architecture and Identity
By Ni Minqing -

A booming financial centre, Shanghai is rapidly gaining global economic importance. Since the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, it has been one of the five Chinese cities open to the West. Its strategic geographical position - the word Shanghai translates as “on the sea” - has made it the gateway through which global capital, brands and top talents enter China from the rest of the world. 

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Shanghai underwent rapid and far-reaching transformation of its social structure and urban architecture. Set against its historic backdrop, Shanghai’s modernity is the result of this cultural ‘contamination’ between Western and Chinese cultures. As a consequence, it is a city of paradoxes, an amalgam of Western practices and Chinese mindset, testifying to an extraordinary story of growth and development over more than a century of constant change. 

The city lies in a large plain blessed with many watercourses, with the result that it has been able to spread over a wide area. The most important river is the Haungpu, the lifeblood of the metropolis, synonymous with the city and its history, and since the very beginning the eastern boundary of the city. A primary resource and means of transport and communication, the river has always been the driving force behind development, sustaining first agriculture and subsequently industry. Today, however, the symbiotic link between city and river is attenuated and a different type of connection with the landscape has developed. Urban expansion has extended to the other side of the river, making it the central urban landscape feature.

The importance of the river is evidenced by an urban layout that has made the water course a major aesthetic landmark. The riverfront is lined with some of the most important architectures of the city. Despite this, however, the watercourse is kept at a distance, its banks...

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