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Shanghai's culture clash is all commerce, no consideration

Sixteen million people all intent on change without destruction of their culture.Shanghai is not a city that immediately appeals, although views across the river from the Bund at night transport one to an image of the future that has more to do with the Eagle comic than China - one of the earliest civilisations, whose influence on later cultures in the West was enormous. Is this an emerging dawn as that westward flow of influence, invention and power comes full circle back to the beginning?

Things happen fast here.Pu Dong, on the former 'wrong'side of the river, did not exist five years ago and yet today I ate an Italian lunch on the 56th floor of an 88-storey tower that owes something to Gotham City.As I looked out over the city, I saw 2,700 new towers over 25 storeys. I am told that there are another 2,000 with planning permission in the pipeline.My gaze inadvertently transported me to towns in the Midwest like Indianapolis, Kansas City or South Bend; not a noble architectural tour - we see the distorted Post-Modern dreams of a lost generation, with funny bits on the top.Shanghai has been invaded by the rejects of another culture.

Back on ground level, I observed how these edifices meet the two-dimensional plain of the Earth's surface.The plots on which these buildings are erected are no larger than the footprint of the structure.Residual space is taken up with landscaping of an often excessive nature.

Clearly there is an idea that the landscaped elements will eventually link up, creating shaded boulevards.This strategy is quite clever, but engrained within it are assumptions that all the existing buildings will disappear. If they don't, the boulevard will be destroyed.

The evolution of cities is a very important component in the consideration of futures.The layers of city living are never distinctly drawn between the past and the present.The new evolves from the old. In Shanghai, a boom town, it is as though there is no time to think; the pragmatism of commerce drives forward an agenda that excludes a considered approach.By considered, I certainly do not mean a designed, predetermined future, but one where change can be observed and reflection allowed to distort the vanities of design.

This city shows the folly of masterplanning and urban design.Even though the vision is simplistic, it perfectly illustrates the need for a complexity that is more than a vision of public space, street life and landscaping (often called public realm). I am not against these things as such, but hopefully they are the result of a far less determined approach than we tend to find.

Shanghai is building so fast that it would appear only the simplest of strategies for planning can be adopted. If this were not the case, the local authority would not be able to cope. It could be argued, of course, that if it was not able to keep pace with change and simply gave up, the result would be better.

Maybe this rush of adrenalin that characterises Shanghai at present is its true nature; the massive cultural change is consonant with the many different influences on this place throughout its history.There are still some half-timbered British suburban houses that now find themselves in a central location thanks to the city's rapid and haphazard growth.The upheaval of historical layering gives this place its quality, but I do not see any evidence, in the previous expansions and deviations, of such a mass cultural importation, which is merely expedient rather than thoughtful. In spite of this, I love Shanghai.

WA, from the Mehe Bar, Westin Hotel, Shanghai

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