Rethinking Public Space In Shanghai

The aim of the 2012 Re-Thinking Shanghai competition is, as you might imagine, to challenge design professionals to re-think the way Shanghai operates as a city — specifically, along the section of the city bordering the Suzhou Creek. The competition called upon architects, architecture students and artists this spring to create a visionary proposal for a sustainable intervention tailored to this area (which connects downtown Shanghai to a number of peripheral locales), thereby helping to expand the dialogue on sustainable development in Asia.

One of the proposals that caught our eye is the “Let’s paint Shanghai with fireflies” design that was submitted to this competition by Vinícius Philot, Fabiano Ravaglia, and Gibran Duarte. Their innovative design calls for  unique, smart shelter structures that respond to the weather, as well as mass transit integrated into a number of outdoor recreational spheres. Oh, and did we mention the creekside firefly farm?

Re-Thinking Shanghai_Circle Benches

image via Vinícius Philot, Fabiano Ravaglia and Gibran Duarte/ArchDaily

ArchDaily reports that the project consists of seven macro-scale modules that combine to suit the needs of different sectors of the population. Module 0 includes the firefly farm and parks, while Module 1 consists of a series of large, iconic circle sculptures that double as benches. Module 2 is made up of the design’s tiled sections and smart outdoor shelters; Module 3 consists of “algorithmic archways” over public promenades that function both as art and a source of dappled shading for walkways. Module 4 is made up of museums, libraries and gardens designed to attract families and older residents during the day, while Module 5 consists of amenities attractive to the city’s many young professionals, such as restaurants, pubs and night clubs. Module 6, finally, meets the needs of the population as a whole with sports centers, arts centers, bike parking lots and train stations.

The scope of the proposal, clearly, is huge, but we like the attention to detail apparent throughout. For instance, the steel-framed smart-roof structures proposed for the area were designed to change their density in response to real-time weather data, which means that they open up to let in the sun when it’s welcome, but are also capable of blocking it out during the heat of the summer, providing a shaded outdoor oasis (and cutting down on the amount of heat soaked up by the development’s sections of hardscape). The shade structure can do so, likewise, in the rain, providing those on foot with what we imagine would be a welcome shelter during a sudden monsoon.

Re-Thinking Shanghai_Smart Roof Structures

image via Vinícius Philot, Fabiano Ravaglia and Gibran Duarte/ArchDaily

We also like the fact that not only are the major attractions planned for this area (the sports and arts centers, gardens, museums, etc.) easily accessible via public transportation (light rail) and bike, the museum itself was actually envisioned as an  outdoor attraction. This was intended to lessen the divide between public and private spaces, and seems as if it might also help to bring the arts to those who might not other identify as museum-goers. The Algorithmic Archways, with their fascinating spirals over the area’s sidewalks and promenades, and the giant circle-benches seem to send a similar message: art doesn’t just have to be for the elite, it can become an intrinsic part of the dialogue that cities carry on with themselves, another facet of public life.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.