modu : A Tale of Urban China

Shanghai Corniche Park

In China today, property developers have largely acquired a rather negative public image. In 2011 and 2012, we toured the Shanghai Corniche Park with a group of  architecture students. Upon observing the quality of development there, we were prompted to meet the project developer, Shanghai Longhua Construction Development Co., Ltd.

Urban regeneration in the heart of the city

Shanghai Corniche / 龙华滨江 is a 4 km-long park built on the western banks of the Huangpu River, just opposite to the site of the World Expo. This international event in 2010 saw the revival of the old docks of Beipiao and of industrial zone number 6 in Xuhui district, southwest of Shanghai. Today’s Shanghai Corniche park is a green belt with a low population density, a public space dedicated to walks and leisure, seemingly meeting the objective of the district’s master plan to produce spaces based on the priorities of being “people-oriented, green, [and] health[ful]”.

Shanghai Corniche Park is part of a regeneration project along 8.4 km on the shoreline of the Huangpu, on the Puxi side. Adopted in 2003, the program includes a new business center (CBD), commercial areas, accommodations and public spaces. It aims at de-industrializing and beautifying the area, rehabilitating flora and fauna, and transforming industrial banks into public spaces. To redevelop the area, Shanghai’s municipal government organized an international competition. British agency PDRc, led by architect Peter Verity and associated with EDSA, was the international urban planning and arrangements agency that won this competition. The project lasted 7 years with its term coinciding with the opening of the Expo in May 2010.

A contemporary space with the traces of an industrial legacy

Designers have long preserved and integrated existing urban features and legacies – railways, old locomotives, industrial remnants, outdated technologies, repurposed objects etc., by associating them with modern facilities. In Shanghai, the choice to preserve and value industrial heritage rather than opt for a complete upheaval of the area has engendered a modern park where traces of the district’s urban history and the industrial aesthetic – a massive crane, painted bright red – can still be seen.

In Shanghai Corniche, the developers and designers have made an intelligent and pleasant public space for pedestrians. Here, visitors can enjoy views of the water and new interactive activities. For example, a wall supporting a footbridge has been transformed into a climbing wall, and a free bicycle service is offered around the park.

An Interview with the Developers of Shanghai Corniche Park

In an interview conducted by Modu with a representative of the company Shanghai Longhua Construction Development Co., Ltd., Ms. Zhang Hui discusses the Shanghai Corniche project. Here, she emphasizes a crucial lack: the absence of opinions from urban “producers” during architectural debates. Yet, she notes, it is precisely these producers that are dealing directly with the reality on site. They are the ones with real knowledge about the field and work mechanisms between various actors, and each step of the project, their expertise even exceeding the research of one of the project’s institutes. The level of education and information available to Chinese developers today is far more advanced and comprehensive than it used to be, leading to the creation and construction of well-informed, high-quality facilities and spaces.

Modu: In what context was the Shanghai Corniche project conceived?

Zhang Hui: Major manifestations and international events like the Shanghai World Expo had a major role: they are a source of urban regeneration, and a will to modernize and internationalize, enabling us to intensify the investments of the government in the construction of new infrastructure, buildings and public spaces.

Modu: What is the role of the client in the implementation of the project, and what are the factors that determine the success of the project?

Zhang Hui: Before the project arrives in the hands of the architect, we define the various functions of the park according to our designs and ideas. Our team consists of people trained in urban planning and/or architecture. We are young and interested in new ideas that we would like to implement and achieve in China. Our director is relatively open, and in the case of the Shanghai Corniche Park or other restructuring projects, he says, “Why not do a quality project?”, and then decided to choose a foreign architect. The fact that our team is trained in urban planning and architecture issues allows us to understand the views and wishes of the architect. Having a good team is critical for the implementation of a project. As a developer, we need to choose the right designers. This decision is crucial to achieve a quality project. Specifically, today, local governments are more open to new projects, and teams of developers are better trained in conceptual issues. The ideas on local urban development have matured and improved compared with before.

Modu: What were the impacts of the opening of Shanghai Corniche Park in its neighborhood?

Zhang Hui: I saw very positive effects after the opening of the Shanghai Corniche, which convinces me that the locals had a real need for public space. Before the implementation of this project, they were not even aware that the Huangpu River crossed Xuhui District: industrial buildings marched along the riverbanks and completely hid it.. Today, in summer time, Shanghai Corniche attracts 10 to 20 thousand people every evening. The park also had an effect on the property price per square meter in the area. There are two groups of new housing near the bridge – Shanghai and Baihuiyan Bay: the works were completed before the end of the project. They were then sold for 10,000 yuan/m². After the park opened, the average price reached 60,000 yuan/m². In addition, the investment of the municipality has helped raise the price of land in the neighborhoods, lands that they might want to sell in the future.

Modu: How was the choice of the site’s landscape made?

Zhang Hui: Several considerations were taken into account, which combine aesthetic and practical principles. For example, along the river, we decided to plant plane trees. We drew inspiration from the trees which have adorned the streets in the old French Concession in Shanghai for more than a century now. We liked their seasonal foliage: plane trees are very leafy in summer and offer shade to walkers. In the winter, however, they lose all their leaves, bringing maximum brightness to the park.

Modu: During construction, what interactions are there between architects, developers and contractors?

Zhang Hui: As a developer, for any problems we encounter during the site work, we are asked to comply with the architect’s plan as much as possible. For all minor problems, 50% of them are settled after consultations between the contractors and designers, and the latter often agree to the modifications. 10 to 20% of the planned project is in fact impossible to implement. As such, we have to concede to some changes and then consider solutions given by the contractors. During the building, the project owner is an intermediary and a facilitator between the different stakeholders. On completion of the project, designers are often not satisfied with the outcome: they would prefer us to follow the plans exactly, but we always have to adapt to the field.

Modu: In your opinion, which other developers are implementing interesting strategies?

Zhang Hui: We often paint all promoters with the same brush, yet they are not the same. Each team and each company has a different level of knowledge and education. I often meet with colleagues as well as with a project management team in China to discuss achievements and new development. Several private developers have caught my attention with the quality of their projects. I could mention Green land group 绿地集团(Shanghai), Sun Hung Kai Properties 新鸿基地产 (Hong Kong), Swire Properties Limited 太古地产有限公司(Hong Kong), Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) 华侨城地产 (Shenzhen), or Shanghai Industrial Investment (Holding) Co., Ltd. (“SIIC”) 上海实业(集团)有限公司 (Shanghai).

  • 2012/06/08

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  • Jérémie Descamps

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The Author

Jérémie Descamps

Jérémie Descamps is a French urbanist who worked and lived in China for 17 years. He was graduated from Langues O’ - Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales and Paris School of Urbanism ; he owns two master degrees in Chinese studies and urban studies. In 2007 he founded Sinapolis, an office for research on urbanism in China, based in Beijing and now based in Mulhouse, Great East Region, France. He is also the chief editor of Modu Magazine.

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Shanghai Corniche Park 31.182970, 121.459522 SHANGHAI CORNICHE PARKTags: Architecture, Urban Project