The curiosity on how Urbanism works on the other side of the world and the will to open boundaries made the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture participate in the “Focusing on Reality” workshop, in Shanghai, invited by the Shanghai Bambuspace Design company, along with the Hongkou district municipality in Shanghai.
In July 2016, a group of students from the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture had some curiosity on what can be done out there in terms of urban planning and we found interesting to go far away from home to share some ideas with people that may be have a very different mindset or maybe not. It was everything to discover. There is no loss in learning new cultures, our differences and similarities. We had a bunch of questions about China that must be answered. Questions in many aspects and scales. How do their big cities function? How is a Shanghainese neighborhood stablished? How is the inside living of those neighborhoods? Are there still things to improve for them?
We packaged our things and went right to Shanghai, one of the most populated cities in the world and the most in China. We are talking about 23 million habitants and we were about to work on something that involves a huge percentage of that number. We arrived to a hotel that was located in the neighborhood in which we were going to work on: The Music Valley (neighborhood name). We first had a very interesting lecture given by an architect to introduce ourselves to the city, to the neighborhood, to the architectural culture and to the people that were hosting us during these days.
After this, we went out to visit the Music Valley, to see how it looks, how it works, what are the uses that people give to this neighborhood and to give our first impressions as “urban” tourists. It was an interesting place, plenty of different kind of uses that as consequence gives a good mixture of people, activities, and timetables that keeps it busy all day long. Another positive point is that it has the Yujingpu river that passes thought it, with his gentle curves and gives an added value to the place. About buildings, we found some new constructions and others restored, making an interesting synergy that attracts foreign people to come and visit the neighborhood as a “place to know”. Once there, you feel like a “modern” air.
After the visit, we start working, giving ideas that for the people from Shanghai were interesting as they do not have the same perception of their city as the foreign do. Day after day, we have been working on some proposals that could help the neighbors to improve in urban terms as connections, landmarks, public open spaces, plazas.
We also entered deep in the typical neighborhood. These neighborhoods were almost like an old Roman city, in which you can find a counted number of doors. Some people say it is for safety others that it is helpful for the government to control them if needed. In any case, passed these doors, we found some little buildings arranged by blocks. They were composed by 3 floors and on each floor, lived a family. We saw how people were living there, we entered to their homes to really appreciate their size and how the spaces were used. It was impressive for us to see how Chinese people from different flats share different spaces such as kitchens, toilets and a washing rooms and it does actually work! Something that may be, would not in our culture. That experience was something special as you do not see that much as a normal tourist.
As hard work pays off, we had time to hang around. Our hosts were very kind; they took care of us in every possible way. We went to visit the impressive skyline with his skyscrapers, which are one of the highest buildings in the world, and off course, we tried some Chinese food.
After all the work done, we finally presented it to the judges. We talked about all the improvements we have been thinking and working on through these days. The proposals with our new and fresh point of view were kindly accepted and applauded. The trip fulfilled everyone’s perspectives and we went back home with a good taste of mouth and a wonderful experience to be told.
Juan F. Torres, School of Architecture de UIC Barcelona