Urban Intersections: Engaging Dualities in Shanghai
Master of Architecture thesis
The absolute polarization of contextual and tabula rasa urban models has long been advanced, even blatantly promoted, within the discipline. Taken for granted as foils, the exclusive championing and application of context or tabula rasa has only served to undermine the agency of the contemporary city. Producing an ineffectual and one-dimensional duality, cities have been reduced to futilely choose between the old and the new. A city of contradictory extremes, the clash between these concepts is embodied in the urbanism of Shanghai. With the impetus of China’s “Economic Miracle,” a previously unheard of scale and speed of urbanization has been achieved throughout the country with the creation of “instant cities.” Embraced as testing grounds for contemporary urbanism, the characteristics and conditions of the instant cities have been enthusiastically and almost universally adopted, leading to a primacy of tabula rasa and vertical development. Partially transformed by this model of erasure, Shanghai’s urbanism is defined by confrontation as the urban models of the past and present collide. The duality manifest by this conflict compels an examination of the seemingly agonistic roles of context and erasure in the city. The ambition of this thesis is to eliminate such distinctions; the choice between contextual and tabula rasa approaches does not work. This false choice produces either a conservative preservationist tourist attraction or a generic and totalizing vertical city. The shallow tendencies of both approaches threaten the city as a multiple and collective space of possibility. By adopting a broader view of context and collapsing present dualities, this project seeks to create complexity and new confrontations through an urban morphology shaped by architecture. Moving beyond contextual preservation and tabula rasa, this thesis seeks to engage and create another reality using that juxtaposition to open new relationships within the city.