Shanghai (上海)

Shanghai_Hotel

From Suzhou the bullet train to Shanghai took 40 minutes.  The view from the taxi window showcased a city festooned in scaffolding.  The Shanghainese are preparing to welcome the world – 70 million visitors are expected — for Shanghai 2010 ” Better City, Better Life”, May through October 2010, by repairing facades and generally sprucing up. We sped along and entered a hardware and tool district – and then our hotel, Riverside Bund – just adjacent to the famed  Bund (外滩), or Wei Tan District, busy with locals and tourists.  The pre-1937 European-influenced Bund architecture  is nestled on the banks of the Huang Pu River.

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, a principal from Guangzhou Yang Guang Lighting Service Co. Ltd. (YGLS), headquartered in Guangzhou, joined us for the final leg of the journey.  YGLS has multiple mandates; management of lighting projects (as owners’ representative), partners with Guangzhou Messe Frankfurt Exhibition (for Guangzhou International Lighting Technology Symposium), and Urban Planning and Design Institute of Tsinghua University (for educational forums). They organize overseas lighting tours to facilitate communication within the lighting industry and have established Yang Guang Lighting Designers Growth Foundation to support young Chinese lighting designers.  Finally, YGLS publishes a lighting magazine,Yang Guang.

Tongji-University

The first appointment was at the Tongji University Architectural Design and Research Institute. Mr.Zhou Jianfeng, Deputy General Architect and Yixiu Yang, Architect shared architectural projects – buildings and interiors, and I shared works of Light Projects and elaborated on my ideas for creative lighting approaches to infrastructure and public space.  I went on a tour of the inventive, adventurous building where my host YGLS holds lighting seminars.

Sophisticated and venacular Shanghai

Sophisticated and vernacular Shanghai

After dinner in the center of Shanghai City, compliments of Rock Hsuing of  Roled Opto Electronics,  an evening walk took us to visit Xintiandi (新天地) – literally Heaven on Earth, a jammed, fashionable nightlife district composed of adapted, reused and recreated warm-wood and -grey blocks of the Shikumen housing of early Shanghai.  Framed within the antique walls and tiles is a highly programmed composition of galleries, bars, cafes and themed restaurants. The complex felt strangely sacrilegious – authentic and inauthentic – hard to put my finger on… and then it turns out…

The principal architect of Xintiandi is, not surprisingly, an American: Benjamin Wood, who once worked for Benjamin Thompson, the designer of Quincy Market. (Wood recently relocated from Boston to Shanghai.) Wood’s design is a clever mixture of renovated old buildings and new construction imitating the style of shikumen, the gray brick town houses that were built in many Shanghai neighborhoods beginning in the eighteensixties. Three-story structures built along narrow alleys, with elaborate, stone-carved entries leading into small interior courtyards, shikumen—the term means “stone gate”— generally housed upper-middle-class families. (Under Communist rule, shikumen were converted to tenements, and as many as seven families were shoehorned into them.) Like many buildings in cosmopolitan Shanghai, a shikumen combines Asian and Western influences; it is a Chinese home with a Parisian sensibility, a hybrid form both delicate and monumental.

The inspiration for the Xintiandi project was a gray brick building, no larger than a house, sitting in the middle of the site; it is where the Chinese Communist Party originally met, in 1921. (Mao himself attended the first meeting.) Vincent Lo, the developer who runs Shui On, was told by government officials that the buildings adjacent to the old meeting place had to be maintained, and that none of the garish commercialism that marks most Chinese retail establishments would be permitted beside it. – Paul Goldberger,  New Yorker, “Shanghai Surprise “, 2005

I had the opportunity to visit the Shanghai EDAW office and meet a wide variety of urban designers, landscape designers, architects and planners; introduction compliments of my friend Chris Choa (who is quoted in the New Yorker article if you read it all the way through).  James Lu welcomed me and a spirited discussion occurred about new cities in China and issues of public lighting.

A real surprise was waiting in the form of Z58 by Kengo Kumo, architect – the home of Zhongtai Lighting (中泰照明).

Z58

Martin suggested to expect a great building for our next meeting at Zhongtai Lighting with Emma Jiang and Claudia Cai.  I pictured an interesting building and an office within… as I walked up to the threshold of No. 58 Pan Yu Road preoccupied with the taxi ride through the French Concession and all the traffic, my view was filled with a tall silver and green surface – a living wall. Through the door, an astonishing view upward was framed on left, right and on the ground plane with sleek hanging gardens and water dripping and flowing.  It was cool and majestic and I realized that this was not a normal “interesting” office building.  And it dawned on me that Zhongtai was the only tenant…

Z58 is multi-functional – a design and events gallery, offices, and food service for those privileged to work and visit, and – amazing – two “6-star” bedrooms for visiting dignitaries. But the area I liked best was a setting of two Eames lounge chairs surrounded by a softly flowing rectilinear pool on the top floor with a view of the garden and Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (上海孫中山故居紀念館 上海市) China’s doctor-leader known as the “National Father of modern China”.

Zhongtai calls itself “one of biggest professional lighting companies in China with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou”. The lighting division is but one of a larger holding company with other divisions in construction and energy industries.  It was Zhongtai Lighting that coordinated the work of French designer Roger Narboni in Hangzhou for the Grand Canal lighting master plan and  subsequent implementation of his design.

Bird market

On every trip outside the U.S. my partner and I visit the local bird market.  At Shanghai’s Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (花, 鸟, 鱼和昆虫市场) we spent an enchanted hour meeting the birds and their owners, inspecting the ceramic dishes and grains, feeding baby starlings and wondering about the phantasmagoria of crickets….  Here, I have found Mr. Xing-Bao Jin’s– Shanghai Institute of Entomology– invaluable website resource on Chinese Cricket Culture.  In the baskets and little cages  live the crickets who inspire by song and signal the seasons and seasonal activities (see images above).

Listen to the Cricket
by Bei Ju-Yi, Tang dynasty

The Singing cricket chirps throughout the long night, tolling in the cloudy autumn with its rain. Intent on disturbing the gloomy sleepless soul, the cricket moves towards the bed chirp by chirp. — from Chinese Cricket Culture

Pudong_airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport: Terminal 2 designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, opened in 2003

June 18th: after an early morning visit to Gucheng Park (古代公园), Tai Chi and frantic packing – time to return to New York City.  Shanghai / New York City the two are completely compatible.  Can you love more than one city?

Pudong International Airport (浦东国际机场) another gorgeously wrought public space helped ease the transition home.