Shanghai – A Skyscraper Sprawl

What to say about Shanghai? In my wildest dreams I never imagined a skyscraper sprawl like the one Ed and I encountered. It boggled my mind. But when our tour guide on our last day proudly recounted that Shanghai city proper is home to some 12 million people, and that the city outskirts contains another 12 million, I imagined skyscrapers are necessary.

Pudung by night

View of Pudong, Shanghai’s chief financial center, across from The Bund. Taken from the Cathay Restaurant at the Fairmont.

Pudung by day

View of Pudong by day.

At night Shanghai’s signature buildings are ablaze in colorful lights – just like Las Vegas. The nighttime views along the river walk of the Huangpu River on The Bund are electrifying. I can’t say I liked the architecture of Shanghai as I felt most of it looked like Sci-fi movie-sets, and hodgepodges of design elements that were never meant to be paired together.

On the Bund, with river view of Pudong.

On the Bund, with river view of Pudong.

But Ed delighted in and appreciated Shanghai’s architecture, thinking the designs fun, frivolous, and whimsical.

Ed tai chi med

Ed demonstrates Tai Chi.

city plan med

Model of Shanghai’s City Plan 2020

Standing outside the Shanghai Museum on our second day, I stopped and twirled around “again” slowly to understand the skyscraper landscape and asked Ed what he thought the city and their architects were thinking about when they created all “these unusual” buildings. In my architectural opinion, the architects didn’t take a moment to stand outside and consider the buildings that would surround their design. Nothing I bemoaned, compliments the other. Ed replied, “Why’d the chicken cross the road?” Pause. I didn’t answer. “Because they can.” Humph, I responded considering the flat-topped building behind him that is home to the city’s Urban Planning Exhibition Center and houses a giant scale model of Shanghai in 2020. He glanced back in it’s direction, turned to me and lifted his hands above his head, and said, “It’s like Tai Chi. You’ve got the whole world in your hands.” I could only laugh.

ball view med

A Howard Roark design? Looks like something straight out of Ayn Rand’s, The Fountainhead.

As we sat one day for lunch on top of the Radisson Hotel in the revolving restaurant affording us a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, I pointed at the building in front of us with a ball that looked suspended in what I deemed to be two arms reaching for the sky. “There, that one. If someone made me like a building, I’d choose that one. It reminds me of something Howard Roark might have designed in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It’s almost got clean lines.”

Edited Rad View

Another view from the Radisson. Breath-taking, actually.


Ed nodded and I felt better thinking that I’d picked at least one out hundreds of buildings that tower over the teeming masses who flock to see and experience Shanghai.

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6 Responses to Shanghai – A Skyscraper Sprawl

  1. I recently read The White City about the Chicago World’s Fair. Chicago’s skyline happened largely in a very short period of time, as little as a period of 50 years, and ergo seems more homogeneous. Especially with the great fire clearing all the history away. But I would imagine Shanghai’s skyline happened over a longer period of time – more varied cultural influence and a wider span of technical development.

    Frank Lloyd Wright once designed a building that would be a mile high. At the time there were not the materials or engineering to make it possible. Probably a good thing. Now technology does not stand in the way of architectural fancy and nobody asks if they should just because they can. China is vulnerable to earthquakes because it is an area of intense seismic activity. Shanghai has a lower risk than much of China but still not nil.

    BTW I think blogs are very complimentary to Facebook. I hate long status messages on FB because nobody has learned out to paragraph there (shift/enter). I have two blogs I keep up and link into FB. Most of my followers follow, especially to the photo blogs.

  2. Sue Bud says:

    Designing buildings in China and the Mid-East is like designing in the wild west-anything goes. Ed’s comment “because they can” is spot on. Structural feats, building the tallest building in the world, amazing curtainwalls, holes in buildings-anything to outdo your neighbor. I especially love how so many buildings have their own light show. I felt like I was “twirling” the whole time I was there.

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