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Shanghai surprise.

SIR: I was disappointed with Robert Turnbull's View From Shanghai (AR December 2004, p30), not only with its blatant factual errors but more so with the basis of judgement. In my 2003 article on the same city (AR February 2003, p30), I was at pains to correct the trend in popular mainstream architectural press to turn reportage on China into grotesque us-and-them cliches.

Mr Turnbull's view of Shanghai through the singular lens of aesthetics belies the more potent reality of Shanghai as an urban phenomenon fraught with ironies and messy endings. The propensity to single out individual buildings for subjective analysis only perpetuates the object-fascination which is a misrepresentation of architecture's place in the world.

The preservation debate makes such issues readily accessible, for it is here where Shanghai can be seen to be managing its balance of cultural values and modernization. The patchiness of the results reflects the complexity of the situation which cannot be accounted for with such glib references to tourist dollars or 'historic charm'.

That said, Xintiandi was not the 'brainchild' of a single man, but a negotiated process involving, most notably, SOM, an open-minded Hong Kong developer, and architect Ben Woods who is actually based in the States. The shikumen it reconstructed is a dying breed in a city which is destroying all but some high quality stock in central areas. And the Chinese City reported as being 'virtually intact' was last year already being replanned, subdivided and schemed with thirty-storey housing complexes.

Shanghai really deserves better treatment than this.

Yours etc


London, UK
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Title Annotation:letters
Author:Chen, Darryl
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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