SOHO China, one of the country’s largest and best known private property developers, has a reputation for sleek, modern apartment blocks. Last week it realised that not everyone appreciates its more innovative designs.
The company recently learned the hard way when proposals for its latest development in Shanghai, featuring a futuristic design, caused consternation among local residents, says the Shanghai Daily.
The new complex – designed by German architectural firm von Gerkan, Marg and Partners (GMP) – will sit on the edge of the Bund, a historic waterfront area on the west bank of the Huangpu River. HSBC once had its headquarters on the Bund (its old building is now occupied by the Pudong Development Bank). The Peace Hotel, founded by Victor Sassoon in 1929, is also located there.
Opponents of the design say it does not blend in with the rest of the neighbourhood. Xu Qiang, chief architect of the Shanghai Institute of Architecture, told the Global Times that new buildings on the Bund should incorporate elements of nearby buildings – as did the Peninsula Hotel, which opened recently at the northern end of the riverside strip.
“A good architectural design means the buildings will become part of its area,” Xu said. “After all, nobody wants a building that sticks out like a sore thumb anywhere in the city, and certainly not at the Bund.”
The new SOHO complex plans to feature five narrow gold towers, with a projected height three times taller than their older neighbours. When sketches of the development appeared on SOHO China’s weibo, they received hundreds of comments, mostly negative.
“These kind of modern buildings can be built in any other places in Shanghai but not on the Bund because they damage the overall atmosphere of the area in both the height and the architectural style,” complained Chen Guan, a local white-collar worker in the area.
Zhang Meiling, another who works near the Bund, agreed: “The style of these new commercial buildings is out of synch with the neo-classical baroque and Gothic styles of the existing historic buildings. They would fit better on the other side of the Huangpu River at Lujiazui in Pudong New Area.”
Shanghai has been more successful than most Chinese cities in preserving some of its heritage for the present day. The Bund is at the heart of that, with netizens saying that it is the only unchanged part of the city that Shanghainese can remember from childhood days.
Others are also worried that the Bund might suffer the same fate as Beijing’s Qianmen, an old district south of the Forbidden City in the capital. In its place: a Disney-style version of “Main Street”, complete with tourist tram. Most of the original inhabitants have been relocated to distant suburbs.
To that end, other developers have gone out of their way to preserve the essence of Shanghai’s European-style riverside district. The developer of Bund 18 spent $14 million on a meticulous restoration, using baking soda to scrub the 1923 edifice, and painstakingly uncovering the original details of what was once the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.
Similarly, architect Michael Graves kept the exterior of the historic building Three on the Bund largely intact, choosing to redesign only its interior.
Zheng Shiling, director of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Space of Shanghai Tongji University, is now urging that city planners request that SOHO alter their proposed design. “The planner could make the buildings shorter and change the colour to make them more harmonious with other Bund buildings,” says Zheng. “The Bund is living proof of Shanghai’s development since the early 1900s, and any additions to the area should respect past urban planning.”
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