Re-thinking “Urban Grids” in Hangzhou

The construction of modern Hangzhou can be seen as a laboratory of urban projects and planning strategies. Its recent development has occurred at unprecedented rates, as in many other cities in Asia. It is important to remember that this is a city with a long history: it was the capital of the Song dynasty in the 12th century, thanks to its location at one end of the singular infrastructure that is the Grand Canal, linking it with Beijing.

The historic city originated beside X Hú or West Lake and the Yangtze River, and followed the regularity established by an urban grid of canals and streets that marks out urban blocks housing the different urban functions within the city wall. Subsequent extensions reinterpreted the original model until the urban explosion of recent decades, when the application of a functional grid of big streets and motorways has produced a more anonymous city, the repository of complexes of large blocks of economic activity, defining a generic city with no major defining values.

The objective of the Studio will be to interpret the urban evolution of Hangzhou in order to draw conclusions for the hypothetical development of new parts of the metropolis. The aim is to explore the development of mixed uses programme and new forms of housing. These rather autonomous developments offer a basis for comparison and contrast with hypotheses of regular systems that combine landscape and public spaces, achieving the harmony needed to consolidate emerging sectors.

Work in the Studio will take place within Revisiting Urban Grids, a field of research at the GSD, and should allow discussion of the tradition of urban grids in Chinese culture (with examples such as Xi’an, Beijing, Suzhou and Hangzhou), comparing and contrasting them with other international examples, to verify today’s great interest in the applicability of some updated types of “regular city” instruments to city design. This hypothesis may allow us to react to present-day conditions, where city development is marked by a high level of indeterminacy of functional programmes, as well as a lack of definition as regards operators and forms of management, and seems to be calling for rigorous new design instruments that ensure the city’s coherence in the long term, as well as adapting to the specific conditions of each development.

Further, the research carried out in the Studio may also enable progress in exploring how the urban grid, a common element to almost all cultures, has a different meaning in the East and the West, and can cast new light on paradigms in city design today, giving rise to greater richness and complexity in city production processes. The East vs. West/West vs. East discussion contributed to the urban architecture debate in the 20th century, represented by Frank Lloyd Wright, Tadao Ando, Louis Kahn and I. M. Pei. Today, it can be a stimulating source of inspiration for the global city of the 21st century, understanding that the richness of our cities lies in their capacity to conjugate the necessary modernization with the specific qualities of their respective history and culture.

Irregular Schedule:
Studio will meet Thursday evening the day of lottery, January 22, Friday, January 23, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the weeks of January 26, February 2, March 2, March 9, April 6, April 13, April 27. The studio trip is scheduled for the week of February 16.