Stubborn Urbanism

With the intention to develop alternative strategies for densification within diverse urban districts, this studio will investigate various design techniques for the production of urban and architectural hybrids in Shanghai. The studio will collaborate with the Hong Kong University studio led by Tom Verebes. Li Nong or Old Town, a relatively coherent district of greater architectural interest than most in Shanghai, is suffering from deterioration and the encroachment of incompatible contemporary developments. The studio will explore approaches for its future transformation, and their associated architectural typologies and tectonics, with an emphasis on the prototyping of infrastructure and building systems.Among the topics to be explored are \”Computational Urbanism,\” parameter based organizational systems and codes (Catia workshops will be part of the studio, though some prior experience with it or Rhino scripting, Grasshopper, etc. is recommended); \”All or Nothing Urbanism vs Preservation Urbanism,\” the Post-Mao strategies that have brought chai (destruction) to vast historic urban territories vs the sentimental conservation of outmoded buildings (we will criticize both); \”Stubborn Nails\” (Holdouts), cases in which individuals thwart plans for demolition, running interference with the interests of developers or government; \”Unwanted Buildings,\” the introduction of new buildings in sites originally intended to remain open or otherwise under-occupied.Given the unprecedented rate of urbanization in China, the studio will confront the life cycles of buildings and the architectural consequences of planned obsolescence. Permanence and the fascination with newness or ephemerality are persistently contradictory architectural values that we will use to spur inventions within difficult sites. As an alternative to disposable buildings and the design of instant cities, the studio will speculate on matters of relative duration and mechanisms of incremental urban growth, with the capacity to adapt to current and future contingencies.The program is Multi-use – housing, office, commercial and cultural facilities with density patterns related to three types of sites: Outside the Old Town, with an FAR of 10-20; Along ancient walls of the Old Town, with an FAR of 5-10; Territory inside the Old Town, with an FAR of 0-5. Following initial individual and team-based design exercises and a trip to Shanghai during which we will conduct site investigations and discussions with the Verebes studio, teams will propose a set of shared scenario-based master plans of various potential patterns of growth. Each student in the Harvard and HKU studios will select one of 12 roads leading into the Old Town, comprising equal program area inside and outside the Old Town.An objective of the studio is to investigate alternatives to (and to propose innovations upon) the following typologies, by means of formal transformations, varying dimensional parameters of size, shape, topology, density, proximity, orientation, etc.: High rise towers, perimeter block massing, and low rise suburban sprawl, as the default architectural and urban typologies deployed in China\’s urban densification and expansion, and the dominant models of its urban growth. Given the complexities of private and public investment arising from the current global economic turmoil overlaid on China\’s goal to urbanize an additional 400 million of its citizens over the next twenty years, we can assume an intensified imperative to challenge, re-assess and propose alternatives to conventional urban and architectural typologies and their associated conventions and standards.