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One Park, Many Uses


Walking 2018: Shanghai Urban Space Micro-Renewal Plan Professional Design Competition

Location: Shanghai, China

Area: approx. 50,000 sq.ft.

Status: Submitted May 2018

In Collaboration with Mike He (Things We Like)

The site for this proposal is near the very middle of Shanghai. It is at an intersection of two metro lines and adjacent to Zhongshan Park, a major landmark in the city. It is near several large office towers, residential estates, health facilities and malls. Paradoxically, however, the site is also in the middle of nowhere. It has been, so far, very much unloved and as a result has seemingly been almost completely forgotten. Office workers eat lunch closer to the station. Residents stay within their estates. The current primary uses involve automobile and large bus parking; there is little to no street life.  

To inject a space with life, the first task is to court the users; in order to design for a community, the first task is to identify and understand the community. We all know these axioms to be true in general, but the reality is often more complicated. The first problem with these assumptions is that stated preferences of an individual often differ from what economists might call ‘revealed preferences’—in other words, a survey may not actually tell you much about what the community actually desires. And secondly, where (and who) is this community? In this neglected, in-between site, we cannot predict where this community will emerge from (and who they will be).

We propose a simple, flexible and fundamentally playful space with a light economic and ecological footprint. Movable chairs, in large quantities, allow visitors to explore uses and define spaces as they see fit. A porous length of screens allows user access from all directions—while simultaneously keeping the movable furniture inside the park. And with minimal programming, a series of follies create a basic level of novelty, as well as landmarks for open-ended interaction.

The spatial delineation and ‘framing’ itself is provided largely by the long but modulating stretch of metal mesh screens—providing a minimal, varied and attractive sight to the passing automobile. These screens are each 400mm apart, effectively keeping the movable chairs inside the park while allowing users in at every point. Despite this complete, egalitarian accessibility, the metal mesh screen with climbing vines acts to shield the park from automobile exhausts and sounds—and creates an apparatus for greenery, dappled lighting and visual privacy.

Along the length of the site, there is no apparent hierarchy. The only two elements connecting the entire site are the masses of flexible seating and a 400m long running track. Each bay of the overpass has a ‘folly,’ sometimes with a loosely associated use. This represents the minimum level of programming, creating unique landmarks (crucial to placemaking) and helping with wayfinding. This flexible design allows a modular approach to development—it is easy to imagine building fewer (or more) bays of this scheme, depending on budget and/or land considerations. One could conversely imagine an endless number of extensions to this module, with an endless variety of follies.

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