Hongqiao has recently lost its reputation as Shanghai’s premier business district. Without vision, the district has stooped to the pursuit of clichéd themes to maintain its competitiveness: streets themed on the Champs Elysees and 5th avenue; shopping centres themed on Italian piazzas; and slick towers set back in plazas. Additionally, the district is re-constructing a handful of public projects including a theatre and a businessperson’s park (shang wu gong yuan). The park is the conversion of a dilapidated children’s traffic school park.
Parks in China tend to be valued by their district government patrons as symbols of progress towards modernisation. The users, however, value parks as places to socialise, promenade, dance, pursue hobbies, exercise, engage with nature, and take their children to play. With a patron whose objectives prohibit even the use of children’s play equipment, can a park become a complex and living component of the city?
By maintaining the park’s existing structure of miniature streets, a highly accessible park can be created: one that provides a memory of the traffic school park. By reshaping the street grid through a more dynamic geometry, the newness that the patrons desire is also achieved. By shaping the street network to better accommodate the existing usage patterns, a continuity of cultural habits such as dancing and tai-chi can occur.
The miniature street network, now a complex and dynamic path network, allows a high level of access from the adjacent streets and a variety of circulation choices within the park. Being a net it has no centre, thus resisting the framing of activity commonly imposed in most local parks.
Adjusting the design of the existing path grid has created loops and specific networks. Widening a series of paths and providing them with informal seating creates a linear plaza network. This arrangement spreads places for dancing, exercising and playing to all parts of the park. The plaza network widens significantly at the two street corners to create areas high in activity and accessibility. A second network, an intimate shaded path network, allows for walking throughout the entire park in a cool low-activity environment. A red rubber running track loops around half the site and ramps over a newly formed hill. This facility attracts a new user group to the Chinese park.
A diagonal short-cut path is created to attract those who usually would not enter the park. It brings a steady stream of business people into contact with the heart of the park, without having to partake in the park’s activities. Adjacent to this path are tables suitable for working and meetings.
Children are conspicuously absent from Chinese urban environments, as they are usually kept indoors studying. Without detracting from the clients’ desire for a playground-free park, a high number of discreet and informal play opportunities are provided in the new park. Landscape interventions such as topographies of giant steps and ramps serve as places for adventure and places for the invention of games. Undulating path borders are provided as alternative paths for kids.
New hills are formed into stepped grass slopes to provide an informal amphitheatre seating area. As a popular symbol of progress, open green lawns were demanded, however park users are currently prohibited from walking on these lawns. As a subversive strategy, to allow people’s interactions with the grass, a number of seats are placed within the lawns with stepping-stones leading to them.
Where the park meets the street a blurring of the edge occurs. The park paving continues out to the street, and the sidewalk paving continues into the park. This overlapping zone blurs the cultural framing of behaviour and thus creates opportunities for a greater variety of activities to emerge.
Two pavilions in the park are created using a relaxed assemblage of forms. The material and meta-pattern of the paving is applied to the walls of the buildings. The merging of floor and wall, and the contrasting colours and diagonal patterns of the surfaces, results in a camouflaging of the buildings. The building forms become difficult to distinguish and the buildings appear unlike buildings. Although designed and built at high speed, the buildings still lie dormant after sixteen months, their use undetermined. Various government departments continue to battle for the right to lease them.
Public artworks containing text remain only half built on the site, unfinished not because of the content of their text, but simply because they contained text. Without any form of intellectual appraisal the work was censored for fear of controversy. Our proposals to reinterpret the fondly remembered paraphernalia of the traffic park were likewise censored; perhaps because the government wanted to create the image of new gift to the people, not a second-hand one.