Redevelopment of Site in Zhabei, Central Shanghai.

In March/April 2011 I visited Shanghai as a member of a team of MSc and PgDip students in Architecture, Urban Regeneration and Transport Studies. We were split into interdisciplinary groups tasked with assessing the ‘highest and best use’ for the regeneration of an area in Zhabei, north of the Suzhou Creek, and producing simple graphical representations and visualisations using basic 2D and 3D tools (Sketchup, Photoshop, Illustrator etc.)


  1. a.Preparations

The process began well before travelling to Shanghai, with briefing sessions on the history of China and the economic/political context of China's recent adoption of Capitalism within Communism. There was also a self-perception inventory to analyse our individual strengths in terms of roles within the team. Task 1 (individual A3 poster above) provided a chance to read widely on particular aspects of China and Neo-Liberalism. My poster was based visually on the plight of Ai Weiwei, whose studio in Shanghai had been involved in a forced relocation. The quotations, based on the experiences of ordinary Shanghainese, were taken direct from web news sources

b. In Shanghai

Once in Shanghai, every moment was part of a process of contextual analysis and wider research. With barely a word of the language, there was a chance to look at everything with fresh eyes : even the most mundane activities (eg. crossing the road) challenged preconceptions and assumptions.

The visit to the site began the process of analysing what existed on-site and in the surrounding area. How did it connect to the city as a whole? ; What was the topography and scope of recent development in the area? To get a 'feel' for the area, the group walked eastwards from the flood barrier where Souzhou Creek meets the Huangpu River. This gave an opportunity to compare the new developments spreading east from the Huangpu with the existing buildings that they are replacing.

The development site itself was a mass of contradictions. Despite the 'slum' nature of the buildings, it was clear that there was a tight, enterprising, working community, and the group discussed ways to somehow retain the strengths of this cohesive community. Based on later findings, it was clear that this was not a realistic goal.

The research phase also involved a visit to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, and meetings with architectural/engineering practices. These were opportunities to appreciate the scale and pace of development in Shanghai, and to understand some of the pressures and aspirations that differ from western values. I attended the presentations at RTKL and Arup. Many of the comments made added depth to our marketing analysis.

By this stage, individual members had spent time visiting areas of the city in more informal 'research.' Based on the process so far, there was a consensus developing concerning the type of development that the group felt suitable for the site.

This linear process of general research, site analysis and precedence was followed by a more iterative process. Each discipline researched and developed its particular field, and then fed back into the mix of ideas :

  1. The Architecture team were looking at the design of areas such as Xin Tian Di and the French Concession, and considering how a palette of materials, textures and massing characteristics might be superimposed on a plan view of 'our' site.

  1. The Transport 'team' comprised Ian. However, the architecture team are accustomed to assessing transport links and infrastructural connections, and so there were no barriers to discussing Ian's more detailed work on transport links and feeding this into the 'big picture' of overall design proposals. Ian's proposal for a Car-Sharing Club was fully in accord with the overall ethos of the marketing and design proposals. As these ideas were firmed up, the architecture team developed Ian's work into graphics for the final presentation.

  1. The Urban Regeneration sub-group, Catherine and Mohamed, were researching the 'highest and best use' of the site, in order to generate a Nett Residual Value, the basis of any business plan for the site. From an initial group consensus on a mixed residential/ retail/ commercial development, their Options Appraisal focussed on the most profitable ratio of each (as limited by the site plan, Floor to Area Ratio and the brief in general).This involved not only the quantitative research, but also research into the marketing and promotion of similar developments.

As the ideas firmed up into data on floorplate areas, it was then possible to devise, iteratively, a massing analysis for the site which took into account links to the surrounding area. The Metro Station was the key transport link and the site's most obvious asset in terms of development potential, and so the massing and zoning made the most of the Metro entrances and their position at a major road junction.

As the above work continued, Corinne was also drawing together the pieces for the slideshow presentation and co-ordinating the activities of the other group members. The Technical Architecture students fed graphics work into the mix, using Sketchup for 3D, Inkscape for mapping and vector graphics, and GIMP for raster graphics.

I enjoyed every moment of the visit, and its educational value was immense. Many of my preconceptions, about China, Capitalism, Human Rights, sustainability and architecture, were thoroughly tested.

The group project brief called for an analysis of the ‘highest and best use’ of the site. This fed into a massing study based on the mix of commercial, retail and residential uses found to be most profitable. A ‘feng shui’ analysis and transport study were carried out, and all this information was presented in a Powerpoint to the other groups.

Click the image to download a pdf of the group presentation.


Design Language



Public Realm


Feng Shui