(Re)Made in China: The Soviet-Era Planning Projects Shaping China’s Cities

Victoria Peak, . Image © Owen Lin under a CC licence

The following article, written by Jacob Dreyer and originally published in The Calvert Journal as “Maximum city: the vast urban planning projects of Soviet-era Russia are being reborn in modern ,” analyzes a fascinating phenomenon: the exportation of Soviet urbanism — or rather Stalinist urbanism  shaping Chinese cities today. 

As I cycled to work on 20 May this year, the Yan’an Expressway — Shanghai’s crosstown artery, named after the utopian socialist city that was Mao Zedong’s 1940s stronghold — was eerily silent, cordoned off for a visit by President Vladimir Putin. We discovered the next day that the upshot of his visit was the signing a $400bn contract with China for the export of gas and petroleum. As President Barack Obama had once promised he would, Putin made a pivot to Asia, albeit on a slightly different axis. From Shanghai, the terms of the deal — which was immensely advantageous to China — made it seem as if Russia was voluntarily becoming a vassal-state of the People’s Republic, making a reality of both the predictions of Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian fantasy novel Day of the Oprichnik and of Russian scare stories about Chinese immigrants flooding into Siberia.

The irony is that models of society imported from Russia during the Soviet period — as realised in popular culture, legal apparatuses and, of particular interest to the cyclist, in architecture and urban planning — are as influential as ever in China. If, as Chinese philosopher Wang Hui observed in his book The End of Revolution, Socialism was the door through which China passed on its voyage into modernity, then it was Russia that opened that door, by exporting models and expertise that laid the foundation for much of what constitutes modern China.

Inside “Re-Creation” – Finland’s Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2014

Re-Creation. The Finnish Pavilion at the 2014 Biennale.. Image © Nico Saieh

Re-Creation is a two-part installation based on a concept by Anssi Lassila. One part of the installation was constructed by a Finnish master carpenter and his team, and the other by a Chinese team. Together the two parts of the installation strike up a subtle and complex dialogue between the architects and local builders.

Presented by the pavilion designed by Alvar Aalto in 1956, the installation “takes a stand on our relationship with the modern legacy and its tradition of international dialogue, and represents a quintessential product of topical international dialogue while at the same time offering its own unique interpretation of the dynamic between tradition and modernity.” See images of the pavilion and enjoy a statement from the curators after the break.

Le Meridien Zhengzhou / Neri&Hu Design and Research Office

© Pedro Pegenaute

Architects: Neri&Hu Design and Research Office
Location: , Henan,
Interiors: Neri&Hu Design and Research Office
Area: 43,000 sqm
Year: 2013
Photographs: Pedro Pegenaute

Wuxi Sales Center / UDG China

© Yao Li

Architects: UDG China
Location: Yangshan Avenue, Wuxi, Jiangsu,
Architect In Charge: Qian Qiang
Design Team: Simone De Gradi, Zhang Dan, Li Chencheng, Wang Shuliang, Gu Kewei
Area: 1,337 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Yao Li

Qichun Catholic Church / Leekostudio

Courtesy of

Architects: Leekostudio
Location: Hubei,
Design Team: Li Yikao, Jin Xing
Year: 2011
Photographs: Courtesy of Leekostudio

AD Interviews: Keith Griffiths, Chairman of Aedas, on Appoaching Densification in London

Keith Griffiths. Image Courtesy of Aedas

Following the recent announcement of Aedas’ demerger into two separate companies - one retaining the Aedas name and the other now known as  - we spoke to Keith Griffiths, Chairman of Aedas’ global board and a practicing architect for close to three decades. The company, which was recently ranked by the Architects’ Journal as the 5th largest and most influential practice in the world, have now moved their head office to London’s Chandos Place and are championing a new approach to urban regeneration in the UK’s capital. Alongside discussing how an international practice of Aedas’ scale successfully operates, Griffiths offered his insight into how the future looks for European cities based on a tried and tested Asian model of densification.

To find out how Aedas approach sustainability in flourishing Asian markets, as well as the significance of the ‘urban hub’ typology for London’s metropolitan future, read the interview in full after the break.

How Chinese Urbanism Is Transforming African Cities

The Great Wall Apartments, a Chinese style residential compound in Nairobi, Kenya. Image Courtesy of Go West Project

This article from delves into China’s urban development of many African cities, and the effect this has had on the architectural quality of those cities. Chinese contractors and architects are able to propel a city’s growth at lower cost and on schedule, but in doing so, they out-compete local companies and ignore cultural context. Is this an acceptable trade-off? Read the full article and decide for yourself.

The factory of the world has a new export: urbanism. More and more Chinese-made buildings, infrastructure, and urban districts are sprouting up across Africa, and this development is changing the face of the continent’s cities.

Or so says Dutch research studio Go West Project , who have been tracking this phenomenon for their on-going project about the export of the Chinese urban model to Africa. Since 2012, the group, made up of Shanghai-based architect Daan Roggeveen and Amsterdam-based journalist Michiel Hulshof, have visited six African cities to do research. Roggeveen and Hulshof recently released their preliminary report in an issue of Urban Chinaa magazine focusing on Chinese urban development.

Dashun Pavilion / Pro-Form Architects

© LV Hengzhong

Architects: Pro-Form Architects
Location: ,
Design Team: WANG Fangji, YIN Wei, SONG Zhuoer, XIAO Xiao, NIE Xin
Year: 2011
Photographs: LV Hengzhong

Interview with Rocco Yim of Rocco Design

Guanzhou Museum. Image Courtesy of Rocco Design

In the ancient culture identity is a touch of spatiality. Our use of space is psychological, you line up sequences of courtyards and buildings in order of importance so it prepares your mood, they get a sense of anticipation. We could reuse this spatially in today’s different types of buildings to achieve different purposes, but it originates from the past — that makes it Chinese.” – Rocco S. K. Yim, Hong Kong, 2013

On the 38th floor of the AIA Tower, Rocco Yim’s office faces the bay, from which you see the quintessential view of the city: the Hong Kong skyline. Rocco Yim is the founder of Limited (founded in 1982) and responsible for the design of iconic buildings like the International Finance Centre in Hong Kong. In this conversation he talks about the importance of the density created and supported by the urban flow in , and his unique point of view on iconic architecture in relation to ancient culture.

Thousands of Inhabitants May Be Relocated As Chinese Bankers Eye Venezuela’s Torre David

© Vía ‘The Atlantic’

Torre de David (the Tower of David) - the world’s tallest slum and the subject of Urban-Think TankJustin McGuirk, and Iwan Baan‘s Golden Lion-winning Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2012 - is once again making headlines. Venezuelan newspaper TalCual reports that the Venezuelan government is in negotiations with Chinese banks interested in purchasing the building.

Tower of David is an unfinished financial skyscraper in downtown Caracas. Construction began on the tower in 1990, but the death of the principal investor in 1993 and the subsequent banking crisis that hit the country in 1994 froze construction; by the end of the year, the tower was in the hands of the state. Nevertheless, in 2007 two thousand homeless citizens took over and inhabited the skyscraper, making it the tallest vertical slum in the world.

Daidai Pavilion / Pro-Form Architects

© LV Hengzhong

Architects: Pro-Form Architects
Location: Jiading, , China
Design Team: WANG Fangji, XUE Jun, SONG Zhuoer, LI Peng
Year: 2011
Photographs: LV Hengzhong

Kale Café / YAMO Design

Courtesy of

Architects: YAMO Design
Location: Binjiang, , Zhejiang, China
Year: 2014
Photographs: Courtesy of YAMO Design

Zhangmiao Exercise Park / Archi-Union Architects

Courtesy of

Architects: Archi-Union Architects
Location: Baoshan Road, Shanghai,
Architect In Charge: Philip F. Yuan
Area: 4,000 sqm
Year: 2013
Photographs: Courtesy of Archi-Union Architects

Jiangyin Primary & Secondary School / BAU Brearley Architects + Urbanists

© Shu He

Architects: BAU Brearley Architects + Urbanists
Location: Yushanwan Garden, Furong Avenue Side Road, Jiangyin, , Jiangsu, China
Area: 56000.0 sqm
Year: 2013
Photographs: Shu He

Suzhou School / BAU Brearley Architects + Urbanists

© Shu He

Architects: BAU Brearley Architects + Urbanists
Location: , Jiangsu,
Architect In Charge: James Brearley, Fang Qun, Jiang Han, ,Lin Donghui, Richard Tam, Olga Mladenovic, Nicky Chang, Mao Jie, Zhou Yinying, Chen Lei
Year: 2009
Photographs: Shu He

Hangzhou Duolan Commercial Complex / BAU Brearley Architects + Urbanists

© Shu He

Architects: BAU Brearley Architects + Urbanists
Location: Xiasha, Jianggan, , Zhejiang, China
Archtiecture Team: Jiang Han, James Brearley, Huang Fan, Lin Youzhen, Zhen Lili, Cao Xizhen
Landscape Team: Huang Fang, Xiong Juan, Li Shuyun
Year: 2012
Photographs: Shu He

The Lotus Building and People’s Park / studio505

© John Gollings

Architects: studio505
Location: Wujin, , Jiangsu, China
Year: 2013
Photographs: John Gollings

Phoenix Valley / studio505

© John Gollings

Architects: studio505
Location: Wujin, Changzhou, Jiangsu,
Year: 2013
Photographs: John Gollings