(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 are being reborn in modern China,” 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.

Stelka Institute Presents: Moscow’s “Urban Routines”

Courtesy of

Over the course of nine months, graduate students at the Strelka Institute studied the urban landscape of Moscow and the daily routines of its inhabitants, focusing “on new, little-noticed, and as-yet unresolved contradictions.” The main goal of the projects was to come up with solutions that could be applied in practice.

The research projects, collectively entitled “Urban Routines,” were presented at the end of this past June at the graduate show. Program director David Erixon said that while the theme might seem naive, “when you start looking at seemingly trivial things in a new way they are not so trivial anymore.” For details about the individual research projects – covering Cars, Retail, Dwelling, Offices, and Links - keep reading 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 Metropolis 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 , 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.

TEDxTalk: The General Theory of Walkabiity/ Jeff Speck

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In this TEDxTalk, the follow up to his popular TED Talk, “The Walkable City,” urban planner Jeff Speck delves more deeply into his “General Theory of Walkability.” The theory maintains there are four ground rules for increasing pedestrian traffic in urban areas: walking must be safe, comfortable, interesting, and – most importantly – there must be a reason to walk in the first place. Counterpointing this with America’s fixation with accommodating the automobile, Speck shows us how beneficial a pedestrian city can be, both functionally and aesthetically.

London Skyline Debate Taken to City Hall

The Norman Foster-designed London City Hall with the Shard in the background. Image © Flickr CC User alh1

The debate over the future of London‘s Skyline stepped up a gear on Tuesday, as the issue was taken up by the London Assembly’s Planning Committee in City Hall. The London Assembly is an elected watchdog which is tasked with examining the decisions and actions of London’s mayor, and is expected to apply pressure to mayor Boris Johnson over the issue of in the capital.

The committee heard from leading architectural figures in London including former RIBA president Sunand Prasad (of Penoyre & Prasad), English Heritage planning and conservation director for London Nigel Barker and former City planning officer Peter Rees.

More on the London Assembly debate after the break

3 Architects Appointed to Oversee £100 Million Cycling Infrastructure In London

Though the schemes are not exactly as dramatic as Foster + Partners’ Skycycle (pictured), they are part of a real commitment to make London more cycle-friendly. Image © Foster + Partners

Roger Hawkins (Hawkins\Brown), Sunand Prasad (Penoyre & Prasad) and Peter Murray (New London Architecture) have all been appointed by the Mayor of London to oversee the implementation of £100 million worth of cycling infrastructure in the city.

The scheme will focus on three London Boroughs: Kingston, Enfield and Waltham Forest, each of which were awarded “mini-Holland” status – a reference to the cycling haven of the Netherlands which these areas of London will be modeled on. Each borough will nominate their own principal designers, but the three appointed architects, who all sit on the Mayor’s design advisory panel, will be acting as consultant and client for a different borough.

Read on after the break for a rundown of the proposed changes

5 Concepts for Garden Cities Shortlisted for the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize

Aerial view of Shelter’s for the Hoo Valley. Image Courtesy of Wolfson Economics Prize

The shortlist for the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize has been announced, rewarding five teams who rose to the challenge to design new garden cities which address the UK‘s growing shortage. The topic of garden cities is becoming a major focus for the UK’s planners and architects, with proposals by the government for a new garden town of 15,000 homes at Ebbsfleet providing the starting point for debate.

However despite the debate within the built environment professions, with some arguing that garden cities are best left in the past, a survey commissioned by the Wolfson Economics Prize in conjunction with the award found that 72% of the British public believed there was a serious shortage of housing in the UK, and 70% believed that garden cities were a better way of delivering this housing compared to how – and where – housing is currently delivered. The five shortlisted teams will receive £10,000 to further develop their proposals and aim for the grand prize of £250,000.

Read on after the break for the list of proposals

Does London’s Planning System Lack Civic Representation?

London’s skyline is set to be dramatically altered by tall buildings in the near future. Image Courtesy of CPAT / Hayes Davidson / Jason Hawkes

A debate organized by New London Architecture (NLA) has revealed a strong need for civic societies in London which protect the interests of the public in planning decisions, offering New York as a potential model. The debate, which was one of the headline events at the London Festival of Architecture, was organized in response to a study which showed over 200 tall buildings were currently in the pipeline for the UK’s capital, which sparked fears that the current planning system was not fit for the purpose of controlling development in the city.

More on the debate after the break

Cape Town Adopts Re-Blocking Strategy for Informal Settlements

In Kuku Town, dwellings were rearranged to face a communal courtyard – where people can gather for activities and keep an eye on their neighbors and shared facitilies.. Image Courtesy of Future Cape Town

The city of Cape Town has adopted a new strategy for improving informal settlements – re-blocking, “the reconfiguration and repositioning of shacks in very dense informal settlements in accordance to a -drafted spatial framework.” Re-blocking serves to create communal spaces, make neighborhoods safer, and improve dwelling structures – among many other things. To see how it has been implemented and where, head to Future Cape Town and continue reading here.

Crafting Urban Life in Three Dimensions: An Interview with Adam Snow Frampton by James Schrader

Footbridge in Central, . Image by Adam Frampton

The following are excerpts from one of 41 interviews that student researchers at the Strelka Institute are publishing as part of the Future Urbanism Project. In this interview, James Schrader speaks with Adam Snow Frampton, the co-author of Cities Without Ground and the Principal of Only If, a New York City-based practice for architecture and urbanism. They discuss his work with OMA, the difference between Western and Asian cities, his experiences opening a new firm in New York, and the future of design on an urban scale.

James Schrader: Before we get to future urbanism, I thought it would be interesting to look a bit into your past. Could you tell me about where your interest in cities came from? Were there any formative moments that led to your fascination with cities?

Adam Snow Frampton: I was always interested in cities, but not necessarily exposed to much planning at school. When I went to work at OMA Rotterdam, I was engaged in a lot of large-scale projects, mostly in the Middle East and increasingly in Asia, where there was an opportunity to plan cities at a bigger scale. In the Netherlands, there’s not necessarily more construction than in the US, but there is a tradition of thinking big and a tendency to plan. For instance, many Dutch design offices like OMA, West 8, and MVRDV have done master plans for the whole country.

Minha Casa, Nossa Cidade: Brazil’s Social Housing Policy & The Failures of the Private-Public System

Courtesy of Ruby Press

In 2009, the Brazilian government launched the program “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” (“My House, My Life”), which aims to build 3.4 million housing units by the end of 2014. Minha Casa—Nossa Cidade (Ruby Press, 2014), produced by the MAS Urban Design program at the ETH Zurich, examines the project at a critical time and presents ways to improve its design and implementation. Divided into three chapters, the book reviews the history, guidelines, and construction of the “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” program (MCMV) through long-form essays, opinion pieces, interviews, diagrams, and photographic image material. The following excerpt, written by Sandra Becker, proposes an answer to the question of why the program – despite its aims to meet the huge demand for housing for low-income families - has thus far failed to provide the Brazilian people the “quality cities [they] desire.” 

From the Publisher. In June 2013, saw a wave of protests unprecedented in the country’s history. Millions of people filled the streets demanding better education, public transportation, and healthcare. While the rage driving the protests was directed at politicians, it is unlikely that the problem can be reduced to the failure of the political system. Instead, shouldn’t the protests point out the inequalities caused by the neoliberal policies that dominate the global economy?

In the first quarter of 2009, responding to the global financial crisis that had begun the previous year, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious social housing program to encourage the economy’s construction sector. The program, “Minha Casa, Minha Vida,” was initially developed to build one million houses. In September 2011, the program launched its second phase with a goal of providing another 2.4 million housing units. The program aims to confront a historical deficiency in housing, a shortage of approximately 5.8 million dwellings.

Jacobs and Moses’ Famous Feud to Be Dramatized in Opera

Courtesy of Fast Co-Design

Yes, you read right – the 1960s battle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses will be the central story line for a new opera. Although the premiere is a long way off, its creators promise to bring and the drama to life through song and an elaborate, animated, three-dimensional set. To find out more about the developing project, head on over to Fast Co-Design.

Ban, Kimmelman, Others Speak at “Cities for Tomorrow”

On April 21st, ArchDaily tweeted about watching keynote speaker Shigeru Ban kick of the Cities for Tomorrow  in New York. In his first appearance since winning the Pritzker Prize, he addressed how we should approach and development today with architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. To watch more videos – of Ban as well as speakers such as  Vishaan ChakrabatiShaun Donovan, and Janette Sadik-Kahn discussing the future of our cities – click here.

The Fifth Pillar: A Case for Hip-Hop Architecture

Robert Moses - the father of Hip-Hop?. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia User AaronSw

The following article by Sekou Cooke was originally published in The Harvard Journal of African American Planning Policy.

Not DJ Kool Herc. Not The Sugarhill Gang. Not Crazy Legs. Not even Cornbread. The true father of hip-hop is Moses. The tyrannical, mercilessly efficient head of several public works organizations, Robert Moses, did more in his fifty-year tenure to shape the physical and cultural conditions required for hip-hop’s birth than any other force of man or nature. His grand vision for the city indifferently bulldozed its way through private estates, middle-class neighborhoods, and slums. His legacy: 658 playgrounds, 28,000 apartment units, 2,600,000 acres of public parks, Flushing Meadows, Jones Beach, Lincoln Center, all interconnected by 416 miles of parkways and 13 bridges. Ville Radieuse made manifest, not by Le Corbusier, the visionary architect, but by “the best bill drafter in Albany.”  

This new urbanism deepened the rifts within class and culture already present in post-war New York, elevated the rich to midtown penthouses and weekend escapes to the Hamptons or the Hudson Valley, and relegated the poor to crowded subways and public towers—a perfect incubator for a fledgling counterculture.  One need not know all the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” or Melle Mel’s “White Lines” to appreciate the incendiary structures built by Moses and his policies. As the Bronx began to burn, hip-hop began to rise.

Urban Sprawl in the US: The 10 Worst Offenders

Route 60 in Phoenix, AZ. Image © Wikimedia CC user Greg O’Beirne

A report released earlier this month by Smart Growth America investigates the topic of urban sprawl in in the USA. Analysing 221 US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and Metropolitan Divisions with a population of at least 200,000, they have ranked cities from most dense to most sprawling.

They also used this data to find a number of correlations between sprawl and poor quality of life, finding that people living in sprawling cities have higher living costs, shorter life expectancies, increased risk of obesity and diabetes, and lower economic mobility than those in dense cities.

Read on after the break to see the list of the 10 most dense and 10 most sprawling US cities

amphibianArc Claims First Prize in Ningbo Yinzhou Planning Competition

Courtesy of amphibianArc

amphibianArc has been announced as winner of the Ningbo Southern CBD Portal Planning competition. Commissioned by the same developers of the Ningbo Museum designed by Wang Shu, the ”transit-oriented” proposal aims to become the “driving force” of urban life in the ’s fourth and final phase.

ELEMENTAL Proposes Pedestrian Path To Connect Districts of Santiago

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ELEMENTAL has given us details on a proposed 14.5 km pedestrian and bike path within Santiago, that will run along the base of San Cristobal Hill and connect the city’s many distinct communities. According to ELEMENTAL, the proposal – named “Metropolitan Promenade” – seeks to facilitate the use and quality of the city’s public spaces.

The total project will cost about $16 million USD and will be constructed in two stages. The first is expected for March 2015 and will deal with 7.2 kilometers in the western sector of the park. The second stage, which should be ready in September 2015, will complete the following 7.3 kilometers in the eastern sector of the park.

Read the full architect’s description, after the break.

How Kiev’s Independence Square Helped Spur an Uprising

© Flickr CC User Michael Kötter

In a fascinating article for the GuardianOwen Hatherley visits Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, the public square at the heart of the Ukranian revolution that ironically was designed under Stalin as a Baron Hausmann-style weapon against uprisings. Hatherley examines how elements of the public space were utilized by protesters, and how different areas of the square are now hosting a variety of political factions. You can read the full article here.