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US architect looking into the future in Shanghai

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-05-18 08:29
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United States architect Marshall Strabala speaks at the 2018 Chinese Urban Lighting and Cultural Innovation Lighting Forum in Shanghai. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The picturesque view along the Bund in Shanghai is already known all over the world, but architect Marshall Strabala has set his eyes on making it even more impressive.

If the US architect has his way, the iconic waterfront stretch could soon be home to a giant double-arch structure supporting 100 capsules that will take tourists from one bank of the Huangpu River to the other.

Strabala, who is the founding partner and chief architect at architectural studio Strabala+, originally proposed the structure when Shanghai's political adviser solicited expatriates for ways of improving the city earlier this year.

He also proposed the construction of a monorail line along the Pudong side of the river, as well as a series of pedestrian bridges to link both sides.

The line, which would stretch from the Xuhui waterfront in the southwest to the Yangpu riverside in the northeast, would have 15 stations, some of which would also be linked to ferry terminals.

"Shanghai has one of the best subway systems in the world, and they're building new stations and adding new lines every year. But there are also 25 million people living here," he said.

"The new infrastructure would make it possible for people living on one side of the river to stroll or cycle to the other side for dinner. By doing this, we're not putting more cars in the streets and increasing the walkability index of the city."

Strabala is no stranger to Shanghai. He has lived in the city for the past 15 years and was chief architect of the Shanghai Tower, the world's second tallest-and China's tallest-building.

It now occupies a prominent place in the Lujiazui financial district skyline, but Strabala remembers being slightly disappointed by his first visit to the area in the early 2000s, for at the time, the financial district was not as impressive as its counterparts in London, Dubai or Hong Kong.

In comparison, the district was sparsely developed, with patches of greenery between the buildings. At first, Strabala says he could not understand why the government did not increase building density to boost revenues, but he now understands that this approach was governed by China's philosophy of planning for the future rather than focusing on short-term revenue.

"This created a really different kind of urban environment. We now have larger areas of greenery around each building, and Lujiazui has become the place that everyone aspires to be, for both work and life," he said.

The philosophy was also central to the building of the Shanghai Tower. Strabala says the concept was for the tower to embody the future, as this would complement the Jinmao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center, which represent the city's past and the present, respectively.

"That's one reason why the Shanghai Tower's facade is rounded. The building is not looking in one direction, but in all directions," he explained.

The skyscraper's use of double glazed walls is also a reflection of this philosophy. They help keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer, which in turn reduces energy consumption while improving sustainability.

"If everything goes well, the amount of energy saved can be used to build a twin building after about a century. Looking deep into the future is something Chinese governments do," he said.

Looking ahead to his own future, Strabala says that he has no plans to leave Shanghai any time soon. Apart from the fact that he is working on several domestic projects, he cites the city's sense of inclusiveness as a major reason for staying.

"Everybody has been friendly, and we never once felt excluded. Life in Shanghai has a good mix of work and play, old and new," he said. "And you can always find new areas that are just as beautiful as older districts."

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