Adjusting Architecture to Social and Cultural Needs
JRM1 02- 22- 2010

As the industrialized world begins to recognize the consequences to of leaving ecological sustainability issues unaddressed, China has been addressing social and cultural sustainability issues to a further degree than most industrialized nations. China's rapidly growing population has directly effected the way the Chinese people design and inhabit space. Population density has proven the traditional Chinese construction methods inadequate and has challenged designers to rethink and adapt the vernacular architecture. As seen in the lower image at Yu Garden, traditional Chinese architecture rose only to the second floor and used a wood construction method that severely limited verticality and density. Today, reinforced concrete and steel construction methods are what make serving China's population possible. Two-storey buildings are no longer a socially sustainable option for urban China, therefore builders have resorted to high-rise residential buildings and large-scaled public facilities to meet the people's growing needs. Old Shanghai (including Yu Garden) is now just a small district within the city that can boast of its traditional architecture; but Old Shanghai is an island in a sea of modernity. The contrast between the modern and vernacular is stark, but the change in construction methods has challenged architects to reconsider how to address the vernacular architecture formally. One can scan across Shanghai's skyline and immediately recognize a "Chinese quality" about the skyscrapers and modern buildings. The upper image is the Grand Theatre of Shanghai designed by Jean-Marie Charpentier. Using modern construction techniques, the building's form references the Chinese vernacular while being a large enough venue to serve Shanghai's growing population. The plan is based on a square, like spaces of ancient Chinese architecture, which according to Chinese tradition represents the earth. The upturned curvilinear roof symbolizes the sky and references the traditional roof form. Though the needs of present-day China are ever-growing--housing, transportation, sustaining cultural identity, etc.--the Chinese are addressing social sustainability through high-rise residences and high-density living. The Grand Theatre of Shanghai is a prime example of addressing cultural sustainability (maintaining and showing sensitivity to a place's culture and history) in modern architecture. It uses new, non-traditional materials and construction methods to carry Chinese traditions into the future.

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