City's mix of old, new shows it is alive, says renowned architect

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2008, 12:00am

To renowned French architect Paul Andreu, Shanghai is a living entity with a jumble of buildings - good and bad, old and new. 'A town is not made of only excellent and perfect things. It's living,' he said.

When he first visited Shanghai in the late 1970s, the city was waiting to reawaken. 'When you knew what Shanghai was and you strolled around, you could see it was a city that could suddenly move on,' he said.

Mr Andreu remembers a city frozen in time with no new buildings. Famed Nanjing Road with its rows of stores seemed quiet to him, compared with the cities of Europe. The old Hongqiao Airport was tiny, especially to an architect who would spend decades on the conception and development of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Long before tunnels and bridges linked the Pudong district with the rest of the city, he crossed the Huangpu River by ferry from Puxi for a view of the stately colonial buildings along the waterfront Bund.

After trudging along the bank and warehouses for a few hundred metres, he would turn to his friend and suggest they go back. 'There was absolutely nothing,' he recalled of what is now Pudong, the city's financial district.

He never imagined that more than 20 years later he would make his own ultra-modern contributions to the city's skyline.

Pudong International Airport, which resembles the wings of a seagull, opened in 1999. The Oriental Art Centre, said to imitate a blossoming flower, followed in 2004.

Shanghai has proved more welcoming of Mr Andreu's art than Beijing, where his curved design for the National Grand Theatre in the heart of the capital attracted criticism and the mocking nickname 'The Egg'.

'People keep repeating to me: 'Come to Shanghai. They like you better here than in Beijing'. I like both. I think they're two stages of a country.'

There was little controversy with the opening of his two buildings in Shanghai, perhaps a sign of the city's acceptance of new and foreign things, given its history as a treaty port.

Mr Andreu fought, successfully, to have gardens in the Pudong airport. When he later designed the art centre, he found city planners actually limited the size to allow for vast gardens surrounding the building.

Although a designer of modern structures, he praised Shanghai's efforts to promote historical preservation. 'If you respect too much of the past, you don't do anything. If you're not respecting at all, you become mad,' he said.

With Shanghai a city constantly on the move, the architect is keeping his eye on his beloved Pudong, which he expects to grow even further. 'There's a lot to happen there still.'