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Ludovico Centis





Ludovico Centis is an architect, and founder and editor of the architecture magazine San Rocco. He has been a partner at the architectural office Salottobuono from 2007 to 2012. He is currently a doctoral candidate in urbanism at Universit Iuav di Venezia (Italy). He has lectured widely, at institutions such as the Universit Iuav di Venezia (Venice), the Politecnico in Milan, the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism, the Architectural Association School of Architecture (London), Cornell University (Ithaca,NY).

Centis has been the 2013–14 Peter Reyner Banham Fellow at the University at Buffalo–SUNY. During the spring of 2015 he has been at the Center for Land Use Interpretation as a participant in the Wendover Residence Program.




Shanghai: the narrative construction of a metropolis


During the last decades in the People's Republic of China administrators and planners have made relevant use of concepts and tools, as the narrative construction of the image of the metropolis, that have been imported from the Western tradition, and have been declined and implemented in an original way. These practices have brought to a pragmatic and sometimes ruthless reduction of complexity, and to the adaptation to the Chinese political system of these same instruments, fundamental to allow the radical transformation of enormous areas and to control the production processes in a relatively short period. Narration, and the subsequent production of tales in the field of urban planning developed between the 1990's and the early 2000's in the PRC, have therefore become key elements in the complex tangle between marketing and urban planning, in particular in Shanghai.

The Chinese megalopolis along the Huangpu river is playing a global game on different fronts to become again a world city. Massive urban transformations and economic growth are the two most evident outcomes, but a third one should not be underestimated: the construction of the collective imaginary and the continuos redefinition of the image of the metropolis. This is not a completely new phenomenon: Shanghai during the centuries has always been a laboratory for the construction and modification of the image of the city itself, through different voices, media and technologies: from the shuo shu (storytellers), active around hundred years ago, passing through the New Perceptionist writers of the glittering 1930's, the Communist writers yiku sitian in the 1950''s, to contemporary authors as J.G.Ballard, or the Chinese Mian Mian and Zhou Weihui, as well as recent tv serials, or movies as 'Shanghai Triad' by Zhang Yimou,

It can be often observed that the support or refusal of a specific narration finds reason in a complex mixture of rational and emotive elements, of objective datas and stereotypes, knowledge and misinformation. Looking at what has happened in Shanghai, in particular between 1984 and 2010, one could consider that an effective narration in the field of urban planning can contribute in a decisive way to the rapid transformation on an impressive scale of wide metropolitan areas. A more careful reading however reveals that the brutal dismissal of conceptual nodes and concrete issues and complex problems that has been operated, has in turn produced weak effects on the side of the construction of a shared collective imaginary.

Specialized publications, magazines, masterplans, novels, city explorations, discussion with the actors involved in different forms in the transformation processes, have all equally contributed to the development of this essay, which is focused in particular on the decade that came before the inauguration of Expo 2010, the climax of a long era of intense transformation of the Chinese metropolis. The informations, materials and reflections have mainly been collected during a three months fellowship in Shanghai during Spring 2007, thanks to the “Research Abroad” program instituted by Venice International University and Tongji University.


Key words: Governance, narration, Shanghai.





Benjamin W. (2007), I Passages di Parigi, Einaudi, Torino.

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Essays in books

Abbas A. (2002), Play it again Shanghai. Preservation in the Global Era, in Gandelsonas M. (ed.), Shanghai reflections: architecture, urbanism, and the search for an alternative modernity, Princeton Architectural press, New York.

Bergre M.C. (2004), “Shanghai’s urban development: a remake?”, in Kuan S. e Rowe P.G. (eds.), Shanghai: architecture and urbanism for modern China, Prestel, Munich.

Boyer C. (2002), “Approaching the memory of Shanghai”, in Gandelsonas M. (ed.), Shanghai reflections: architecture, urbanism, and the search for an alternative modernity, Princeton Architectural press, New York.

Chan R.C.K. (2000),”Shanghai – Development strategies and planning implications”, in Mee Kam Ng (ed.), Proceedings of the international Conference on Re-inventing Global Cities, Center of Urban Planning and Environmental Management, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Laquian A. (1997), “The Effects of National Urban Strategy and Regional Development Policy on Patterns of Urban Growth in China”, in Jones G.W., Visaria P. (eds.), Urbanization in large developing countries: China, Indonesia, Brazil and India, Clarendon press, Oxford.

Rowe P.G. (2004), “Privation to Prominence: Shanghai’s recent rapid resurgence”, in Kuan S. e Rowe P.G. (eds.), Shanghai: architecture and urbanism for modern China, Prestel, Munich.

Sassen S., Roost F. (1999), “The city: Strategic site for the global entertainment industry”, in Judd D. R., Fainstein S.S. (eds.), The tourist city, Yale University Press, New Haven.


Articles on magazines

Barbieri O. (2006), Luoghi veri e finti, in Lotus International n.129, Electa, Milano.

Flowerdew J. (2004), “The discursive construction of a world-class city”, in Discourse and Society, vol.15-2004, Sage, London.

Latour B. (2004), “Politica del tempo, politica dello spazio”, in Domus n.876-2004, Editoriale Domus, Milano.

McDaniel L. (2001), “Jumping the Dragon Gate: Storytellers and the Creation of the Shanghai Identity”, in Modern China, vol.27-2001, Sage, London.

Neuman M.(1998), “Planning, governing and the image of the city”, in Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol.18-1998, Sage, London.

Roche M. (2003), “Mega-events, Time and Modernity: On Time Structures in Global Society”, in Time and Society, vol.12-2003, Sage, London.

Sudjic D. (2000), “La citt che esplose”, in Domus, n.829-2000, Editoriale Domus, Milano.

Wing-chung H. (2004), “The (Un-)Making of the Shanghai Socialist ‘Model Community’: From the Monolithic to Heterogeneous Appropriation(s) of the Past”, in Journal of Asian and African Studies, vol. 39-2004, Sage, London.

Wu F., Zhang J.(2007), “Planning the competitive City-Region: the emergence of Strategic Development Plan in China”, in Urban Affairs Review, vol.42-2007, Sage, London.

Wu J. (2006), “Nostalgia as content creativity. Cultural industries and popular sentiment”, in International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.9-2006, Sage, London.

Wu Z. (2006), Urban China review, vol.14/15-2006, Tongji University Press, Shanghai.

Zhang Y., Fang K. (2004), “Is History Repeating Itself?: From Urban Renewal in the United States to Inner-City Redevelopment in China”, in Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol.23-2004, Sage, London.





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