Monday, May 03, 2010

Book Review: Shanghai Transforming

Shanghai Transforming: The changing physical, economic, social and environmental conditions of a global metropolis edited by Iker Gil
Actar, 2008
Paperback, 272 pages

Saturday's opening of the Expo 2010 in Shanghai is a perfect excuse for taking a brief look at Shanghai Transforming, a two-year-old book on the myriad ways the Chinese city is changing. Edited by MAS Studio-founder and former SOM designer Iker Gil, the book includes a number of contributions from names well-known (Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Saskia Sassen) and not, alongside photographs of the metropolis and data visualizations on the book's four area's of focus: the physical, economic, social, and environmental. The last (highly commendable for their thoroughness, clarity, and good design) are the most striking pieces of the book, clearly illustrating the dramatic urban changes taking place. One graph, for example, shows the explosion in sales of air conditioners, washing machines, and other modern comforts since 2000. But like any statistics, their meaning has to be pieced together via various bits of data (how do these purchases relate to energy consumption trends? or to demographic shifts? etc?) and the insights of the contributors here. In that sense, and as an important study -- academic and otherwise -- on the Shanghai phenomenon, an index would be a great addition.
Getting back to the Expo, all eyes will be on China once again as an anticipated 70 million people visit Shanghai for the six-month celebration. Compared to the Olympics, televised for a couple weeks last summer, this event may have more influence on the international stage than the high-profile games last year, especially when combined with the spread of images, text, and video around the Expo. China's notorious censorship laws will have a hard time keeping up with the visitors and their dissemination of information, favorable or not. It's worth noting that the Shanghai Transforming blog continues the investigations of the book, including posts on the Expo and other recent developments. Kudos to Gil and the gang for extending the book into the blogosphere and maintaining it regularly, no easy feat.