Western urban planning Theory in the Greater Shanghai Plan

The Chief architect Doon Dayou was the man behind the master plan. He had western education background, and was of course familiar with the latest urban discussions. The Greater Shanghai Plan, therefore was closely related to the recent western urban planning theory, spread by the foreign architects and digested by China’s first architects.

While the architecture style showed the authority’s wish to revive the traditional style, the master plan on a bigger scale largely referred to western urban planning theories. The planning of civic centre started in the October of 1929. The plan was very much formal concerned, as the site plan showed a strict symmetrical layout follow the South- North axis. This remind people of the early twentieth century western urban planning theory (the city beautiful movement). The draft showed a strong desire to throw away the existing urban fabric and create a brand new Shanghai Civic Centre. The draft also presented with clear layering of road system. In 1930 the committee further refined the plan based on the advice from foreign planners. The foreign planners suggested a road system as an extension of the existing urban fabric, that was well connected to the concessions. The new road system was a combination of the gridded system and diagonal system. The revised plan also inserted parks and public green spaces into the urban centre[1].(fig.1)

fig.1  Scheme for Civic Center, gridded and diagonal road system. symmetrical layout

Similar to the Civic Centre Planning, the master plan for Washington D.C. by Pierre L’Enfant, he also used the combination of gridded and diagnosed road system, and soon became popular in urban design(fig.2).  The main content of City Beautiful Movement was the celebration of spectacular urban landscape[2]. In 1901, L’Enfant’s plan was further refined by a group of famous urban planners including Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted and James Mcmillan. They were also the key figures in the city beautiful movement[3].

fig.2: 1791 washington map

The Chicago Plan, or the Burnham Plan was an important project to support the idea of City Beautiful Movement[4]. The Chicago Plan put emphasis on the urban parks, public architecture, and the waterfront, which exert great influence on the contemporary urban planning. The Greater Shanghai Plan also had many ideas inherited from it. (fig.3)

fig.3 Burnham plan of Chicago

The planning for Civic centre planning was a more elaborated section of the Greater Shanghai plan. The whole plan, however, also referred to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and Social City. The Garden City shared the similar idea with the city beautiful movement, that ideally there would be a green belt between the city centre and the satellite cities. The “Social City’, in addition to “Garden City”, was an ideal city layout, with public facilities in the centre and residential and factory satellite cities surrounding it[5].This was also the strategy adopted in the Greater Shanghai Plan, as the plan also mentioned a green belt surrounding the Civic Centre, separating the residential zone and factory zone with the government buildings and public facilities[6].

Apart from the supporting theories and design strategies, the designers and scholars also studied the foreign land policies and technologies. Doon Siujia, one of the Chinese scholars interested in the urban planning, he compared the land policy in Europe and America, and stated that the German system was more suitable for China, that the government should control the land and plan the use. The free market system in America could only result in chaos in land market in China[7].

It was obvious that the western exerted great influence on the Greater Shanghai Plan. But the whole process was not a one-way learning. The very fundamental ambition for China in twentieth century was to answer the question “What Chinese modernism would be?” The massive reference from the western precedencies were sometimes the guidebook for China’s city development, but in many cases they were the theoretical support for what had already been in the mind of the decision makers, therefore the researches and analysis were very much unconsciously related to politics and always stick to the competition between the Concession and Chinese area of the city.




[1] Shu Wei, Da Shanghai Jihua Qishilu: Jindai Shanghai Huajie Dushi Kongjian Xingtai de Liubian, (Shanghai: Tongji University,2007), 87.

[2]David Gosling and Maria Crsitina Gosling, The Evolution of American Urban Design: a Chronologuical Analogy, (London: Wiley Academy,2003).

[3]History of Planning in Wshington, accessed December 19,2016, retrieved form: https://www.ncpc.gov/ncpc/Main(T2)/About_Us(tr2)/About_Us(tr3)/History.html

[4]Gosling, Evolution.

[5] Simon Parker, “Visions of Utopia,” Urban Theory and the Urban Experience, (New York: Routledge, 2004), 53-56.

[6] Dafeng Cai 蔡达峰 and Fansheng Song 宋凡圣, Chen Cong Zhou Quanji: Shanghai Jin Dai Jian Zhu Shi Gao 从周全集:上海近代建筑史稿 , (Shanghai: Feng Huang Press, 2015), 30.

[7] Xiu Jia Dong 董修甲, Shi Zheng Lun Wen Yan Jiu Ji市政研究论文集, (Shanghai: Qing Nian Xie Hui Shu Ju青年协会书局, 1928), 391-392.



Cai  Dafeng 蔡达峰 and Song Fansheng 宋凡圣. Chen Cong Zhou Quanji: Shanghai Jin Dai Jian Zhu Shi Gao 从周全集:上海近代建筑史稿. Shanghai: Feng Huang Press, 2015

Dong Xiu Jia董修甲.  Shi Zheng Lun Wen Yan Jiu Ji市政研究论文集. Shanghai: Qing Nian Xie Hui Shu Ju青年协会书局, 1928.

Gosling David and Gosling Maria C.. The Evolution of American Urban Design: a Chronologuical Analogy. London: Wiley Academy,2003.

History of Planning in Wshington. accessed December 19,2016.

https://www.ncpc.gov/ncpc/Main(T2)/About_Us(tr2)/About_Us(tr3)/History.html董修甲 市政研究论文集 青年协会书局

Parker Simon. “Visions of Utopia,” Urban Theory and the Urban Experience. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Wei Shu. Da Shanghai Jihua Qishilu: Jindai Shanghai Huajie Dushi Kongjian Xingtai de Liubian. Shanghai: Tongji University,2007.

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