Establishing the “right to public space” in “gongrenxincun”: Socio-cultural practices adopted by “the proletarian class” in Shanghai,1949-2015

By Ziming Xie

This study explores the reciprocity between socio-cultural practices of “the proletarian class” and the designed landscapes in Shanghai’s urban public realm since the establishment of People’s Republic of China.

With a focus on “gongrenxincun” (工人新村, publicly provided neighbourhoods for workers, PPNW) constructed since 1950s, this study aims to generate knowledge about the bottom-up practices adopted by inhabitants in establishing their “right to public space” (as a subcategory of “right to the city”).

Within this practice, Ferguson has remained committed to the continual experimentation and refinement of a single material, concrete, and his use is exceptional in Australia. This thesis does not address the tectonic qualities of concrete, but rather focuses on the treatment of it. As Adrian Forty suggests, these treatments act as a medium to communicate ideas, both architecturally and other; thus revealing methods within the work that make a meaningful contribution to Australia’s postwar Architectural discourse.

The thesis will focus on four major campus projects: Hale School; The University of Western Australia; Western Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin University); and Murdoch University, using these to interrogate the medium’s ability to adapt and engage with different contextual environments.

The research project aims to contribute to a growing body of knowledge about postwar architecture in Australia through its focus on a key West Australian practice, and through demonstrating the significant role that concrete played within this period.

Guided by the state principle of “serving production as well as people’s livelihood”, Shanghai evolved into a jigsaw puzzle of self-contained and spatially demarcated work unit urbanism surrounding the old city core during Mao’s era (Lu, 2006; Lü, Rowe and Zhang, 2001). And people who worked for the state-owned work units were implied to have good social status and ended up living in PPNWs. However, the nearly 20-year social and political turbulence since 1950s and the economic reform of the 1990s  left a profound influence on the urban fabric of PPNW and the working class in Shanghai.

In order to review the evolution of the public space of PPNW in Shanghai and how inhabitants perceive and adapt these spaces since 1949 to present, Laoshan PPNW is chosen as the case study area. What makes Laoshan distinct from other work unit neighbourhoods is the unique geographic position, adjacent to Shanghai Lujiazui CBD, and the dramatic contrast brought by the surrounding futuristic skyscrapers. To investigate the case study in-depth, a mixed-methodology design including interpretive-historical strategy, observation and interview shall be utilized to identify the different forms of resilience and levels of appropriation through the time. I have trialled some of this methods in a one-month pilot study in July 2014.

It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice. Deng Xiaoping

Through the investigation of PPNW and the inhabitants, this study contributes to an understanding in the shift of the political ideology of People’s Republic of China and its top-down influence on people’s everyday life with a focus on public space. The structuring of a theoretical model mitigating the tension between the state’s conceived space and the people’s lived space will also contribute to the contemporary landscape design practice in terms of integrating social practices in the plans and policies, particular with the central government’s policy for ongoing urbanization and expectations for an additional 400 cities by 2020 (Liauw, 2008).

Chinese economic reform was started in December 1978 by reformists within the Communist Party of China led by Deng Xiaoping. It was carried out in two stages. The first stage, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, involved the decollectivization of agriculture, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and permission for entrepreneurs to start businesses. The second stage, in the late 1980s and 1990s, involved the privatization and contracting out of much state-owned industry and the lifting of price controls, protectionist policies, and regulations. The private sector grew remarkably in the second stage. Shanghai adopted the reform and opening-up policy in 1990 and initiated Pudong development. (Dahlman and Aubert, 2008)