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8 Big Shanghai Urban Developments to Look Forward to in 2021

Bigger! Better! Greener!
2021-01-04 12:00:00

2021 is shaping up to be a big year for urban development projects in Shanghai with the completion of several flagship urban renewal projects, prestigious cultural venues, parks and riverfront spaces. Here's a roundup of what can be expected to be complete and open to the public this year.

Shanghai Expo Culture Park

Expo Culture Park fills the gap left by the incredibly large mass of empty concrete surfaces created for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. Probably the most audacious urban renewal project currently under construction in Shanghai, the Expo Culture Park forms a key component of the Huangpu riverfront revitalization on the Pudong side and part of the "Sponge City" blueprint to dramatically increase the amount of permeable surface area to help mitigate the risk of flooding and enhance the quality of the city’s water supply. 

Photo: Shanghai Eye

Covering 1.88 sqkm along the Huangpu River, four pavilions from the World Expo are set to remain and be integrated into the cultural, artistic and scientific programming of the park, along with a Grand Opera House (see below), an equestrian center, an artificial viewing hill, several stunning gardens and wetland areas. A new forest of 25,000 trees has been planted and occupies 90% of the park. The designers of the park, French landscape architects Agence Ter, say the park is "a living machine that speaks to the processes of transformation and recycling." 

Expo Cultural Park Masterplan (Photo: Agence Ter)

Shanghai Grand Opera House

Photo: Dezeen

Any aspiring international city of global cultural influence needs a standout opera house and Shanghai is no different. The aforementioned Expo Culture Park is set to host this new major cultural landmark. The new Opera House is an important part of a new urban master plan for Shanghai that aims to place the city at the forefront of the globe economically, scientifically and culturally. 

Photo: Dezeen

The striking building and surrounding open spaces resemble an unfolding fan, which is said to capture the “dynamism of dance and the human body.” 

Bird’s eye view of the spectacular Grand Opera House on the Huangpu (Photo: Dezeen)

A spectacular open-air spiraling staircase connects the ground and rooftop while offering views across the city and riverbank. According to Norwegian architects Snøhetta, the entire design aims to “promote public ownership of the building for the people of Shanghai and beyond." The roof will link to a large stepped plaza, and can double as a public meeting place and a stage for large-scale events. The plaza is said to be open for visitor access 24 hours a day and provides a link down to the waterfront. The building itself will host a 2,000-seat auditorium, with state-of-the-art acoustics, a smaller 1,200-seat stage, for smaller productions, and a third smaller auditorium for more experimental performances. 

Photo: Dezeen

Shanghai Planetarium 上海天文馆

The planetarium under construction in 2020 with the view towards Linggang town (Photo: Ennead)

Linggang is out on the periphery of Shanghai and home to a big circular lake around which a major planned new town is growing. Continuing with the circular theme, the Shanghai Astronomy Museum aka Planetarium is now built and will become the world's largest when it officially opens in 2021. 

Photo: Ennead

The swirling building design comprises three celestial inspired forms — the oculus, the inverted dome, and the sphere — set within a sunken plaza on one side with a terraced park on the other side with pathways winding their way around the building. The interior comprises a central exhibition space, several observatories with telescopes that allow high-definition observation of the surface of the moon and planets, an education and research centre and an IMAX theater. Temporary and permanent exhibition spaces are set to include interactive augmented and virtual reality activities powered by AI.

Photo: Ennead

Architects from Ennead say the exhibits and architecture will "communicate more than scientific content: they will illuminate what it means to be human in a vast and largely unknown universe.”

Pudong Museum of Art (PmoA)

The Pudong Museum of Art designed by French starchitect Jean Nouvel (designer of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and the National Museum of Qatar in Doha) is set to become a major anchor in the new riverside arts and culture district. The boxy six-story building sits right next to the Pearl Tower and the aquarium at the Lujiazui riverfront. The new museum is partnering with Britain’s legendary Tate institution who are slated to provide the first international exhibition after the museum opens. 

Source: Jean Nouvel

The interior of the museum literally presents itself to the Bund with its raised glazed facade overlooking the Bund. The museum comprises a whopping 40,000 sqm of exhibition space. The PMoA aims to become a stage for dialogue through art, and major contributor to cultural exchanges between China and other countries when it opens. Construction began in September 2017 and is scheduled to be completed in early 2021.

Shanghai Museum East Branch 上海博物馆东馆

Century Park in Pudong is set to get two major cultural venues opening this year — a library and museum. Alongside the current Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and Shanghai Oriental Art Center, they will comprise a "cultural hinterland" for Pudong. The east branch of the Shanghai Museum will stretch over 105,000 sqm, more than double the size of the Puxi branch which opened in People’s Square in 1996. 

Photo: Ábalos + Sentkiewicz

Photo: Ábalos + Sentkiewicz

Shanghai Library Pudong Branch

Photo: Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

This gigantic new 115,000 sqm library will compliment the museum and reinforce Century Park as a major cultural destination. According to the architects the building is conceived as a singular monolithic object floating above the tree canopy within the park. The main library volume floats above two pavilions that will house a 1,200-seat performance venue, exhibition and events space and a dedicated children’s library, that will all open up towards a series of landscaped courtyards and gardens. 

Photos: Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

1000 Trees by Suzhou Creek

Photo: Tian An

The skyline of Suzhou Creek is being transformed with this 300,000 sqm mixed-use shopping complex, comprising a "mountain forest," dubbed the city’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon. As its name states, the development imitates a hill-like topography with concrete structural columns that widen at the top to allow 1,000 trees to be planted as hanging gardens. The development is sited along Moganshan and Changhua roads in Putuo District to the east of the Changhua Road Bridge close to the M50 arts district. British architects Heatherwick Studio imagined a green mountain in a relatively dense but flat city. The initial phases of the “1,000 Trees” project will include restaurants, museums, art galleries and entertainment sites. The riverside region was the former site of China’s earliest private flour factory.

Yangpu Tobacco Warehouse Renovation

Shanghai has some exemplary industrial adaptive re-use developments. This one is no exception. This project by local architects TJAD Original Design Studio, which forms part of the wider Yangpu Riverside regeneration project, takes an unremarkable disused tobacco warehouse and converted it into a multi-functional cultural space. At the same time the building acts as a huge green bridge connecting the city to the river bank over a public road. 

Photos: ZY Architectural Photography

With all these flagship cultural venues, high quality parks and riverfront spaces, and renewal of old factories and warehouses, Shanghai is clearly investing heavily to reach its stated goal of becoming a city of innovation, humanity and sustainability. We look forward to profiling some of these projects and more in greater detail during the year.


Isaac is an IT professional and independent urban design consultant based in Shanghai.