Mega: the Landscapes of China’s urban enclaves

MLA Thesis Section (2015-16)

Related Staff : Ivan Valin

Students: PENG Yixuan Evelyne; TSANG Suet Ming Charmaine; XU Meng Yvonne; XU Tianjiao Anya

This thesis-track will investigate one of the most prevalent typologies of China’s recent urbanization—the Megablock development. Emerging at the intersection of development mandates and market economies, these massive structures are measured in hectares and have precedents in the urban projects of European Modernism, early-Soviet mikroraions, and even the pre-reform collectivist danwei (Johnson, 2009; Monson, 2008). Critiques of the Megablock are abundant. Many are situated in disciplines of planning and social geography and based in the experiences of Europe and North America; they disparage the form—an “urban enclave”—for lacking transit and pedestrian organization, for increasing social fragmentation and entrenching inequality, and for ignoring participatory processes or sustainable outcomes. Recent literature, though not defending the Megablock per se, have begun to complicate previously held assumptions about social networks and sustainable strategies in China’s “enclave” cities (Douglass, Wissink, & van Kempen, 2012; Mangelsdorf, 2013). If the Mega-form is a prerequisite for the massive urbanization project still underway in China, how must it adapt? Individual research projects in this track will explore the spaces, forms, and organizations of the Megablock through the lens of landscape, ecology, and infrastructure. Working between the details of the mega-unit and its integration into a larger environment, these design research projects have a goal of reimagining the typology for the sake of a more humane, more flexible, and more sustainable urban development model and an expanded, more inclusive discourse on the role of Landscape in the City. Specific design research topics might include: An investigation into alternative formulations of the garden-enclave-resort-over-structure of Megablock. These artificial landscapes are as disconnected from the surrounding ecology as they are from the daily experience of the resident (roof landscape technologies; urban ecology; landscape for living); A Megablock flattens difference in site through organization (the big grid) and process (the tabula-rasa). How might Mega-form thinking be applied to sites that can’t be gridded or scraped clean (genus loci urbanism; site infrastructure); and A typological study of the Megablock as landscape and open space, including regional forms and their historical evolution (landscape typologies, urban open space).

Student theses this year included:
“Reconnected by Green Infrastructure: An Ecological landscape approach in post-megablock urbanism” by PENG Yixuan Evelyne;
“The Diary of Nightscape: Micro-utopias approach for the public users” by TSANG Suet Ming Charmaine;
“Landscape Metamorphosis: Animating greenery as social framework in public housing” by XU Meng Yvonne; and
“Megablock of Coexistence: An Alternative type of residential block model in Shanghai urban fringe” by XU Tianjiao Anya.

Enlarge Photo: Charmaine TSANG Suet Ming
Enlarge Photo: Charmaine TSANG Suet Ming
Enlarge Photo: Charmaine TSANG Suet Ming
Enlarge Photo: Charmaine TSANG Suet Ming