Modern Shanghai combines the soul of Houston with the body of Las Vegas. In Pudong, the city’s booming financial district, flashing trails of colored lights race up and down the shafts of office towers, as if they were casinos. One freshly minted skyscraper, Aurora Plaza, has a façade of gold reflective glass that at night becomes even more garish, turning into a multistory L.E.D. screen on which huge smiling faces cinematically dissolve into bright corporate logos. The sky line of China’s largest city has become a strangely exuberant version of the “Blade Runner” aesthetic, with simple geometries and sharp lines cutting into the sky; it may not be beautiful but, in its staggering scale and intensity, it certainly is awe-inspiring.
The principal architect of Xintiandi is, not surprisingly, an American: Benjamin Wood, who once worked for Benjamin Thompson, the designer of Quincy Market. (Wood recently relocated from Boston to Shanghai.) Wood’s design is a clever mixture of renovated old buildings and new construction imitating the style of shikumen, the gray brick town houses that were built in many Shanghai neighborhoods beginning in the eighteensixties. Three-story structures built along narrow alleys, with elaborate, stone-carved entries leading into small interior courtyards, shikumen—the term means “stone gate”—generally housed upper-middle-class families. (Under Communist rule, shikumen were converted to tenements, and as many as seven families were shoehorned into them.) Like many buildings in cosmopolitan Shanghai, a shikumen combines Asian and Western influences; it is a Chinese home with a Parisian sensibility, a hybrid form both delicate and monumental.
"SHANGHAI SURPRISE" - http://www.newyorker.com/critics/skyline/