Practicality and functionality: the architect redefines the community


A black t-shirt with jeans is an eternal dress style of Zhuang Shen, who jokes that it is decent enough to meet with bosses or government officials, and also practical for working on messy construction sites and dusty.

The 50-year-old architect and partner of Atelier Archmixing has been exploring and growing with Shanghai for three decades, renovating, renovating and transforming the city through his expertise in urban architecture. Zhuang is also a professor at the School of Design at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Dong Jun / SHINE

Zhuang Shen, 50-year-old architect and partner of Atelier Archmixing

“The metropolis I have lived in for 30 years always surprises me every time I walk through its streets,” Zhuang said. “To me, he’s a familiar stranger – fresh, uplifting and cordial.”

And this is where the architect draws his inspiration. The Pocket Plaza on the densely populated Yongjia Road in the old part of downtown Shanghai is one of the successful projects that Zhuang designed and chaired. It is highly walkable and functional after being fully commissioned last year. Recently, Pocket Plaza won two prestigious awards at the ARCASIA Awards for Architecture 2021: the Gold Prize in the Social and Cultural Architecture category and the Special Prize in the Social Responsibility category. “The place was well managed and well used, much better than I expected before,” he said. “This indicates that such a place is exactly what a highly urbanized area and its people badly need.”

As a component of the public space requirement of large community projects, pocket squares or mini-parks provide greenery, a place to sit outside and sometimes a children’s play area or a small field for physical activities.

Practicality and functionality: the architect redefines the community

Dong Jun / SHINE

Open steel and wooden porches with seating circle the square. The porches are lowered to create an intimate atmosphere.

But things got a bit tricky for this rectangular wasteland after the demolition of dangerous and dilapidated old houses. Judging by its size and location, a public space open to neighboring communities would be the best solution. “But it should also be a territory with clear boundaries, allowing easier management and administration,” Zhuang said.

He designed the place in a semi-open public space with a sense of privacy.

Open steel and wooden porches with seating circle the square. The porches are lowered to 2.1-2.7 meters high, creating an intimate and friendly atmosphere. Three sides are naturally walled up by the neighbor’s gables shikumen (stone gate), and one side connects the street with a door closed at night.

To get a better view of the street scene, the floor of the square was raised 50 centimeters above the sidewalk, enriching the layer of space and also enhancing the sense of privacy. The central plaza features small dry land fountains, which could be managed at specific times of the day to control how the plaza is used in a clever and subtle way.

Practicality and functionality: the architect redefines the community

Dong Jun / SHINE

The design drawing of the Pocket Plaza

Red brick sidewalks and green steel pillars actively blend with the tree-lined road ahead and the old shikumen houses on three sides, merging into a familiar Shanghai landscape to pedestrians and neighboring residents.

“Designing and building a house or a place is like giving birth to a baby, it is laborious but pleasantly sweet,” said the architect.

The square quickly became an outdoor community of Yongjia Road. Locals come to walk their dogs, chat with their neighbors, organize community bazaars, and spend a day in slow motion observing the people on the streets, while nearby office workers jump rope at noon and the bums can take a walk. afternoon nap.

It’s even a great place for young people to have blind dates, with so many visual distractions to avoid social awkwardness.

“What we want to do is create a relaxing and warm space in the daily life of the city,” Zhuang said. The contrasting elements of the pocket square – the public and private character, the dense population around the vacancy in the middle, the different heights of the floor and even the colors – help to dramatize the space, bringing a touch of lightness.

Practicality and functionality: the architect redefines the community

Dong Jun / SHINE

Zhuang Shen in the Pocket Plaza

The smartest part of this pocket-sized project is the introduction of a cafe, which makes the place lively and operational. It’s a win-win thing because people stay for a drink, and this commercial facility, to some extent, does some of the maintenance and community work, turning it into a family-friendly gas station, where the locals and the cafe take care of each other.

“Living space is extremely scarce in the highly urbanized downtown of Shanghai, not to say public space for community events,” Zhuang said. “The residents are in dire need of a shared place to bond. This is the reason why we decided to make a pocket space, not a beautiful park just to be beautiful.”

Having lived in the city for 30 years, Zhuang observes, explores and knows Shanghai well from an architect’s perspective. His practice has moved several times for urban research purposes, from a hospital, a yard near a kindergarten, to a neighborhood and business district.

“The city and even the controversial and complicated urban and rural status quo of the country have been the everyday environment we live in and impossible to ignore,” Zhuang said. Its design focuses more on practicability and functionality, trying to make structures more human.

Practicality and functionality: the architect redefines the community

Dong Jun / SHINE

Zhuang Shen talks with James Hunter, who loves to walk his dog Mille in the square.

Many of Atelier Archmixing’s projects are renovations, which feature smart changes in buildings that make big differences for the entire region and its people.

The facelift of the facade of a historic villa on Hengshan Road involved a new skin of two types of exterior wall bricks – the old traditional grays and the new bright ones. In daylight, the house looks like it was 100 years ago, but at night it suddenly lights up, shining with modernity to echo the vibrant vibe of the city’s nightlife.

The Chen Huacheng Memorial Hall inside Linjing Park in Baoshan District is another successful renovation that emphasizes practicality. A semi-open courtyard with porches around the memorial hall has been set up, with routes leading to all corners of the park. The renewed spatial design created a solemn atmosphere to remember the patriotic hero, but also created a sense of affinity when people discovered the room hidden in the green woods.

Practicality and functionality: the architect redefines the community

Ti Gong

Chen Huacheng Memorial Hall inside Linjing Park, Baoshan District, designed by Zhuang Shen is a successful renovation that emphasizes practicality.

“The city changes every day, as do the spaces in which we live and work. these changes, but they also give architects the opportunity to come up with good designs, ”Zhuang said. “The complexity, diversity and richness of Shanghai allow us to create, renovate and innovate. “


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