Window to the city: the role of urban planning in molding modern Shanghai

Yang Jian
The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center takes visitors on a tour of development evolution and its trajectory for the future.
Yang Jian

Editor’s note:

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Shanghai. Once dubbed "the Paris of the East,” the city has evolved into a fusion of multiculturalism. Along the way, Shanghai has accumulated a repository of stories about the people and events that have shaped its history. Five areas of the city occupy pride of place in that journey: People’s Square, Jing’an Temple, Xujiahui, Lujiazui and Xintiandi. This series, a collaboration with Shanghai Local Chronicles Library, visits them all to follow in the footsteps of time.

Window to the city: the role of urban planning in molding modern Shanghai
Courtesy of Shanghai Local Chronicles Library and Academia Press

The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center is an iconic building at People's Square.

For anyone interested in how Shanghai grew from a fishing village into a global powerhouse, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center is the place to visit.

It is the first exhibition center in China dedicated to urban planning and construction achievements.

This architectural gem comprehensively traces the breathtaking evolution of the city from its early days to its 21st century prominence.

Dubbed the “window to the city,” the center showcases the details of Shanghai’s intricate urban planning and development through a lens that highlights the harmony of its people, environment and natural landscape.

The venue is a treasure trove of information, with the main historical reference point beginning when the city was opened as a treaty port in 1843.

In December 2019, the center closed for its biggest renovation since it opened in February 2000.

It reopened in August 2022 after a nearly two-year upgrade, which equipped it with new technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, 8K displays and a five-dimensional digital map to show the city’s development from past to future.

Window to the city: the role of urban planning in molding modern Shanghai
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The center features 8K displays after major renovations.

The new center showcases the city’s 2035 master plan through themed exhibitions like “humanistic,” “innovative” and “ecological.”

Miniature models replicate the features of Shanghai’s typical shikumen, or stone-gated residences, as well as popular watertowns, including Zhujiajiao in suburban Qingpu District.

The city’s latest digital transformation strategy and smart digital applications are also on display with some interactive installations.

A section is designated for professionals to check the world’s latest urban planning information and details of Shanghai’s previous master plans.

More than 500 photos, 90 videos and 40 models are displayed across about 30 exhibitions, which are frequently updated to reflect the latest urban planning developments.

A section on the ground floor will host temporary art exhibitions related to urban studies.

Window to the city: the role of urban planning in molding modern Shanghai
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Interactive features are deployed to enhance visitors’ experience.

Before the renovation, a model of the area within the city’s Inner Ring Road — a 600-square-meter masterpiece that offers a 1:500 scale representation of the city’s heart — was a highlight of the center. It allowed local visitors to locate their homes, bridging personal stories with the collective narrative of Shanghai’s progress.

The center also featured a “1930s-style street” in the basement, which took a nostalgic view of the charms of old Shanghai.

The facility now deploys more high-tech systems in its exhibitions to enhance the visitor experience and highlight the role ingenuity has played in the development of the city.

The landmark at People’s Square has been awarded China’s second-highest designation as a tourist spot. It is also recognized as a national educational base for science and a patriotic education base in Shanghai.

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