Improvised City

Architecture and Governance in Shanghai, 1843-1937

Cole Roskam

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  • Published: March 2019
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Architecture; History
  • Bibliographic information: 296 pp., 61 bandw illus., 14 maps, 7 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

For nearly one hundred years, Shanghai was an international treaty port in which the extraterritorial rights of foreign governments shaped both architecture and infrastructure, and it merits examination as one of the most complex and influential urban environments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Improvised City illuminates the interplay between the city's commercial nature and the architectural forms and practices designed to manage it in Shanghai's three municipalities: the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the Chinese city.

This book probes the relationship between architecture and extraterritoriality in ways that challenge standard narratives of Shanghai's built environment, which are dominated by stylistic analyses of major landmarks. Instead, by considering a wider range of town halls, post offices, municipal offices, war memorials, water works, and consulates, Cole Roskam traces the cultural, economic, political, and spatial negotiations that shaped Shanghai's growth.

Improvised City repositions Shanghai within architectural and urban transformations that reshaped the world over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It responds to growing academic interest in the history of modern and contemporary Chinese architecture and urbanism; the ongoing, shifting relationship between sovereignty and space; and the variegated forms of urban exceptionality-such as special economic zones, tax-free trading spheres, and commercial enclaves-that continue to shape cities.
Cole Roskam is associate professor of architectural history at the University of Hong Kong.

"An important contribution to the growing literature related to Shanghai's architectural and urban history. Impressive in its scope, research depth, and clear articulation of key events, people, and places that epitomize Shanghai's remarkable metamorphoses."
-Jeffrey W. Cody, senior project specialist, Building and Sites Department, Getty Conservation Institute

"Roskam explores the formative role of architecture in establishing and transforming the cultural and political foundations of the foreign concessions in Shanghai."
-Peter J. Carroll, author of Between Heaven and Modernity: Reconstructing Suzhou, 1895-1937

"Cole Roskam has produced a carefully researched and beautifully crafted study of Shanghai's colorful and eventful architectural history. This book will fascinate anyone seeking to learn more about the distinctive built environment of one of the world's most dynamic cities."
-Elizabeth J. Perry, director, Harvard-Yenching Institute