Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 05:01 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 05:01 | SYDNEY

More than one kind of urbanisation?


Sam Roggeveen


1 March 2012 16:59

The SMH reports today that construction has finished on Tokyo's 634m Sky Tree, a communications tower with an observation deck and restaurant. When you see it against Tokyo's skyline, what stands out is how little competition Sky Tree has from surrounding buildings, which raises the interesting point that, while Tokyo is certainly high-density, it is not high-rise by the standard of modern mega-cities.

I'm not telling you this first-hand, because I've never actually been to Tokyo, but the issue arises in this essay marking the recent awarding of the Pritzker Prize ('the Nobel of architecture') to Chinese architect Wang Shu. An extract:

From wide streets to skyscrapers, everything about the modern hypertrophic city seems anathema to Wang. He said that in 1950, his adopted hometown of Hangzhou "looked like Paris. Now it looks like Singapore. People are beginning to ask, 'What is the aim of all this development?'...One obvious alternative to the hypertrophic Western model, which has been eagerly adopted throughout the Sinosphere and Southeast Asia, is the low-rise, tightly-packed Japanese urban model. With 35 million people, Tokyo may be far and away the world's largest metropolis, but it's relatively squat compared to towering cities Shanghai or Hong Kong – its tallest skyscraper doesn't even break 250 meters, while Chicago has 12 taller than that.

Then there's a cautionary note a the end of the article:

But despite China's problems with urbanization, the movement to cities remains an enduring trend throughout civlization, and not one that Wang Shu, or anything short of catostrophic economic collapse, is going to be able to stop. A retreat from the world of modern city building like the one Wang has embarked on for the last two decades is simply unrealistic for China. Even Indian-style restrictions on vertical urban growth seem unthinkable, and given India's stubborn poverty, it's probably not even desirable.

Photo by Flickr user NightFall404.