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Megablock Urbanisms PRD-Jeffrey Johnson, Stephen Chou, Jiteng Yang, Asia Megacities Lab, Studio-X Beijing, GSAPP, Columbia University

2015.11.19

Megablock Urbanisms

China’s default solution for accommodating the influx of millions of new urban inhabitants is large-scale superblock development, a carry-over from the Soviet-era danwei-type urban development planning, and the Modernist’s utilitarian social housing block. Superblocks are spatial instruments with social, cultural, environmental, and economic implications, operating between the scales of architecture and the city. It has been estimated that superblock developments are constructed at a rate of over 10 completed each day,housing populations that range from the thousands to hundreds of thousands. These large-scale residential enclaves, which can reach sizes of 40 hectares and larger, are taking over the fabric of Chinese cities. This trend is not only prevalent with new developments at the expanding periphery of cities, but also in existing city centers at times highly contrasting with their historical urban context.

Megablock PRD

In one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions in the world, how has the superblock shaped the urban landscape of the PRD? With its unique history of large-scale urban development, especially during the past three decades, the PRD provides an abundant source of superblock projects for research and analysis. Hong Kong, with its influences rooted in a colonial past and with Great Britain, provided early models of superblock development that were easily adapted in the emerging cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan, and for new growth of historical cities like Guangzhou. As the PRD region has rapidly grown and prospered over the past few decades, the superblock has become the dominant model of urban development. What distinguishes these models from those in other regions in China and elsewhere? How have the superblocks evolved over the past few decades? What kind of urban condition have they created?

What we intend to illuminate through our research are unique and emerging ‘Megablock’ urbanisms that have the potential to influence the way we conceive of the city in the future, not only in China, but throughout the world. By redefining the superblock--or ‘Megablock’—as a laboratory for experimentation and invention, we hope to discover alternative models of urban development.