Boasting 200 skyscrapers, China's financial capital has grown like no other city on earth – and shows few signs of stopping
When building projects grew scarce in the United States a few years ago, the California architect Robert Steinberg opened an office in Shanghai. He says he didn’t understand the city until the night he dined with some prospective clients. “I was trying to make polite conversation and started discussing some political controversy that seemed important at the time,” he recalls. “One of the businessmen leaned over and said, ‘We’re from Shanghai. We care only about money. You want to talk politics, go to Beijing.’ ”
When I visited Steinberg’s Shanghai office, he led me past cubicles packed with employees working late into the evening. “We talk acres in America; developers here think kilometers,” he said. “It’s as if this city is making up for all the decades lost to wars and political ideology.”
Over the past decade or more, Shanghai has grown like no other city on the planet. Home to 13.3 million residents in 1990, the city now has some 23 million residents (to New York City’s 8.1 million), with half a million newcomers each year. To handle the influx, developers are planning to build, among other developments, seven satellite cities on the fringes of Shanghai’s 2,400 square miles. Shanghai opened its first subway line in 1995; today it has 11; by 2025, there will be 22. In 2004, the city also opened the world’s first commercial high-speed magnetic levitation train line.
With more than 200 skyscrapers, Shanghai is a metroplex of terraced apartments separated by wide, tree-lined boulevards on which traffic zooms past in a cinematic blur. At the 1,381-foot-tall Jin Mao Tower, whose tiered, tapering segments recall a giant pagoda, there’s a hotel swimming pool on the 57th floor, and a deck on the 88th floor offers a view of scores of spires poking through the clouds. I had to look up from there to see the top of the 101-story World Financial Center, which tapers like the blade of a putty knife. The Bank of China’s glass-curtained tower seems to twist out of a metal sheath like a tube of lipstick....MORE