Density and Urban Housing A Historical Study of Housing Forms in Shanghai from 1842 to 1949

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Embargoed until 2024-01-06
Copyright: Wang, Hao
This study has been undertaken to gain a new understanding of the relationship between housing density and liveability. Through a critical examination of various concepts of density, a holistic theoretical framework of density has been proposed and tested via a case study, that is, the housing history of Shanghai between 1843 and 1949 is analysed and interpreted from a density perspective. There are numerous misconceptions about density as revealed in the surveyed literature of architecture and urban planning. High density, as a method of measuring efficiency and the sustainability of urban environment, has become the dominant goal in urban development according to the modern mindset. Such a mindset has led to misconceptions about density, such as understanding it in a singular, quantitative and linear way. Perceptions that human beings have in relation to density are ignored, making density difficult to use as an effective reference to guide the shaping of liveable urban environments. It is therefore necessary to propose a holistic theoretical framework of density that integrates physical density and perceived density. From the perspective of density, Shanghai's urban housing history is a story of western urban planning and architectural concepts that have been grafted and adapted and then finally developed into a unique urban environment. Shanghai's distinctive topographic and socio-cultural context is an important background behind the development of a diverse and integrated living environment. This study explores ways of shaping urban fabric and housing through re-enacting the living environment of Shanghai from 1843 to 1949. The study includes two steps. Firstly, the concepts of physical density and perceived density are respectively correlated to parti and poché used in the École des Beaux-Arts’ architectural education to propose a new theoretical framework of density. Secondly, physical and social conditions of the living environment in Shanghai between 1843 and 1949 are re-enacted from the macro to the micro scale following the structure of the street-system, street-blocks and block-plans. Corresponding to these three levels, the findings from the case studies consist of three parts. First, the street system, inherited from the spatial morphology of the agricultural era, formed appropriately sized blocks that balanced the vitality of the streets and the stability within the blocks. Second, the remarkable diversity of urban plots converted from pre-divided agricultural land, facilitated the appearance of mixed uses and varied building forms within a single block to meet the needs of different groups of residents. Finally, different forms of boundaries were used as effective architectural strategies to purposefully manipulate perceived density and thus improved the liveability of urban environments. These findings describe the fitting relationship between living environment and ways of living so that the influence of density on liveability is elucidated. The findings of this study reveal that the density of a liveable environment is not an absolute value. Liveability is closely related to both physical density and how it is perceived. The housing history of Shanghai from 1843 to1949 shows that residents of certain quarters of Shanghai during that period developed a fitting relationship between their ways of living and the living environment within a specific socio-cultural context. This relationship and its vernacular and agricultural roots are an important reference for the purposeful shaping of perceived density and consequently the creation of a liveable environment. This thesis makes contributions to both theoretical and practical properties of density. The theoretical framework integrating physical and perceived density provides a new perspective for urban housing history studies and can be used as an effective reference for achieving a balance between economic efficiency and liveability in contemporary urban design and administration.
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PhD Doctorate