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The Radical 26-Year Transformation of Shanghai Captured in 2 Photos

Aug 07, 2013 12:12 am

Skift Take

The impact of business travel and a globalized economy is perfectly illustrated in these two photos. It is the movement of goods, people, and ideas that led to China to create a modern-day empire city in just 26 years.

— Samantha Shankman

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A photo of Pudong, Shanghai taken in 1987.

This photo of Pudong was taken last week. It is the same view as seen in the first photo, 26 years later.

Shanghai’s dramatic transformation into a skyscraper-packed megalopolis with a population of around 23 million has been captured in two photographs taken just 26 years apart.

The images, taken last week and in 1987, highlight the breakneck pace of development that has turned Shanghai into a futuristic mega-city and made Pudong, the area to the east of its Huangpu river, one of the most recognisable skylines on earth.

The first image shows Pudong in 1987 when Shanghai’s population was just 11 million: drab warehouses and factories dot the Huangpu’s eastern bank across from the city’s historic Bund.

The second shows the same region today: an almost unrecognisable vista in which dozens of high-rises and skyscrapers jostle for space around the Shanghai Tower, a 2,073ft “vertical city”, which became the world’s second tallest building on Saturday.

Shanghai’s multi-billion dollar facelift began in the 1980s, during the early stages of China’s economic opening to the world.

In 1990, Communist Party leaders in Beijing unveiled plans to develop the area to the east of the Huangpu into a “Special Economic Zone” and three years later “Pudong New Area” was officially founded.

At the heart of its blueprint was the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Area, a 12.27-square mile Chinese answer to Lower Manhattan.

A trio of spectacular skyscrapers were planned for China’s new financial hub: the 1,381ft Jin Mao Tower, which was completed in 1999, the 1,614ft Shanghai World Financial Center, which opened in 2008, and the Shanghai Tower, which held its “topping out” ceremony this weekend becoming China’s tallest building.

Pudong, which just a few decades ago was little more than a patchwork of paddy fields, is now home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, the city’s international airport and the unmistakable, futuristic Oriental Pearl Tower.

Speaking earlier this week, the Shanghai-born lead designer of the Shanghai Tower said his city’s transformation was like “a dream.”

“Some days you look at it and you still don’t believe your eyes. It’s incredible. It’s a miracle,” said architect Jun Xia.

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