While many fast-growing districts in China’s big cities are content to erect buildings quickly and cheaply to meet immediate needs, Qingpu has long recognized the importance of design in shaping development. An 18,900-square-kilometer district located 25 miles from downtown Shanghai, Qingpu encompasses the only freshwater lake in Shanghai, Lake Dianshan, so it focuses its planning efforts around the water. Its historic buildings sit along an extensive canal system, leading to its reputation as the “Venice of the East.” Cao Yu, vice president of Shanghai Qingpu New Town Construction Company, a major developer in the town, says, “Qingpu’s 6,000-year-old history and its nature as a water town are the two major facets of the architecture. In selecting architects for new works, what was most important to us was that they understood these very special characteristics.” Ma Qingyun, founding partner of MADA s.p.a.m., which has designed a number of projects in the district, recalls his work for the developer: “It is rare that a client is more concerned with regional culture than with architects. Because of this, we had to respond to their priorities while bringing our design agenda into the process. I came to appreciate their position and, even more so, the result of it.”

Shanghai Qingpu New Town Construction has been active in development projects for more for six years. The town’s current plan, expected to be completed in 2020, places government, administrative, and cultural buildings in the center; residential areas to the east; conference venues, exhibition halls, and arts and sports centers to the west; an industrial park to the north; and tourism around Dianshan Lake. Qingpu has employed many prestigious architects to implement this plan, including Liu Jiakun, Xin Tonghe, Yichun Liu, CA-DESIGN, Sancho-Madridejos, Wood + Zapata, Jacques Ferrier, and Kunyan Deng. Quality architecture comes at a cost, but Cao says, “It was important to bring out the characteristics of Qingpu—its culture and its history. That’s good for both the people who will use the facilities and good for society. The cost for good design within the total scheme of the project isn’t that big.”

Cao recognizes that design is more than just dealing with aesthetic concerns. Referring to the new Shanghai Qingpu District Exhibition Center of New Town Construction, designed by Jiakun Architects, he says, “During our design process, the idea of openness was very important. Previously, there were security guards or walls enclosing the area around government buildings. We want to instead endow the government with the image of being open to the people.” Architect Liu Jiakun recalls “an environment of mutual respect and collaboration” with his client—an extension of the openness manifested in the building itself.

Cao notes that after the Shanghai Expo 2010 closes at the end of October, there will be greater opportunity for development in Qingpu as it becomes recognized as a green, waterside community. Shanghai Qingpu New Town Construction Company plans to build on this reputation and take it into the next decade of sustainable development.