American cities are mostly clean, well planned, well organized, and rule-enforced. I saw the quiet small towns like San Francisco, Palo Alto, Seattle. Even in New York, I see the characteristic of American cities – in certain neighborhood, the style of the buildings – especially the heights of the buildings are pretty similar. In smaller cities like Cappuccino, CA, any small change in the exterior of the house needs approval from neighbors, or the city. I never experienced so much constrain about a building in the America. After watching nice community with decent houses, well cut grasses, and trees, it started to be a little bit …. hmmm… boring.
Las Vegas is the exception
I was completely impressed by the exaggerated buildings of Las Vegas. How can they practice their imagination in such a big scale. Look at the New York New York hotel, which we stayed on our fist night. From the outside, it is a complex consists of all the land markers of New York! They even have a big roller coaster surrounding the building with people screaming days and nights. We stayed in MGM Grand, a hotel with 5000+ hotel rooms. What?! Everyday, I have one sentence in my mind when I was there: “Las Vegas doesn’t have a city committee to approve their building designs.”
There is another city like Las Vegas: Shanghai
In Las Vegas, I was excited. It is like an adventure park – the whole city. The smell in the air, the energy of the people, and the nice restaurants, and services… everything reminds me of another city: Shanghai.
At Las Vegas, I started to understand why so many people from the States feel excited about Shanghai. I lived in that city for 15 years, but I never feel that excited. Why? I just realized it shares something in common with Las Vegas: the wildness, and the energy.
The skyscrapers in Shanghai are the carrier of the most crazy architects in the world. They pour their imagination onto that land which is eager to get the most modern, and cutting-edge designs. People don’t worry about whether the new building can fit into the skyline of the city or not, since the whole city has already been a big mass of mixture between the west, and the east, the old, and the new. Why bother to constrain yet another building? Look at any of the buildings in Shanghai, and think about moving it to somewhere in the world. Paris? San Francisco? Maybe the only place that people will accept buildings as tall as WFC, or as strange as the Bund Center, is Las Vegas. Even people in New York will be concerned.
Talking about New York, I have an architect friend who designed many buildings and areas in Manhattan. He complained that if the top 10 most favorite buildings/architects in New York were built today, 7 of them will not pass the current city planning code. Those buildings cannot get a building permit include Brooklyn Bridge, and Empire Building. Since people care their skyline so much, they started to be conservative of any change, and when the “new land” becomes a historical site, they don’t want to change anything.
That is the beauty of new land like Shanghai, and Las Vegas. Just build new things! The skyline has not been widely accepted yet, so build, build, build! Architects in Shanghai started to warn people that don’t be over loose about the control over what building can be built in that city, since “foreign architects will use Shanghai has the test field for the buildings that cannot be built everywhere in this world”. He is correct, and that is the reality of Shanghai today.
Shanghai is spiritually similar with Las Vegas. It is not about gambling, it is about wildness, and imagine nation. To better define Shanghai, I find it a combination of the spirit of Las Vegas in the scale as big as Los Angeles.