The Study of Waterfront Modality of Shaoxing


Mi Jia

Tongji University, Shanghai, China



This paper analyzes the waterfront modality of Shaoxing from three aspects: interface, texture and custom, then recapitulates 5 archetypes. Base on the generative science, a series of waterfront with feature of Shaoxing can be generated. On the other hand, the delightful relation of measure and the character of space summarized from analyses could be helpful in creating humanistic space in modern cities.


Key words:

   Shaoxing, waterfront, generative science, humanistic space



First, survey of Shaoxing

Reviewing the history, Shaoxing is a famous city in China. From Ch'in(221B.C.) to Qing dynasty(1911A.D.),it was one of the political, economic and cultural centers of south China. Though view changed, the lingering charm still stated.

Shaoxing locates at the south part of Changjiang river delta, and borders on Ningbo and Hangzhou. It governs 4 streets, 15 towns, 710,000 people and 1130 square kilometers area. Shaoxing is called the village of water, bridge, wine, calligraphy and personage.



Second, The analyses of waterfront modality of Shaoxing

1.              Interface

The literal meaning of interface is: a surface forming a common boundary between adjacent regions, bodies, substances, or phases. In a city, because of the differences between combine levels and human vision, interface is felt as several forms: city interface, section interface and place interface such as street, plaza. When you walk in a city, the third one, which is called place interface, is possible to be seen. To Shaoxing, there is an analogy between the river way and artery. The river ways take on the perceiving function of Shaoxing, form city life and compose town image.

The interface of bank comes into being as water flows. In shaoxing waterfront can be separated in to two kinds: house on the riverside and public place on the riverside. In the first situation, buildings are about 4-10 meters high, which qualify amenity interface, and look like growing from the water. Each house is unique because of time, but they are in a harmonious state as a whole. Stone steps solve the distance between base level of house and surface. A young woman walks down the steps, washes close on the riverside, which scene may be only seen in south China. In the second situation, common space such as corridor, road and plaza contact building and water. In this linear public place, promenade, rowing, connect, communicate, shopping……many action could take place.

The waterfront in Venice is far more different from Shaoxing, though water plays an important role in the two cities. Most buildings on the waterside are tall, so canal looks narrow and soaring. Several poles stand in the harbor for tying boats, and form interesting interface of waterfront. In addition, there is another waterfront modality in Venice: dock in house. The first floor is submersed by water, so boat can put into dock, just like garage in house.

Till today, the watercourses in Shaoxing have become living space aggregate with complex function actions, and the interface of bank with variety exhibit the vivid life of townspeople.


2. Texture

We cannot separate texture from interface. The interface shows shape, color, texture and combination of objects. Different texture brings different interface, different interface brings different space, then react abundant locale feature, time spirit, stimulate and aesthetic feeling.

White wall, black tile, brown wood, blocky step, close bricks, stone bank……draw the outline of comely view in Shaoxing. While glittery mosaic and iron gate, tell you it is Venice. Texture is the appropriate embodiment of local characteristic.

Every interface, whether baronial architecture or delicate sculpture,can talk to people by exterior texture.


3. Custom

If the organizing and distributing of urban inscapes determine the form of space, then human activity and culture property infection these urban inscapes by history, culture, axiology, time, mentality and so on. This makes sense of the urban space.

The bridges in Shaoxing is very special, Huiyuan Bridge, Filature Bridge, Dongshuang Bridge, Bazi Bridge, Guangning Bridge, Tishan Bridge, Zhaogong Bridge, Guangxiang Bridge, Penholder Bridge, Xiajiang Bridge, Yingen Bridge, Yuanmen Bridge, Flower Bridge, Hongwei Bridge, Shimen Bridge, Baozhu Bridge……Some can tell stories, some locate place, some commemorate a personage. If we compare Shaoxing to a pome, the bridges are cadence that flows gracefully.

Wupeng boat is a proper vehicle of Shaoxing, though has different shape with the boat in Venice, the sentiment it shows may be same.

In Shaoxing there is a tradition of theatergoing, stage is put up on the ground when feast, and residents assemble here by boat. The riverside is stage, while the water is an auditorium. In opposition to Shaoxing, canal is stage, while bank as an auditorium in Venice.

Furthermore, yellow wine, knocker, bamboo, terai, crock, stone lion, camouflage……deposit in Shaoxing as culture, and reflect each aspect of life.



Third, generate from the waterfront modality of Shaoxing

1. Figure the waterfront space with feature of Shaoxing

Base on the analysis of Shaoxing waterfront space, we could abstract some archetypes of interface. There are 2 archetypes: steps parallel the house and steps perpendicular to the house when house on the riverside. When public place on the riverside, there are 3 archetypes: building connect with watercourse by corridor, road and plaza. Getting these archetypes means get the elements that could generate. Then what are the relations between them? The inflexion of watercourse give birth to abundant building interfaces. The architecture not only builds according to the riverway, but diversified in a bound. If the riverside is looked as axis X, the interfaces of waterfront distribute in the curve Y=Sinx. By statistical approach, the parameters of the equation would be confirmed. Just like a euphonious movement, interface modality controlled by the equation. In the spaces that generate follow the principles, the feature of Shaoxing could be felt. Then the interfaces, which are endued with local material and cultural symbol, incarnate the custom of Shaoxing.

On process, we can also adhibit the method of generative design. For example, control of the waterfront line could be a little more relaxed, and several architects can design one plot together. The bank would in a state of collage, and has a same character with old city, which shape in nature. Hope this study could be helpful in figure waterfront with feature of Shaoxing.


2. Development base on the archetypes of waterfront

We can draw an analogy between the waterfront space of Shaoxing and commercial street with traffic free. The relations of house and watercourse just like the relations of shop and street, thus corridor, road and plaza these three archetypes can play a role in it. For example, add corridor in the pontes of shop and street. The boundary of vision and the boundary of action complect with each other, which increase arrangement of space and enrich the modality of interface. Considering function, this grey space could provide a place without solarization and drenched. This humanistic design can stimulate consumption and drove economy benefit.

There is analogous relationship between the waterfront modality of Shaoxing and urban thruway .If we compare the thruway to watercourse, the pavement is compared to the bank of the river, and the passing of the passerby who wants to reach the other side of the thruway by over bridge, can be compared to the passing the river by bridge. We can imagine that the pavement can be seen as the bank of the river .If we give it the compatible height, separate it from the cars, make it easy to arrived at by several steps, people who lives in the city can enjoy the comfortable environment and the problem of corroding the humanistic space by machinery can be resolved. Referring to the form of the bank of Shaoxing, which is much various, we can design some subsidiary ways by the side of the thruway to enrich the modality of the interface, to offer the ports of the taxi and the bus. The designing of the over bridge can also refer to the bridge of Shaoxing, to make people perceive the interest of the passing.


Christopher Alexander considered that the manmade city is always short of something important. Compared with those old cities, which are full of living interest, the try for building the new city is failed considering normal human feelings. I think the way of generative design may resolve the problem .In today’s design, we can use the compatible scale and modality, which is abstracted from the archetype of the waterfront modality of ShaoXing, for the goal of making urban space becoming more and more humanistic. So that such study will be meaningful.






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