CIAM Urban Design Reloaded, or How Shenzhen Can Be Considered the Ultimate Functional City

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Much has been written about Shenzhen, the megacity city that only thirty years ago did not even exist. What has not been written yet is that Shenzhen (but the same thing could be argued for many other Chinese cities) embodies the most complete expression of the set of strategies and principles developed between the 1920s and 1950s by the CIAM. Shenzhen is the 1930s “functional city” integrating the post-war debate that resulted in the Heart of the City. Since the design of Chandigarh and Brasilia, in fact, little has been produced so clearly (and unnoticeably) informed by the CIAM legacy as Shenzhen. This paper thus displays the features that made Shenzhen the ultimate “functional city”, emphasising not only the overall planning structure but also the three-dimensional aspects that allow to understand the city as a product of urban design exactly in the way that Josep Lluís Sert intended the discipline. Such reading, which departs from the broad literature on the CIAM and involves a comparative analysis of built and unbuilt projects starting from Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine, aims at contributing to the debate on Chinese urban design. The present interpretation, indeed, displays how the aforementioned planning and urban design principles have been integrated into Chinese urban design strategies, which, on other hand, many Chinese scholars consider deeply rooted in the Chinese tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventHistories of Urban Design - Zurich, Switzerland
Duration: 15 Nov 202117 Nov 2021


ConferenceHistories of Urban Design
Internet address


  • Urban China
  • CIAM urbanism
  • Planning
  • Shenzhen


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