Designing the East Asian port cities.
Circulation of building and planning models, 1840-1940


Han Jie (Xiamen University - China)

Heleni Porfyriou (National Research Council of Italy, CNR- ISPC, italy)

Research team:

Antonello Alici (University of Marche - Italy and Silpakorn University Bangkok - Thailand)

Paola Brunori (University of Roma Tre - Italy)

Cristina Pallini (Milan Polytechnic - Italy)

Anna Paola Pola (WHITRAP, Shanghai - China)

Thomas Renard (Université de Nantes – France)

Amoy port, China, 1920s


The focus of this thematic node is on East and Southeast Asian ports and on their planning and design in the early days of the era of modernization. These were places where East met West, cultures intermingled, not only goods, but ideas, circulated and new hybrid patterns were invented. Different planning, building and architectural models were followed (indigenous, of western or eastern origin and from diverse traditions) and it is challenging to follow their transformation, transplantation or combination. There are multiple historical resources and in addition to local sources, European archives and travel literature are important repositories.

On this basis, the aim of this research group is to focus on the planning, building and urban design, from 1840s to 1940s, of East Asian Treaty ports and Southeast Asian ports. This will be undertaken through a comparative and interdisciplinary approach, in order to enhance our knowledge and understanding of that historic period of port city building. Furthermore, our aim is to investigate the impact of that historic period on the townscape of port cities and how this may have influenced their development both physically and socially.

To address this subject, a number of the following issues will be taken into consideration, which will provide a focus for the seminars and the group’s research activities:

  • Are there any common models or approaches taken by the different European powers for developing-modernizing port cities throughout Southeast and East Asia? Or is there a common practice derived from similar European experiences elsewhere regarding the legislative framework, the planning process and/or the infrastructural network, that has been transplanted or imposed/proposed for Asiatic port cities? Which is the relevance, or the role played by the local elites in this process of “modernization”, such as for example the role of expatriate Chinese? Which is the relationship between housing and commercial areas and the waterfront part of the port city?
  • What is the role of local people, local traditions, housing typologies and building techniques in this process of modernization? Are they totally neglected, absorbed, or promoted through hybrid solutions, or in some other way? Who are the planners, architects, engineers, and builders (local, from overseas, both)?
  • Which is the relationship between new building typologies in the ports and their impact on new planning and urban design in these locations? Such as for example the qilou or the go-down in Penang, Guangzhou, Amoy and Southeast China, or the lilong in Shanghai.

The research area is to be developed on the basis of:

  • a critical bibliography (updated online)
  • a cycle of online seminars
  • a cycle of lectures to be given to PhD students of the affiliated Universities
  • a yearly publication.


7 July 2020

Cristina Pallini (Milan Polytechnic -Italy), Treaty Ports as Hybrid Portscapes in China. Framing Research Trajectories

12 April 2021

Heleni Porfyriou (National Research Council of Italy, CNR-ISPC, italy)

  • Georgina André (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France), Hankou in Wuhan municipality: From a commercial port to an urban experiment (1840-1937)

  • Shigenao Onda (Hosei University – Japan), The urban transformation of Amoy (Xiamen), in the 1920s and 30s

  • Richard Hu (University of Canberra – Australia),The Nationalist Planning of Greater Shanghai: 1927–1949

  • Christine Mengin (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne – France), Thomas Renard (Université de Nantes – France), The Urban Challenges of a Three-Core City: Tianjin at the Turn of the 20th Century

  • Carola Hein (Delft University of Technology – Netherlands), Dynamic Landscapes of East Asian port cities: Jardine Matheson—a trading company as a vehicle of cross-cultural urbanism and architecture

24 May 2021

Cristina Pallini (Milan Polytechnic – Italy)

  • Shu Yang (School of Urban Design, Wuhan University, China), Wuhan 1861-1990: Radical Changes of Urban Waterfronts in Process of Industrialization

  • Maurizio Meriggi (Milan Polytechnic – Italy), Harbin and Dal’niy, as reflected images of Sankt Petersburg in between colonial cities and company towns of Chinese Eastern Railways Company (1899-1930)