It should come as no surprise to hear that Actar, the Barcelona-based publisher, has produced a beautiful book; in fact, they seem incapable of putting out an uninteresting design. Shanghai Transforming impressively weds full-color photographic spreads, infographics, maps, and original essays by the likes of Saskia Sassen, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott-Brown into a coherent reading experience. The book roams back and forth across spatial scales, exploring a perhaps less well-known Shanghai of public infrastructure, scholars' gardens, administrative subdivisions, and the so-called "ghost streets" of England's steadily disappearing imperial presence. It all culminates, to some extent, in the book's final section, a look at the "green" development of Chongming Island—a deltaic land mass 1000 square-kilometers in size. This project, led by SOM, presents a particularly interesting example of a 21st-century eco-masterplan.
While the book's sheer quantity of infographics can produce an almost irresistible urge to skim the pages, and while a few of its more number-drenched stretches feel like glorified investment primers for companies that might hope to set up shop in the city, the book nonetheless pulls off its own unique, spatio-economic analysis. The book "studies the facts," Gil writes in the opening introduction; it invites readers "to untangle and understand these complex processes, and in so doing, to explore possibilities for the future."
By no means the final book about the city, Shanghai Transforming is still noteworthy for its timely combination of description and critique, quantity and quality both.