Spatial Forms Generated From Shao Xing Culture


Zhang Kun, Wang Bowei

College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092


Abstract: Shao Xing City has a long history of 2500 years. Shao Xing is famous for its densely covered canals, Wu Peng boat and stone bridges. By using GIS(Geographic Information System) and 3D modeling techniques, this paper transformed Shao Xing identities into a unique spatial forms.

Keywords: Shao Xing, GIS, Generate


1. Shao Xing City


Shao Xing City is located to the south of Hang Zhou Bay, to the north of Huiji Mountain, to the east of Hang Zhou City and to the west of Ning Bo City.


Shao Xing was founded in 490 B.C, it has 2500 years old. This city was famous for its numerous canals and bridges. The statistic in 1911 showed that, within the city area of 8.3 km2, there are 33 canals, 229 bridges. If plus the moat, the total length of canals is 60 kilometer, the density is 7.3 kilometer/km2; And the density of bridges is 21/km2.


The looks of Shao Xing has changed nowadays, it has been a population-dense, traffic-busy modern city. People no longer use canals as the traffic route as before, a few Wu Peng boat scattered in the canals just as exhibitions for the tourists. In fact, the number of canals and bridges has reduced much. The well-preserved canals and bridges is located in An Chang town, which is 18 kilometers north-west to Shao Xing. In An Chang town, there is a east-west direction canal, which is 1780 meters long, 8~16 meters wide, with 17 stone bridges bestriding the canal.


figure 1. Wu Peng boat


It is not true yet that Shao Xing city has broke the link with its culture background. In the centre square of Shao Xing, I have seen two types of culture inheritance. One type is modern and tradition live side-by-side, as shown in figure 2. The modern mansion seems to suggest the advancement of Shao Xing city, while the old tower shows the history and memory of this city.

figure 2. mansion and tower


Second type is modern and tradition live consubstantially. As shown in figure 3, the extraordinary building is the Shao Xing Theater, which occupied 20,000 m2. The form of the theater was designed according to the Wu Peng boat. It has a modern body and traditional spirit.


figure 3. theater


Then, there emerges a question: how do we keep a city’s identities in the process of urbanization and modernization?


2. Generative Art


As a new developed method, Generative Art brings us a new creative thinking. From 1998, the Generative Art International Conference was held in Italy every year. As the Chairman of each conference, Professor Celestino Soddu gives high praise to Generative Art: “Generative Art has opened a new era for designing and industry manufacturing……by the aid of the computer, mankind explored their creativity greatly……people create harmony code and use these code to break a new space between science and art.”


It is difficult to give a definition to Generative art, for it involves a large domain (architecture, industry design, computer graphics, music etc.), abundant ideas (analogy, complex system, identity, random, infinite etc.), and numerous techniques (L-system, cellular automata, artificial intelligence, evolve algorithm etc.).


The study of Generative Art in Architecture include such a task, that is “ how to keep the identity of a city? ”. Celestino Soddu has done much research in this area, he has try to extract the identities of Hong Kong, Washington city, then translate these identities into codes and at last use these codes to generate new buildings.


The aim of this paper is also to extract identities of Shao Xing City, and use the identities to construct new spatial forms, but the method is unique.


3. Shao Xing Identities


Canals, bridges and Wu Peng boat is a tightly-linked triunity. Canal is the most importance element, without canals there are no bridges and boats.


3.1 Bridges


I visited the famous Bazi Bridge in Shao Xing city, Bazi Bridge was built in 1256, it is the oldest bridge in Shao Xing. Figure 4 shows the model of Bazi bridge, which is shown in Shao Xing museum.


figure 4. Bazi Bridge model


There are many other style bridges in Shao Xing, but what I am most interested is the arch shape of bridges, as shown in figure 5, there are many styles like circular arc, ellipse arc, rectangular shape, long span, short span and so on. I think it is an interesting experience sitting on Wu Peng boat crossing different arches and hearing the talks of the people on the bridge.


figure 5 arch styles of bridges



3.2 Canals


It is essential to study canals on a map, because map can show the location and spatial distribution of the canals, it will give us a whole view other than the partial view like a tourist.


It is lucky that I found a canal map in Shao Xing museum, as shown in figure 6. This map was drawn in 1892, it not only drew the canals and streets, but also marked all the bridges. It is a shame that in 21 century with highly-developed cartography techniques, I can not find another detailed map like this for Shao Xing canals.


figure 6. old map of canals


It can be seen from the map that the canals spread out like cobweb. In ancient time,  canals belong to the city’s traffic system, people use the canals to travel and transport goods. Let us imagine a boatman steering a Wu Peng boat along the canals many years ago, what he thinks? Subconsciously, he may wondering which route is the shortest one to the destination? His question can be answered now using GIS techniques.


4. GIS Models


With the development of GIS (Geographic Information System), printed map can be  changed to digital map. Digital map can provide much more information by query and analysis (like path find).


In order to use the GIS analysis function, I digitized above map in computer. Canals and bridges are recorded as vector data, vector data use coordinates to represent object’s shape and location. Canals is represented as line symbol and bridges as point symbol. Figure 7 shows the digital map.


In GIS, attribute information are stored in the table, information like age, material, arch shapes can be saved in table. The arch shape is my favorite attribute, I stored the information in table using index, that means the geometry shape of the arch is stored in outside file, and the table just stores a index to the file.


figure 7. digital map


5. Generate Spatial Forms


5.1 Random Points and Shortest Path


In order to simulate the boatman steering in the canals, I randomly choose two points in the canals, one point serves as start point, another serves as target point. Suppose a Wu Peng boat starts off from the start point to the target point, the route should be the shortest one.


I write a programme to fulfill above task, below is the steps:

(1) randomly select 2 points in the maps extent, find out the nearest canals to the given points, set edgeflags on each canal.

(2) execute find path task to search the shortest path between two edgeflags.

(3) select the result path and loop through each bridges to find out bridges which locates on result path.

(4) if no bridges or just one bridge was found, goto step (1), else read arch shape attribute in the table and write to a file.


figure 8. path find


The shortest path is not the aim of this programme, but the bridge’s arch shape! Every time the programme will export a randomly queued array of arch shapes.


5.2 Lofting


This paper uses lofting to produce the spatial forms. Loft object is two dimensional shapes (cross-sections) extruded along a path. Here the arch shapes serves as the cross-sections, and a straight line serves as the lofting path.


Lofting is implemented in 3DS MAX software, I write a script programme which reads the arch shapes into the 3D scene and arrange them along a straight line. As shown in figure 9. But it is a pity that 3DS MAX did not support lofting using script, so I have to loft and set the parameters by hand. Figure 10-11 shows the loft result and some deformations added to the loft object.

figure 9. cross-sections



figure 10. loft


figure 11. deformations


6. Conclusion


This paper extracts the bridge arch shapes as the identity of Shao Xing culture, by the aid of GIS and 3D modeling techniques, this paper creates a unique spatial forms which is trying to express the happy feeling of crossing bridges on the netted canals.




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