Shikumen Architecture in SHANGHAI : treasures hidden by skyscrapers
January 1, 1970
I’m an Architecture student at the fifth year and in few months I will get my graduation. I decided just few months ago to try a new experience . So I choose Shanghai as my new destination to prepare my final thesis project about the typical architecture of this Country..I was sure to find something really interesting but you don’t know how many unexpected things I discovered walking for the streets of this huge city!
When you arrived in this city your attenction is just captured by the high buildings , the skyscrapers , the big shops , the colors , the lights , the sounds..everything looks so wonderful and oversize . The skyline is marked by the modern towers and the atmosphere make you feel in a future era. The city and the people run so fast and around you the world changhes day by day. Every day you can discover something new in the same place.
But this is just the most visible and known side. I choose to give up the visits int he downtown centers because walking around the rural neighborhoods or behind the main streets and buildings I discovered the big contraddition of this city.
New and old , rich and pour live together. There are many lots of Shikumen lilong houses. These residences were prevalent during the end of the 19th century until the 1930. Combining the traits of southern Chinise dwellings and western row house , it is the most representative of modern Shanghai architecture. Years of wind and rain have aged a large number of the brick-timber structured and household-dense Shikumen architectures. They are gradually disappearing from their sight with the city’s planning and transformation.
Some of them right now are just sourrounding by skyscrapers and modern building but still they live on their own in the inner part of those block , some are renoveted and became tourust spots , other keep their good looks and are Heritage Architecture.
So I decided to aim for my research to the study of the history of these architectures to understand how the local people live and what they need.
Located along Taikang Road , Tianzi Fang is one of the oldest Shikumen Architecture today is possible to visit by thousand tourists thanks to the new renovation. Bars , clubs , restaurants , shops , creative and art laboratories were created in the old houses. Ancient facades are totally renovated or covered by cables , installations , tents , lights and furnishing. Sometimes you can see originals decorations and doors sighting there as one time ago. Walking in the narrow streets of this neighborhoods your attention is captured by the particular design of the local products as jewelery, carpets and typically Chinese clothing. Many bars serve tea and american coffee for breakfast , shots and cocktails for the happy hour time. It is possible choose and send postcards to yours or buy flowers and plants. It’s a beautiful place to spend yor Sunday ,
tasting the local delicacies and shopping in a place that preserves the magic of yore.
Called by the local Bugao Li and located on Jianguo Road , this little lot of old houses still retains the typical French style of the 30’s. Is composed by red bricks lilong houses on three / four floors. Ground floor is the kitchen and deposit for biker or motorbikes. Hygiene conditions are very poor and people accumulate objects anywhere because they do not have enough space. The narrow streets are crowded with chairs and bicycles but also by plants and flowers because the people who live in these places even if they have no place trying to find a way and a small lot to grow some plant and grow some flowers. The atmosphere in this place is very characteristic because it seems to live in another era. There are many elderly people who spend their time to recover and reuse old items, to do gardening or playing cards in the street. When tourists come into town and begin to make their photos are always very hospitable and open, smile and try to talk to you in Chinese even though you do not understand.
These people are still very old works as collect cardboard, collect the iron stuff, mend shoes or bicycles. Everything seems to belong to another era and it seems to be very far from the modern and crowded city.
Jing’an Villa and Chunyangli
In the corner between Nanjing Road and Maoming Road random I found one of the most beautiful Shikumen architectures. Old palace and small houses from the first 900 is standing behind new residence villas. Decorations on the ancient doors and stucco on the facades adorn the exteriors . Looking across the gates I discovered flourished secret gardens where they raised many birds. Some facades are covered by spontaneous evergreen. Sellers of flowers or fruits are put on the street corners to the ground. Narrow paths and arcs follow one another between the houses by creating mazes. It’s amazing because this reality continues to live well despite being surrounded by subways, fast food and offices. People live by decades in these small houses that do not have all the necessary facilities but retain the history and traditions of an ancient people.
Walking and photographing, I saw many neighborhoods like these but those that I have described are the most interesting. My quest is not over yet because in Shanghai there are thousands of places like this. Advice to all those who love the old architecture and want to discover hidden treasures to visit these places where you can feel the Chinese culture and everything has remained intact.
Unfortunately the China Administration is demolishing gradually these neighborhoods to make room for new buildings but people often rebel because they wants to preserve this heritage. Nevertheless in the last fifteen years have been demolished l ‘80% of homes. If you are in the area and you can , go and visit any type of Shikumen architecture because gradually disappear almost completely.
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