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Hongkou tries different approach to renovating historic buildings

    Hongkou tries different approach to renovating historic buildings


    A woman washes clothes at a basin outside her building, where most residents live a traditional lane life style. Below: A grocery store operated by 80-year-old Shen Shaohong is one of the city’s last remaining cigarette and paper stores — once indispensable to residents.

    A trial project has been conducted in a shikumen community in Hongkou District to renovate the buildings’ inner structures and to improve living conditions, while preserving their historic look.

    The renovation on Chunyangli, built around the 1930s, is a new attempt to find out how to best protect the city’s remaining stone-gated houses.

    If the project, the first phase of which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, manages to please both residents in the buildings as well as heritage experts, it is expected to be promoted as a new preservation strategy for shikumen buildings.

    The Chunyangli neighborhood on 211 Dongyuhang Road is a classic late-style shikumen building and listed as a protective heritage zone of city. A total of 1,181 households are living inside the community with shared bathrooms and kitchens as well as limited living space.

    “The major target is to ensure each household has their own kitchen and bathroom, while preserving the appearance of the historic buildings,” said Xing Zhuhua, a director designer with Zhang Ming Architectural Design Firm, which is in charge of the renovation design.

    The fully government-subsidized project replaces the former wooden and brick inner structures that have been weathering and now pose fire risks, with steel beams and other fire-resistance materials. The exterior walls are preserved. Original construction materials such as the red bricks and wooden doors are being reused as much as possible, Xing told Shanghai Daily.

    The public space is reallocated and shared by the residents to increase the living space, he said.

    “We are looking forward to witnessing the effect of the renovation project, but are also worried the additional space cannot be allocated fairly,” said a resident surnamed Fan who has been living in the community for six decades.

    “The project is good will from the government, but our original life style may also be changed along with the house structure,” said 80-year-old Shen Shaohong, a grocery store owner. The store was opened in 1949 by Shen’s mother and has become one of the last remaining cigarette and paper stores, which once dominated local neighborhoods.

    Shanghai plans to renovate 2.4 million square meters of old residential buildings like Chunyangli by 2020. Most lane-style buildings will be preserved, while the rest deemed to have no protective values will be demolished, said Leng Yuying, deputy director with the city’s housing authority.

    Among the protected categories of buildings, shikumen have become one of the most valuable because they are considered unique to the city.

    The style combines Western architecture and China’s traditional courtyard structures. The houses were first built in the 1850s by Europeans living in foreign concessions.

    In their heyday, there were more than 9,000 shikumen lanes with 200,000 buildings across the city. Only 1,900 lanes and about 50,000 buildings remain, according to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Shanghai Committee, the city’s top political advisory body.

    About 2 million residents still live in shikumen, which once housed about 80 percent of Shanghai’s population.

    The city’s four major preservation strategies are represented by four projects ­­in particular — Xintiandi, Tianzifang, Jianyeli and Cite Bourgogne, said Chang Qing, a Tongji University professor.

    Xintiandi houses boutiques and fancy restaurants and bars. But heritage experts say demolishing the old neighborhoods and replacing them with commercial facilities in mock shikumen style isn’t cultural preservation.

    Tianzifang on Taikang Road is another area once held up as an ideal model. There, residences on ground floors are rented to art galleries and fashion shops. The residents who remain live upstairs.

    The Jianyeli project in Xuhui retained 22 rows of two-story shikumen buildings and turned them into villas offering luxury overnight accommodation.

    In the Cite Bourgogne community on Shaanxi Road S., all the historic buildings were kept and renovated, but many residents complained that their living conditions had hardly improved.