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Jing'an venue reopens as cultural center

    Jing'an venue reopens as cultural center

    Hua Xingfu shows a work of his. Six pieces of his artwork are on display at the Jing’an venue.

    A cultural venue in Jing’an, part of the district’s “micro-renovation” campaign to improve its environment and foster community ties, reopened last Friday after a year of renovation.

    The two-story exhibition and information center on 600 Shaanxi Road N. now serves to showcase the history and culture in the neighborhood, which is home to 46 historic buildings and 19 former residences of celebrities.

    Among the old buildings are the Pacific Garden, red-brick townhouses which sheltered the Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II. The Ohel Rachel Synagogue is another legacy of the old times. The ivy-covered, Greek revival-style synagogue was built by tycoon Jacob Sassoon in 1920.

    Also on the road are the neoclassical Garden House, shikumen-style Datong Lane and former residence of Hong Kong tycoon Ho Tung, designed by Hungarian architect L.E. Hudec.

    The center is now a mixed-use cultural facility where people can enjoy coffee, read books, learn about the city’s history, make handicrafts and attend lectures.

    Before its renovation, the venue’s deco featured dark colors and had old-fashioned display cases filled with leaflets about the road’s history. It now has a look of a chic cafe at first sight. Its brick walls have been replaced with glass panels that let in the sunlight. Its interior decor is one of modern simplicity with the use of light, neutral colors.

    Photos of historical buildings — such as the Ohel Rachel Synagogue and the Moller Villa — and paper artworks by foreign children, local residents and renowned artists who used to live in the neighborhood are featured on the walls of the renovated venue.

    Among them are six pieces of paper art work made by Hua Xingfu, a 70-year-old practitioner of paper art craft. They feature scenes from the days of old Shanghai, such as a woman in cheongsam taking a ride on a rickshaw.

    “I made them based on my childhood memories,” Hua said. “In the old days, a shikumen (stone-gate) building was partitioned into smaller flats occupied by several families. We used a shared kitchen but we lived in harmony.”

    At the venue’s reopening, foreign children, from countries such as Italy and Spain, learned to make Chinese paper art. They also created images that reflect their view of Shanghai.

    Ruan Xiaozhou, who helped to design the venue’s renovation, said he tried to blend old materials from the building — such as its floors —with the new elements. For instance, a gate pillar from a shikumen building is a decorative feature on the venue’s staircase.

    Shikumen buildings are exclusive to Shanghai. “Every element of shikumen buildings — from the windows, floors to the walls — tells history,” said Zhou Lei, co-founder of the Oriental Danology Institute, which designed the venue’s makeover.

    “We spent a long time talking to local residents to understand the stories of the road, which has inspired our design.”

    Multimedia artist Nina Chen, who recorded the lives of residents in shikumen neighborhoods, made a film and screened it at the venue’s reopening.

    “Now the venue reflects interaction between the old and the new,” Ruan said. “I hope to enliven the community. “We are not building a venue. Instead, we are building networking here.”

    Wu Fei, who held a talk for online writers and their fans at the venue on Friday, said he hoped “people can come in to read books or just to chat”.

    Wu said the venue’s second floor was like a free “shared bookshelf” because it features books donated by cultural celebrities such as television anchor Cao Kefan and writer Chen Cun.

    Chen Hong, director of Jing’an Cultural Bureau, said: “We will make it a new cultural landmark in Jing’an, and a public cultural living room for local people.”

    In Shanghai, small changes to neighborhoods have made a big difference. The Luoshan neighborhood has turned its polluted waste-dumping site into an eco-conscious compound equipped with solar power and the ability to recycle rain.

    In Siming neighborhood, a sports venue that had fallen into disuse was made over into a communal and fitness center for residents.

    At the Guihuayuan residential complex, residents turned a weed-filled area on the fourth floor into a small community garden. Plots of land are allocated to them to plant vegetables and flowers.