Trial facelift completed on historic downtown shikumen buildings

The first batch of residents of the Chunyangli neighborhood, built around 1921 in Hongkou District, began moving back to their apartments following an eight-month renovation.

Filmed by Yang Jian. Edited by Zhong Youyang. 

The city’s first trial project on renovating shikumen buildings while preserving their historic appearance has been completed in a downtown community, with the buildings’ inner structures getting a modern facelift.

The first batch of residents of the Chunyangli neighborhood, built around 1921 in Hongkou District, began moving back to their apartments yesterday following an eight-month renovation. Their housing units now have a brand-new look along with private toilets and kitchens.

“I’ve been looking forward to getting relocated for decades, but now I feel it’s better to live where I was born, with improved living conditions,” said 71-year-old Tao Jianbin, who was born at No. 22 block in Chunyangli in 1948. Tao was among the 46 households living in blocks No. 2 to No. 24 who received keys to their “new homes” yesterday.

The fully government-subsidized project replaces the former wooden and brick inner structures — that have been rotting and pose a fire risk, in addition to mice and cockroach infestation — with steel beams and other fire-resistance materials.

The stone gate, the most iconic part of the shikumen building, and the exterior walls are preserved. Original construction materials such as the red bricks and wooden doors are being reused as much as possible, said Xing Zhuhua, chief designer of Zhang Ming Architectural Design Firm, which is in charge of the renovation project.

Yang Jian / SHINE

Tao Jianbin, who was born in Chunyangli and has lived there for seven decades, checks his newly revamped apartment following a trial project to renovate shikumen buildings.

Ti Gong

A file photo shows a Chunyangli resident carrying a chamber pot since most households used shared toilets in the old neighborhood.

Yang Jian / SHINE

Each household has a private bathroom and kitchen following the revamp.

Each household can gain an additional 3.5 square meters of space on average and the layout has become more practical, according to Xing, whose plans were tailor-made for each household.

“I was super-delighted when I set first stepped into the revamped apartment,” Tao said. “It looks like a new commercial house, and the government covers the cost for me.” He plans to move back in with his wife, mother and son at the end of the month.

The trial project will be expanded to other local shikumen neighborhoods, which enjoy protection status but are beset with poor living conditions, said Chen Weidong, deputy director with the urban restructuring department of the city’s housing authority.

“Once all residents in a building agree on the revamped plan, the government can launch the renovation,” said Chen. “The ultimate purpose is to improve their living standards to the largest extent possible.”

Yang Jian / SHINE

The fully government-subsidized project replaces the former wooden and brick inner structures — that have been rotting and pose a fire risk — with steel beams and other fire-resistance materials.

Shanghai has more than 8 million square meters of lane-style houses built half a century ago within the Inner Ring Road. Of this, about 7 million square meters are earmarked for protection due to their historic value, Chen revealed.

The city government 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 heritage value will be demolished.

The Chunyangli neighborhood at 211 Dongyuhang Road is a classic lane-style shikumen building, listed as a protective heritage zone. A shikumen-style building is a combination of Western architecture and China’s traditional courtyard structures. The shikumen houses were first built in the 1850s by Europeans living in foreign concessions and are unique to Shanghai.

Yang Jian / SHINE

A security guard stands in front of a Chunyangli neighborhood building which will receive a facelift in the second phase of trial renovation to be launched soon. Residents have been moved out to make way for the revamp.

With the trial operation drawing praise from residents, the second phase of the Chunyangli project will be launched soon and will involve another 176 households. The neighborhood, built between 1921 and 1936, has a total of 1,181 households, 96 percent of whom have agreed to the facelift.

“A rat cage was once indispensable to each Chunyangli household, but we no longer need to worry about that problem now,” said Chen Minxin, Tao’s wife who has lived in the house for more than three decades.

Tao’s family rented a house on the other side of the community during the renovation project. Chen has been taking photos of the renovation process every day.

“I have also kept many old photos of how the apartment looked like before. Though the living conditions were poor, it still holds valuable memories for me,” she said.


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