Shikumen building near Xintiandi moved 100 meters in bid to protect it for renovation

Yilu, the Shikumen building that was moved,  was built in 1921. In 1944, it was bought by Gao Peiliang whose generations lived there until the end of 2016.  

A Shikumen building on Jinan Road near Xintiandi was moved about 100 meters south near the junction of Jinan Road and Fuxing Road M yesterday in an attempt to protect and later renovate the building. 

Shikumen buildings combine Western building styles and China’s traditional courtyard structures. First built in the late 1850s by foreigners, Shikumen buildings have become an iconic Shanghai architecture style. Buildings in Xintiandi are typical Shikumen buildings.  

The one that was moved was named Yilu in Chinese. It was built in 1921 by the owner of a construction company. 

Gao Peiliang, a renowned businessman during wartime, bought it in 1944. His later generations lived there until the end of 2016. 

The land parcel was bought by Shui On Group years ago. The whole block has been demolished except three historic buildings and Yilu is one of them. 

It took just hours to move the building. “We built a new base under the former base of the building and supported it with steel before lifting the whole building up to prevent damage,” said Shu Xuezhi of the Shanghai Evolution Building Shift Engineering Company which designed and carried out the project. “Then two huge flatbed trucks each with 48 wheels held up the two ends of the building and carried it to where it lies now.”

Shu said it was the first time a building had been moved in one piece with the help of trucks. In previous cases Evolution Engineering had carried out, it usually took about two weeks to move a building. Shu said Yilu was not a big one in terms of a historic building which gave them the chance to try out the new method. 

“Carrying a building with trucks can be a better way to preserve a historic building,” said Lou Chenghao, an expert on Shanghai’s historic buildings. “For it keeps the building in one piece.”

Lou said many protected buildings are moved using the “dismantle and reassemble” method — tearing down a building then piecing it back together brick by brick somewhere else. “You can’t expect the building to be intact since it was demolished in the first place,” said Lou.

Lou told Shanghai Daily that among some 200 Shikumen buildings he has visited and studied, the décor on the gate of Yilu was best preserved. 

Despite its age, a stone plaque engraved with “Yilu” on the gate was still clear and distinct. Above the plaque was a stone-carved garland with mantle stretched out in both directions.

Gao Ganxing, the son of Gao Peiliang, lived in the building until 2016. He told Shanghai Daily there were originally eight buildings in the lane along with Yilu, all built by the same construction company. 

“But Yilu was the main building which housed the owner of the company, it was three times bigger than the other Shikumen buildings in the lane,” said Gao. 

The building was never rented out. “We cherished it not only as heritage of our father’s, but a legacy of the city,” Gao said.

The block where Yilu stands now was named Jing’an Lane. According to an official surnamed Wang in the neighborhood committee, about 1,600 households lived in the lane. Some 85 percent moved out during 2014 to 2015 after the plan to demolish the block was announced. 

Yilu was part of the demolition plan. But thanks to the efforts of Huangpu District’s government, Shui On Group and residents passionate about protecting historic buildings, it was saved. 

Li Kongsan, director of ground cultural relics of the city’s cultural heritage administration, said moving of the building was granted after rounds of discussions.

“We all wanted to find the best way to preserve the building without jeopardizing the commercial development of the whole area,” said Lou who attended some of the discussions.

Though the future of Yilu is still under discussion, a staff member at the Shui On Group who did not want to be named said the building will be renovated and put into public use in coordination with the government. 

Shu told Shanghai Daily that the other two buildings will also be moved in the same way soon. “We can’t reveal the plan for the buildings for now,” said Shu. “But we will make sure the buildings are preserved in the best condition.” 

“I’m gratified that Shui On Group decided not to demolish the building,” said Gao. “Although I don’t live there anymore,  it makes me so proud to see a house and its history remembered by the city.”

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