Experts mull ways to save old communities

Architectural experts are calling for efforts to preserve the "historical integrity" of the city's old communities.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Architectural experts are calling for efforts to preserve the “historical integrity” of the city’s old communities, and to maintain their traditional character for future generations.

Leading heritage protection experts Zheng Shiling, Ruan Yisan and Wu Jiang shared their ideas on historic protection in a meeting held yesterday at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, during the city’s annual book fair.

Ruan, an expert on shikumen structures, said the proper way to protect shikumen neighborhoods is to have residents remain in them, as they too are part of the history and culture of each area.

“Residents and buildings are related. They make history readable and touchable,” he said.

Ruan encouraged authorities not to relocate all residents during renovations.

Originally, each shikumen building accommodated one family, but later the original layouts were heavily modified. One building was often partitioned into several flats and even a single room could contain a family of three.

“We should restore the original layout and reduce the population in one building,” Ruan said. “Indeed, the cramped living conditions should be improved. But we have to try to keep the original style.”

He added: “Historical buildings don’t stand alone. They are linked to people and nearby surroundings. So, we should retain old neighborhoods as a whole rather than just preserve a historical building.”

Zheng agreed.

“How do we preserve shikumen buildings? It’s not about relocating people and turning the buildings into commercial complexes,” Zheng said.

“Historical buildings are different from antiques exhibited in museums. They are built for people to use. If we don’t use them, they just die,” Wu said. 

The meeting was held by the historical preservation authority of Jing’an, a downtown district featuring more than 500 historical sites.

District officials also encourage businesses to protect its legacy. According to Zheng, this trend will continue as governments can provide expertise while businesses can provide money.


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