Home looks good, inside and out

With great excitement and a certain amount of trepidation, residents have moved back into their renovated shikumen homes over half a year after moving out in Hongkou District.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A bird’s-eye view of the Chunyangli neighborhood after a major renovation.

With great excitement and a certain amount of trepidation, residents have moved back into their homes over half a year after moving out, after Shanghai’s first attempt to renovate shikumen buildings while preserving their original appearance was completed in Hongkou District.

The first batch of 46 households in Chunyangli neighborhood, built around 1921, have spent the Mid-Autumn and National Day holidays back in their apartments, following eight months of work. Their apartments now have a brand-new interior with their own bathrooms and kitchens.

The project was fully funded by the government and replaced wood and brick inner structures that have been rotting away and posed a fire risk. The buildings were infested with mice and cockroaches. Steel beams and other fire-resistant materials have been used throughout. The pests are history.

Stone gates, the defining features of any shikumen building, and the exterior walls have been preserved. Original construction materials such as red brick and wooden doors were reused as far as possible.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The renovated flats in Chunyangli are clean and bright.

Happy families

Chen Minxin, one of the happy residents, threw a family banquet during the holiday. “The family can now eat together at a table in my brand-new sitting room, rather than all standing up to eat in one miserable little room,” she said.

As Shanghai’s first renovation of such lane-style shikumen neighborhoods, the project at Chunyangli allows each household an additional 3.5 square meters on average and the interior layout has become more practical.

“I’ve been looking forward to being relocated for decades, but now I feel it’s better to live where I was born,” said Tao Jianbin, who was born at No. 22 block in Chunyangli in 1948.

Chunyangli at 211 Dongyuhang Road is a classic shikumen, listed as a protected heritage zone.

A shikumen is a combination of Western architecture and China’s traditional courtyard structures. The shikumen were first built in the 1850s by Europeans living in foreign concessions and are unique to Shanghai.

Residents had to use chamber pots and empty them at public toilets every morning. The old neighborhoods were also once full of illegal structures that posed great safety risks, Tao said.

“I was super-delighted when I first set foot into my revamped apartment,” Tao said. “It looks like new, and the government has covered the cost for me.”

The district government invited designers from Zhang Ming Architectural Design Firm to take charge of the renovations. They made individual plans for each home to improve living conditions while sharing additional space fairly, said chief designer Xing Zhuhua.

For Chen’s apartment, for instance, Xing designed an additional toilet in the bedroom to make it more convenient for her elderly husband.

Well intended project

Meanwhile, officials with the North Bund subdistrict have been persuading other residents to agree on the renovation, according to the district government.

Some residents still have concerns.

“We are looking forward to seeing the long-term effect of the renovation project, and are worried the additional space cannot be allocated fairly,” said Fan, who has been living in the community for six decades.

“The project is certainly well intended, but our lifestyle may change along with the house structure,” said 80-year-old Shen Shaohong, a grocery store owner.

His store was opened in 1949 by his mother and is one of the last remaining cigarette and newspaper stores that once dominated the neighborhood.

With the first renovations drawing praise from residents, the second phase of the Chunyangli project has begun, involving another 176 households and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

The neighborhood, built between 1921 and 1936, has a total of 1,181 households, 96 percent of whom have agreed to the facelift.

The project will be expanded to other shikumen that enjoy protected status but are beset with poor living conditions, said Chen Weidong, deputy director of the city’s urban restructuring department.

Shanghai has more than 8 million square meters of lane-style houses built more than half a century ago within the Inner Ring Road.

About 7 million square meters are earmarked for protection.

The city plans to renovate 2.4 million square meters of old residential buildings like Chunyangli by 2020.

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