Renovated rural heritage buildings are not just tourist attractions

Heritage structures in Zhoupu of the Pudong New Area are being renovated for both locals and tourists.

A new take on turning old rural structures into tourist attractions is being pursued by Zhoupu Town in the Pudong New Area.

Rather than renovating historic areas purely to attract tourists, the project has invited four renowned architects to work on four sites, from a single building to a village cluster, in an attempt to both showcase rural beauty and revitalize rural communities.

“We hope they will bring modern designs to the countryside, but at the same time preserve rustic charm and make the structures useful for local residents,” said Zhou Jun, an official with the township government.

Construction is set to start in the latter half of this year, and some of the sites are likely to be completed by the end of the year. 

Xu Qing / SHINE

The Gu's Villa in Zhoupu’s Qigan Village will undergo renovations.

Of the four sites, Gu’s Villa, literally residences of Gu’s family, is a heritage residential complex built in the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1782-1850) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). 

Occupying more than 1,100 square meters with 28 rooms, it took 10 years to build. 

The building is one of the best-preserved Qing Dynasty residential complexes in Qigan Village. 

Citywide, it is one of the best-preserved jiaoquan houses, commonly called as gaoquan houses by locals. 

In Shanghai, jiaoquan houses are frequently seen in the countryside. They are known as Shanghai’s version of Beijing siheyuan, or quadrangle courtyards, featuring a yard in the center with other houses linked to form a circle.

According to the township government, the main structures of the complex will be retained and repaired, turning it into a place to showcase local history and culture.

“In recent years, it’s saddening to see that many of our traditional houses, with some poetic beauty, are disappearing,” said architect Zhu Xiaofeng. “I will try my best to preserve the old things, and yet insert some new functions to bring it to a new lease of life.”

Ti Gong

A bird’s-eye view of Gu’s Villa, a typical jiaoquan house

Xu Qing / SHINE

A lane in Gu’s Villa

Another site is the community activities center of Jiebang Village. It was built years ago when locals desperately wanted a place to hold events, so construction was rushed.

It will undergo an overhaul and be turned into a modern facility where villagers can use fitness equipment, watch movies and hold events. When the acclaimed local Nanhui peach ripen, farmers can trade their peaches there, too.

“I will turn it into a public living room of the Jiebang Village where local people can have a seat and chat with neighbors,” said architect Zhang Lei.

He added that architects usually find more opportunity and feel freer to engage in rural revitalization than “micro renovation” in crowded urban areas. 

Architect Zhang Bin is in charge of the renovation of a cluster of rural houses in Jiebang Village, opposite the city’s emerging rural tourist destination of Zhoupu Flower Ecological Park.

“For me, architects should make structures alive,” Zhang Bin said. “It requires us to really know about local people. So, I will talk to local villagers to find out what they really want. 

“So if villagers recognize my design, they will volunteer to keep the local environment clean and tidy.”

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