Real-life Klotski game in massive move of 20 historic buildings

Li Qian
Some 20 historical buildings in century-old Zhangyuan have started their journey to new sites to make room for a major urban renewal project.
Li Qian
Real-life Klotski game in massive move of 20 historic buildings
Li Qian / SHINE

Three historical buildings in the eastern section of century-old Zhangyuan have been rolled to new sites.

Some 20 historical buildings in century-old Zhangyuan have started their journey to new sites to make room for massive underground work in the latest urban renewal project in one of Shanghai's best-preserved and most-diverse shikumen compounds.

Lying south of the Nanjing Road W. that is hailed as the local answer to Paris' famed Champs Elysees, Zhangyuan, or Zhang's Garden, was opened in 1885 by wealthy Chinese entrepreneur Zhang Shuhe as China's first modern pleasure garden.

However, it later decayed into a neighborhood of dilapidated houses.

The plan to revive Zhangyuan's former glory was launched in 2018 when most of the buildings survived the wrecking ball thanks to their historic and architectural values.

After a year-long renovation wrapped up, the western section opened last November as a lively rendezvous point featuring luxury brands and Instagrammable stores.

Real-life Klotski game in massive move of 20 historic buildings
Li Qian / SHINE

The former residence of renowned business tycoon Zhou Qingyun is among the first of three buildings to be moved.

Now it's time to give a facelift to the eastern section, highlighted by the massive temporary relocation of historical buildings.

It's like playing "Hua Rong Dao," commonly known as Klotski, a traditional Chinese block-moving puzzle, Shi Yunlun, chairman of Shanghai Jing'an Real Estate Group, told Shanghai Daily on Saturday.

Tracks were paved on a vacant lot to make it a transit hub to shift the historical buildings as to protect them from possible damage during the construction of 82,200-square-meters of underground space that will feature parking lots and two-floor commercial complexes. It will also enable passengers to transfer directly between Metro lines 2, 12 and 13 without leaving the stations.

"Under the current plan, over 20 buildings will be on the move, and about six buildings where locations don't permit them to be moved will get jacked up," Shi said. He added that the underground development will kick off after relocation and elevation are complete.

Real-life Klotski game in massive move of 20 historic buildings
Li Qian / SHINE

Gonghui Hospital will be converted into a boutique hotel.

Three buildings have already been shifted, including the former residence of renowned business tycoon Zhou Qingyun, also a shareholder in the operator of the sunken steamer Taiping.

The garden villa was built in the 1920s and acquired by Zhou in the early 1940s.

Its architectural style was tailored to his requirements. Oval-shaped windows, patterns of ships in mosaic glass and other ornaments tell how Zhou's fate was linked with the Taiping.

After the Taiping, with more than 1,500 passengers and crew, sank in a collision in January 1949, he sold out house.

Real-life Klotski game in massive move of 20 historic buildings
Li Qian / SHINE

An alleyway in eastern section of Zhangyuan

According to Shi, the eastern section is set to open before October 1, 2026.

Historical buildings will be converted to residences, offices and commercial complexes. And in a highlight, a boutique hotel will be renovated from a masterpiece by famed architect Laszlo Hudec – the former site of Gonghui Hospital.

The Spanish-style garden villa was originally designed in 1931 to serve as a private residence. Later it was used as Gonghui Hospital under the management of the Shanghai Labor Union.

New buildings will also be constructed to add a modern vibe, such as an art museum designed by renown Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

It is planned as a four-floor glass-and-terracotta building to complement the surrounding red brick houses.

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