Preservation, Shanghai Style

Xinhua and Shanghai Daily are reporting that the largest block of traditional, shikumen-style housing left in Shanghai is about to be converted into a luxury hotel complex named Jianyeli. As reported by Xinhua:

The project, called Jianyeli, will reuse bricks and original materials in its reconstruction. The buildings, which were built during 1931 to 1938 on Jianguo Road W., form the biggest area of traditional houses remaining in Shanghai.

Below, the photo that accompanies the Xinhua version of the story:

It just so happens that I live a few blocks from Jianyelli, and I’ve watched – with no small amount of consternation – as the entire, massive complex was slowly razed over the last couple of years. Below, a photo of what it actually looked like on June 8, when I last took a peak through the thick steel doors that hide the site from prying eyes.

[UPDATE: I’ve received a couple of emails which lead me to believe that I wasn’t entirely clear in this post. So let me be clear: there is nothing left of Jianyeli. It’s been demolished; razed; obliterated. Shanghai Daily might be under the impression that it “form[s] the biggest area of traditional houses remaining in Shanghai,” but all you need to do is walk by and see that there’s nothing remaining (or look at the above photo). Jianyeli isn’t preservation; it’s new construction accessorized with a few old bricks from the 1930s.]

[UPDATE July 8: Thanks to TM for pointing me to a 2005 Eastday article concerning the Jianyeli renovations:

Work will begin this year to renovate an extensive area of shikumen houses in downtown Shanghai to return them to the way they looked 70 years ago, a senior official said yesterday … “We will conserve the exterior of the lane while making appropriate adjustments to the lane’s inside structure,” Wang Anshi, head of the renovation and management department of the Shanghai Housing and Land Resource Administrative Bureau, said yesterday.]


  1. For a small, singular example of the spread of preservation not by design matching entrepreneurial interests and revitalizing an otherwise decaying area look to the alleys running off short Taikang Road (???). This spread will likely continue (it seems to be far enough along to resist being checked) until the whole block is won over – unless it is managed, then we in Shanghai can expect another sterility. Knock down those eyesores posing as antique malls on adjacent Sinan Road (???) and… nope, chances are that any developer with access to that real estate is guaranteed to have the aesthetic sense of a grass carp.

  2. Yup, Xintian-in deed. The whole ongoing bull that demolishing, then new buildings vaguely aping the originals and maybe using some old materials, constitutes “restoration”. Big Orwellian scam.

  3. My first experience with this was Long Hua Temple. I visited for the first time in 2002 and thought it was pretty nice. I often went there to chill and read a book (like once every 4 or 5 weeks on a Sunday).

    Then one week it was undergoping ‘renovations’ but – like in a lot of such sites, it remained open in part and charged full price.

    Imagine my horror when I saw first hand the ‘renovations and restoration’. A group of unskilled labourers knocked the halls down one by one with small hammers – completely destroying them. Then a concrete frame was erected and a replica built on top with completely new materials.

    The fact that it looks old and worn at this moment is testament to the low grade materials and short cuts.

    Of course, the one I saw demolished was clearly not a historical original. JG Ballard who was interned at Longhua Camp in WW2 could see the Long Hua pagoda from the camp (now Shanghai Zhongxue, 2 km south).

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