A bid to save shiku­mens from ex­tinc­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHOU WENTING in Shang­hai

zhouwent­ing@chi­nadaily. com.cn

Sev­eral of Shang­hai’s political ad­vi­sors are push­ing for the city’s iconic shiku­mens, re­droofed ter­race houses, to be in­cluded in UNESCO’s World Her­itage List along­side other Chi­nese cul­tural sites such as the Long­men Grot­toes, Mount Wu­tai and the leg­endary Tem­ple of Heaven in Bei­jing.

Once con­sid­ered to be the most com­mon form of hous­ing for Shang­hai res­i­dents, many of th­ese build­ings will likely be de­mol­ished in the near fu­ture as part of re­con­struc­tion ef­forts in old com­mu­ni­ties, as stip­u­lated in the city’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

“This seems to be the only way to res­cue th­ese his­toric build­ings that were built around the 1930s. If the shiku­mens don’t make the list, we’ll face mas­sive, ir­re­deemable losses,” said Feng Xiaomin, di­rec­tor of the cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal data com­mit­tee of the city’s political ad­vi­sory body. The com­mit­tee had sub­mit­ted a pro­posal of rec­om­men­da­tions dur­ing the an­nual gath­er­ing of lo­cal leg­is­la­tors and political ad­vis­ers in Jan­uary.

“The shiku­men is a unique ar­chi­tec­tural style that makes the city stand out from other places. We rec­om­mend that th­ese houses be listed as a world cul­tural her­itage can­di­date to pre­serve their pre­cious form and cul­tural em­bod­i­ment,” he added.

There were more than 9,000 shiku­men com­plexes in Shang­hai in 1949 and about three in four lo­cal res­i­dents lived in such homes which also served as spa­ces for fac­to­ries, banks, news­pa­per of­fices and schools, ac­cord­ing to mu­nic­i­pal records. How­ever, more than 70 per­cent of th­ese com­plexes were de­mol­ished in the past three decades and peo­ple have ei­ther been re­lo­cated to new high-rise neigh­bor­hoods or paid com­pen­sa­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­mit­tee, there are just 173 such com­plexes left in the city to­day. Only a few of them have been as­signed with a city-level his­tor­i­cal build­ing sta­tus while most re­main out­side the scope of pro­tec­tive reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies.

“Al­though the city’s au­thor­i­ties have in­vested man­power and money in the pro­tec­tion and uti­liza­tion of shiku­men houses th­ese past few years, the pri­or­ity is nev­er­the­less still on land de­vel­op­ment,” Feng said.

The most fa­mous ex­am­ple of how shiku­mens can be re­pur­posed and mod­ern­ized is seen in the Xin­tiandi pro­ject which has trans­formed old homes in the area into fash­ion, retail and din­ing out­lets.

Wu Jiang, a se­nior ur­ban plan­ner and vice-pres­i­dent of Shang­hai Tongji Univer­sity, sug­gested in­te­grat­ing re­ju­ve­nated shiku­mens into the city’s new ur­ban plan­ning land­scapes.

“We don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to aban­don the old neigh­bor­hoods while build­ing new ones. The best way to pre­serve shiku­mens is prob­a­bly to re­pair th­ese old res­i­dences and make them an en­vi­able dwelling op­tion,” Wu said.


Shang Xian Fang on Huai­hai Road Middle, built in 1924, is a typ­i­cal shiku­men build­ing.

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