Site Meter Streets of Shanghai / Architecture
  • If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Work with all your cloud files (Drive, Dropbox, and Slack and Gmail attachments) and documents (Google Docs, Sheets, and Notion) in one place. Try Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) for free. Now available on the web, Mac, Windows, and as a Chrome extension!



Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago




Architecture and Housing



Shanghai is rich with many different architectural styles. The Bund features a strip of European-style buildings, and the city shows the clear influence of British, American, German, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian and Dutch architecture. Styles range from Roman classic, baroque and Renaissance to modern and contemporary designs. The city also has some buildings in Japanese and Islamic styles. Many imported styles are modified by or incorporated with traditional Chinese design, though traditional Chinese architecture also survives independently. A wide variety of housing is available, depending on your taste and wherewithal. As with anywhere, the neighbourhood in which you live, and the style of your house, reflects your status. In general, there are three kinds of dwelling in Shanghai: Western-style houses, alleyway houses and bungalows or shacks. Each category is composed of various sub-types, but these are the main distinctions to make.


Western-style houses are detached homes with multiple floors and a front garden. This is by far the most luxurious type of housing in Shanghai. Many of these houses are extravagant even by Western standards, and these often serve as proud symbols of the city. However, very few people actually live in them, or even get a chance to visit them.


The alleyway houses (lilong) are a sort of terraced house, and the majority of Shanghainese live in homes like this. Alleyway houses abound across the city. The quality of any given house depends on how much skill and money the builders are prepared to use. Over time, the design has been modified in various ways, but the essential characteristics - a row house the combines European and Chinese features, usually situated within a gated compound - remain unchanged. Constructed of brick and wood, the houses are built in rows with a few rows around the edges marked off by surrounding wall sto form a residential compound. Paved alleyways run between the rows providing access, light and ventilation. Compounds have been getting larger and larger. In the Qing period, an alleyway-house compound typically contained about 25 houses. Nowadays it is not uncommon to see compounds with more than a hundred houses. The largest compound in Shanghai, Siwen Li (Alley of Gentleness), has more than 700 houses within its walls.


Most alleyway houses are of the type known as shikumen (roughly, "stone portal") so named for the design of the front door. Shikumen are the single most common type of residence in Shanghai. Competing with them are so-called new-style alleyway houses (xinshi lilong), which came on the market in the early 1920s. One of their most distinctive features is that the front door may come in a wide variety of styles, as opposed to the plain front door of the shikumen, which is always two planks of wood set in a stone or concrete framework. The new kind of houses have sanitary features such as bathtubs and flushing toilets, which most shikumen lack. The new-style alleyway houses also steel-sash windows and polished wooden floors, whereas shikumen houses have wooden sash windows and floors painted deep red or dark brown. Some alleyway houses have a garden at the front and a garage at the back lane, and are known as "garden alleyway houses" (huayuan lilong). Considered a kind of foreign style house (yangfang), they are the top class of alleyway houses.




Naming the neighbourhood


A typical name for an alleyway-house compound consists of two characters plus li or fang. A compound may be named after its owner, things related to the owner (such as the owner's home town), local features and so on. Much more common, though, is to use words that have an auspicious connotation. Among the most common are fu (luck), bao (treasure), fu (wealth), gui (precious, noble), xing (flourishing), rong (glory), an (peace), chang (prosperity), de (virtue), he (harmony) and kang (health). These are often combined with a word meaning "forever", "long" or "permanent" (such as yong, heng, jiu or chang), expressing the wish for eternal good fortune. For example, a popular name for alleyway house compounds is Yongxing Li, "Neighbourhood of Perpetual Prosperity".




The older shikumen houses consist of a central part with two floors, which contains a living room on the ground floor and a master bedroom above (both about 200 feet square), and wings on each side. This kind of house can house a family, including married children, quite comfortably. A paved and walled courtyard is located in front of the living room. About 100 feet square, this courtyard is used for drying clothes and other outdoor activities. Flower pots or flowerbeds decorate the courtyard. The living room is reached through a set of French windows. The upstairs bedroom overlooks the courtyard. In more stylish houses, the windows are often replaced with French windows that lead out onto a small balcony.


The kitchen and servants' quarters are located in a single-storey building at the back. This building has a flat roof fenced with wooden rails, used to dry clothes. In between this servants' building and the main building is a small rear courtyard. These were built mostly in the late nineteenth century, though a few have been built more recently. The pressures of limited space in Shanghai have led to changes in shikumen design, though.




Newly built alleyway houses are smaller. A common way to reduce size is to remove one of the wings. The open space between the main house and the kitchen block is also eliminated, with the kitchen now connected directly to the back of the house.


Since 1920 onwards, most new alleyway houses have lacked wings altogether. Compared to the old two-wing shikumen, the overall area is also much reduced in these new dwellings. Sometimes the front courtyard is foregone - such houses are known as "Japanese houses" and are, conincidentally, quite popular with Japanese residents in Hongkou. The removal of the front courtyard allows families to use the living room as a shop or other place of business if they so desire.


Where the kitchen is built directly onto the back of the house, a small room called the "pavilion room" will commonly be built on top of it for use as a study.




Because of the crowded nature of Shanghai, it seems to suffer from an endless housing shortage. For this reason, many alleyway houses are subdivided to accomodate more than one family or tenant. Many houses are remodelled to create more rooms or to increase floor space. Common modification include: the living room is often extended to cover where the courtyard used to be (not possible in "Japanese houses", obviously); the living room is divided into a front living room (qian ketang) and a back living room (hou ketang); the ceiling of the back living room is lowered to allow the construction of a "second loft" (er ceng ge) between it and the bedroom above; the main bedroom is divided into a front (qian fang) and back bedroom (houfang); the bedroom ceiling is lowered to make a "third loft" (san ceng ge).




The third category of houses in Shanghai consists of single-storey houses and straw shacks. The single-storey house originated in the countryside, and in Shanghai they serve as factory dormitories or homes for the poor. Due to their poor construction, they cannot have a second floor built, and they often lack electricity or running water. Most have only a single room or sometimes a single room divided into a few sections with wooden boards. These houses are found particularly in the industrial areas of the city, such as Zhabei. In poor neighbourhoods, straw shacks are mixed with the bungalows, which are made of bricks in a wooden frame and have tiled roofs. The shacks, on the other hand, are built of straw, bamboo and mud. Both types are considered slum dwellings.




All these different kinds of residences coexist in the city. Although there are no rigid boundaries between the areas in which each kind is found, a general picture can be formed. The west and southwest areas of Shanghai contain the best residential areas. Most of the foreign-style houses and xinshi lilong are found here. Along Bubbling Well Road, along to Yuyuan Road and up to Jessfield Park, there are numerous new-style alleyway houses a high-quality shikumen. To the south of Bubbling Well Road, in the vicinity of the tree-lined Rue Lafayette and Avenue Petain are most of the Western-style houses.


Foreign residence (and limited control/jurisdiction) has also spilled over the boundaries of the foreign concessions into the Chinese areas, creating the "extra-Settlement roads", where many fine houses can be found.


West of the river and east of Tibet Road are the commercial areas of the city. Commerce and residence come close together here, with houses (mostly shikumen) built alongside the tall buildings and large mansions built for business purposes. The northeast, north and northwest areas of the city are industrial zones. Here you will find a mixture of shikumen houses, bungalows and straw shacks. In the southern part of the city, in the Chinese City, there are some traditional Chinese houses from the last century, straw shacks and bungalows, but most of the houses are of the shikumen type. In short, the best housing is in the western part of the city, the poorest housing is in the peripheral areas, while the middle-level housing is scattered all across the city.



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.