Shanghai’s Traditional Shikumen Buildings Get a Facelift

A unique facet of Shanghai, old lane houses called shikumen (石库门) can be found by the dozen downtown.

The Shanghainese architectural style, which dates back to the 1860s, sees a blend characteristics from siheyuan or traditional Chinese courtyard houses and Western terrace houses.

During the early 20th century, shikumen made up up to 60% of Shanghai’s housing.

In December 2022, after four years of extensive renovations, Zhang Yuan — a shikumen compound off West Nanjing Road — partially reopened to the public.

The foundations for Zhang Yuan, which translates to ‘Zhang’s Garden,’ were first laid by a wealthy merchant named Zhang Honglu in 1882.

The neighborhood has a storied history.  Zhang Yuan served as one of Shanghai’s first public spaces It was also here where China’s very first electric lamp was lit, and where Sun Yat-sen, the former President of the Republic of China, delivered a highly important speech.

After a long period of disrepair, the city government decided to restore Zhang Yuan to preserve its historical and cultural significance in 2018.

While the renovations will reportedly last until 2026, a 16-building portion of the lane houses is now open to the public.

Luxury brands like Vacheron Constantin and Moet & Chandon grace these historic homes today.  In the near future, Zhang Yuan will welcome art galleries, a theater, and a boutique hotel.

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