I come from a dynamic city Shanghai. The long history of establishment and development of Shanghai gives it diversity in architecture style. It is a city that welcomes and absorbs ideas from all over the world. And thus we see contrast of modern skyscrapers and old traditional houses in the same frame in a daily basis. Many residents in Shanghai like me have experienced the transition of living in a traditional domestic settings and moving to a modern apartment.
The traditional domestic living unit in Shanghai is celled Shikumen, which literally means “Stone Warehouse Gate”. In the early 19th century, China’s civil strife forces laborers and refugees in the surrounding provinces entered Shanghai. In order to solve the housing problem, Shikuman style was invented. It combined western terrace houses and local architecture characters. To create the most efficient housing space with a dense population, the traditional separated, neighbors-isolated house was changed to townhouse style. Each residence abut another and all were arranged in straight side alley. By the end of 1840s, Shikumen had become the principal urban fabric in Shanghai. Shanghainese lived closely to each other, sharing common cooking and washing space, and thus gave Shikumen a family atmosphere and shaped it into a container of memory.
Stepping into the 21st century, Shikumen becomes less accepted as a living option. People tend to pursue apartments or houses with more living space and hygiene condition. Most of the Shikumen buildings are pulled down in order to give space for urban development. But as a traditional architecture that carries cultural and architectural significance, some of the Shikumen buildings are protected and reconstructed. The most famous reconstruction is Xintiandi. After reconstruction, the adjacent units of Shikumen became restaurants, cafes, bookstores and malls. The combination of traditional architecture and modern lifestyle draws local young people and tourists to Xintiandi. Around the street corner, another Shikumen building was rebuilt as the Museum of First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Xintiandi now serves as a sightseeing site as well as a entertainment venue.