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Shikumen Shanghai


Shikumen (Stone Warehouse Gate) is the unique local residence in Shanghai. Combined with Chinese and Western architecture styles, the residences were appeared in the 1860s. Tianzifang and Xintiandi are famous for the Shikumen in Shanghai. There are still about 2 million Shanghai people living in Shikumen houses. Shikumen are 2 to 3 stories town houses. Decorated with modern elements, Shikumen is becoming a new fashion in Shanghai. Nowadays, Shikumen are mainly located in Huangpu, Luwan and Jing’an Districts.

Shikumens are two- or three-story structures resembling Western terrace houses or townhouses, distinguished by high brick walls enclosing a narrow front yard. The name "stone gate" references these strong gateways.

Each residence abuts another and all are arranged in straight side alleys called longtang. The entrance to each alley is usually surmounted by a stylistic stone arch.

The shikumen is a cultural blend of the elements found in Western architecture with traditional Lower Yangtze architecture and social behavior. Traditional Chinese dwellings had a courtyard, and the Shikumen was no exception. Yet, to compromise with its urban nature, it was much smaller and provided an interior haven to the commotions in the streets, allowing for raindrops to fall and vegetation to grow freely within a residence. The courtyard also allowed sunlight and improved ventilation into the rooms.

History & Background

This style of housing originally developed when local developers adapted Western-style terrace houses to Chinese conditions. Migrant labourers from surrounding provinces entered Shanghai in large numbers with the establishment of Shanghai as a treaty port in 1843. The 1853 Small Swords Rebellion and the Taiping Revolution drove more migrants and refugees into Shanghai. With the upsurge in demand, property developers began to build a large number of residential buildings for the new Chinese residents of the city. At first, these tended to be wooden buildings that were cheap and quick to build. These wooden buildings were built as terraces, and usually name with "Li" (里) as suffix. These were the first "lilong" buildings in Shanghai. Within 10 months from 1853, 800 dwellings of this type were built.

Because of their flammability, this type of construction was banned by concession authorities in Shanghai. However, with a burgeoning property development market in Shanghai, developers adapted these wooden terraces into the Shikumen. They used the traditional Chinese "litie" technique of wooden frame and load-bearing brick veneer construction, and for each residence used the traditional three-sided courtyard or four-sided courtyard layouts commonly found in the Jiangnan region.

Shikumen residences had a much smaller footprint than traditional courtyard residences, and were accessed by narrow lanes. They were also cheaper to build than Western-style houses. Although more expensive to build than the wooden terraces they replaced, they were sturdier and so attracted higher rents. They were first built in the British concession (later part of the International Settlement; and still later, the pre-merger Huangpu District), but quickly became popular throughout the Old City and Chinese zones, and came to become the predominant form of residential construction in Shanghai. The high profit attracted a whole swathe of property companies to enter the shikumen market.

From the 1910s, various innovations were made to the shikumen in response to social change. With a burgeoning middle class, designers increased the width of lanes between terraces, but the width of each dwelling decreased - from a three-bay hall and two side wings (as was standard in the 19th century) to a two-bay or one-bay hall, and one side wing. Decorations became more elaborate: the main doors of the houses acquired the characteristic elaborate lintels, featuring architraves, archivolts and pediments. By around 1919, increasing population pressures and an increasing wealth gap encouraged the development of smaller, but better equipped, "new type" shikumen. "New type" shikumen were three storeys tall instead of two, and were equipped with modern sanitary equipment. Great emphasis was placed on natural lighting, with most shikumen orientated towards the south, and an internal staircase skylight or atrium to supplement the front and back courtyards. Developments became larger, with a trunk lane leading off the street, and branch lanes leading off the trunk lane. Cars became more popular, so the trunk lanes were typically designed to accommodate cars.

Later history
The heyday of the "new type" shikumen was in the 1920s. From the 1930s they were replaced by newer building types, including newer types of lilong residences, as well as larger modern apartment buildings, before the civil war and the Second Sino-Japanese War completely disrupted the property market in Shanghai.

Admission Fee: Free

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Best time to visit: Spring,Autumn

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