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City asked to save lanes
11/8/2004 16:47

Architecture experts are calling on the Shanghai government to protect more of the city's historic residential lanes, particularly "Shikumen" houses.
The government is about to put another 200-plus old buildings under its protection, but insiders say about half the buildings on the preliminary list are garden villas in downtown areas such as Xuhui and Changning districts.
It has only "several" Shikumen-style buildings - known as the living fossil of the city's previous residential houses.
"The government should not only see the economic value of an old house but its cultural and historic content," Zheng Shiling, a renowned expert of architecture at Tongji University and an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Architects, told Shanghai Daily yesterday.
According to a recent government-backed survey, the city has only about 5 million square meters of old residential lanes - mostly "Shikumen" alleys - while in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, it had four to five times that number.
"At this rate, the rest of the old lanes will be gone within a decade," said a researcher at Tongji.
"Shikumen," which means "stone gate" in Chinese, is a special old form of residence in Shanghai, thriving in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
A typical "Shikumen" house is built along narrow alleys and features a stone-framed gate and a black wooden front door that leads into a small enclosed courtyard.
Experts say the main reason the government doesn't put many "Shikumen" under protection is because it will need a huge budget to renovate the weather-beaten houses and relocate the tenants.
What the experts want better protected are the real "Shikumen" houses which look like those renovated in Xintiandi.
"The real 'Shikumen' houses have far more significance than those artificial ones," Zheng said.
Most of the existing "Shikumen" houses are so old that many of their interior parts are either dilapidated or transformed by the people living there.
Tongji experts also believe that, despite strong residential protests, there is little hope the government will include "Lincoln Lane" - a collection of 25 century-old semi-detached US-style villas at 264 Xijiangwan Road - in its new list of preserved buildings.
Protesters say "Lincoln Lane" is not only well-preserved, but also the city's exclusive construction with the name of former US president Abraham Lincoln.
"It is a unique and precious villa site," said Dai Lixiang, one of the soliciting residents.
According to residents, the lane was built by a rich Chinese American in the 1920s to commemorate Lincoln, the 16th US president.
The city has placed 398 historic buildings and 12 areas under municipal protection.
But Tongji University estimates the city has at least 10,000 to 20,000 valuable historic buildings, particularly in residential areas.
Experts worry the city's urban construction will eventually eat away its heritage.


Zhang Jun