Nostalgia is now up-to-date
Shanghai Daily news
A visitor strolling down bustling Shaanxi Road S. will come across a block of
gentrified colonial-era buildings exuding the nostalgic charm of old Shanghai.
A marvelous courtyard outside and the gleaming modernity inside strike an
amazing contrast. Smartly dressed business people and arty youngsters relax and
mingle in the courtyard. A street-front cafe offering avant-garde magazines with
its meals invites passers-by to stop by. Nestled alongside the cafe are a
jewelry boutique and a furniture store. Upstairs are an art gallery and a spa
center. On the other side of the courtyard there are a hair salon and some
It seems that a visitor could while away the whole day in
this cozy block, eating, reading and even sleeping while having massage.
This is exactly what the block was born to be -- a trendy gathering place
with local cultural legacy. And it has a very apt name -- ``One Day
``It's a unique leisure and entertainment spot that retains some of
its original innocence on this extremely commercial street,'' says Chen
Lianzhong, an interior designer who created the block. ``Unlike the general
clusters of shops, it offers an artistic and creative ambience.''
similar cultural and entertainment blocks are springing up around the city. The
most prominent is Xintiandi, a re-creation born out of the sprawls of shikumen
(stone gate) houses -- the architectural symbol of the 20th-century Shanghai.
Others, like Fuxing Xi Li (Fuxing West Lane) and Taikang Road, also attract
their share of visitors.
``Taikang Road is a bit different. It's more of a
`live-work' dwelling for dedicated artists and art lovers than a social meeting
place for ordinary people,'' Chen says.
Spurred by soaring property values,
these cultural and entertainment complexes -- with stylish restaurants,
boutiques, cafes and bars -- have all been converted from old residential
blocks. Some may even house an international gallery.
The antique walls,
tiles and exteriors remain while the interior space has been redesigned and
redecorated to match the exciting pace of Shanghai's modern lifestyle.
Benjamin T. Wood, the architect behind Xintiandi's redevelopment, says that
in America similar blocks and districts can also be found, such as Faneuil Hall
Marketplace in Boston and Harbor Place in Baltimore.
``In the 1920s and
1930s, Shanghai was the most exotic place on the planet. People came here for
its legend. Today it is the same story again. All contemporary cultures that
exist on the fringe are being defined in real time here. These `metamorphosed'
blocks with their new functions are the city's yesterday-meets-tomorrow
locations,'' he says.
In a sense, the new cultural and entertainment
complexes have rewritten the history of Shanghai's old buildings, salvaging them
from decay and revitalizing the old structures.
Shanghai resident and French
native, Christophe Peres bought a spread of aged lane houses on Fuxing Road W.,
near Huashan Road, two years ago. He jazzed up the 1,000-square-meter block and
rented the houses out. In the block there is a Yoga center, a cafe and some
specialized fashion boutiques. some run by foreigners, some by Chinese
Redolent with the city's historical and cultural legacies, the
area has become popular as a shooting location for international movies that
require the look of 1930s Shanghai.
Now Peres is about to start work on his
second old-block-reclamation project on Xiangyang Road S. and, as usual, he will
revamp the buildings for commercial purposes.
``Many people would say that I
use these old buildings to make money,'' says Peres, ``but I think it's the only
way to preserve them. Old houses are not museums meant only for visitors. They
have to be useful. These buildings have witnessed the changes of time but their
interior construction is no longer compatible with today's lifestyle. In Europe,
such as in France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, where there are also many
historic old houses, some will be converted into boutiques but the exterior will
be well protected. Only when the old houses are converted and used, will they
The old blocks in Shanghai can also provide unusual shopping
and leisure experiences for both locals and tourists.
Wang Yiyang, one of
the country's prominent fashion designers who recently opened his boutique in
the Fuxing block, especially selected the location as an outlet for his ``Cha
``This line is not conventional in the sense of popular
fashion. It's highly priced,'' Wang explains. ``So I don't think it's
appropriate to put the label in big department stores, like Isetan, and it also
doesn't fall into the same category as the luxury brands at Plaza 66. The Fuxing
block is modern with a bit nostalgia, a good choice for my brand.''
Tao, a furniture designer who has returned to Shanghai from Paris, chose to open
his showroom at ``One Day Living.''
``There are two types of shops -- the
ones in new glossy modern shopping malls or the European-style small
boutiques,'' he says. ``The city needs to develop more personalized boutiques,
blending together the architecture and the charm of Shanghai with its new urban