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Nostalgia is now up-to-date
13/12/2004 7:47

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 design studios.
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 Living.''
``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.''
Nowadays, 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 designers.
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 last longer.''
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 Gang'' label.
``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.''
Song 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 vitality.''