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April 23, 2019

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National accolade for restoration of villas

The restoration of four century-old garden villas in Xuhui District has won a national honor.

The renovation of the attached villas at 100 Wukang Road has been listed among China’s five “excellent preservation projects” by a panel of judges from the Chinese National Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University.

The other projects are the restoration work on the nearly 1,000-year-old Buddhist pagoda of Jueshan Temple in north China’s Shanxi Province, a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Haichao Temple of Hailongtun Fortress built to commemorate sacrificed soldiers in southwest China’s Guizhou Province, Guandi Temple in Dongshan County, southeastern Fujian Province, and the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, a national landmark over the country’s longest river.

The Shanghai villa project, at first glance dwarfed by such heavyweights, still represents a valuable lesson in creative rehabilitation.

The villas were built for senior staff of a US fuel company in a quiet area of downtown Shanghai that once housed the rich and famous.

Renowned local scholar Wang Yuanhua (1920-2008) lived in one of the villas between 1951 and 1955.

The three-story, English-style garden villas later passed through a succession of functions and users, sustaining damage along the way.

A rehabilitation project began three years ago to restore the structures and convert them into a boutique hotel with about 20 Shanghai-style rooms. It opened earlier this year.

The project repaired interior and exterior elements and restored historical features, according to the national judging panel.

New technologies, such as 3D laser scanning and Building Information Modeling, were applied to repair walls, roofs, doors and windows.

Shen Xiaoming, a senior architect and expert on the preservation of historical buildings, said: “Due to lack of maintenance, shrubbery had grown on the rooftop, the doors had almost collapsed, and wooden beams, pillars and floors had been damaged by termites. The walls were covered with mildew.”

State-owned Xufang Group, which oversaw the project, relocated all the residents before reconstruction began.

Designers spent six months searching for historical photos and original construction materials.

Illegal structures built by former inhabitants were demolished, and the characteristic pebble stone walls and rooftop tiles were restored.

Many original elements of the villas, such as the stone steps at the entrances and some red bricks, had been covered by concrete, Shen said.

Workers carefully removed that to expose the original features of the buildings.

Some broken parts of the steps and exterior walls of the building have been retained to showcase their history and weathering, he added.

Inside the villas, only the original wooden stairways and several other key elements had survived.

The architects redesigned the inner space, infusing many modern, fashionable features. Visitors to the site are entranced by both the vintage architecture and the Art Deco interior decor adorned with metal and geometrical elements, and vine plants.

The 20 rooms in the hotel have been named with words common in local dialect, such as nong (you), dia (good), wu (me) and yi (he/she). A French restaurant is on the ground floor.

“The charm of this place is the blending of Shanghai’s heritage architecture with modern decor,” said a visitor surnamed Hu from the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province.

The award-wining project demonstrates how the city government is acting to preserve historical structures while endowing heritage building with new life, according to the Shanghai Culture Heritage Administration.

“It represents a major trend to both preserve and give new functionality to heritage structures with the lowest protection level,” said Ou Xiaochuan, an official with the administration.

The four villas are listed as a “cultural preservation site” by the Xuhui government.

According to a judge for the award, the project “has attained the heritage protection principles of authenticity, completeness and recognizability.

“It has also helped enhance urban cultural quality and the spirit for the Hengfu (Hengshan and Fuxing roads) Historical Conservation Zone.”

The historical area features thousands of historical villas, including many former residences of men of letters and fame.

According to a blueprint, the area will have a “historical and cultural” section near Wukang and Fuxing roads, a “music and culture” section along Fenyang and Fuxing roads and a “slow life” section on Yueyang and Jianguo roads.

Many historical villas will be turned into boutique hotels, shops and restaurants.

Several blocks away, the Cloisters Apartments at 62 Fuxing Road will open to public as soon as the Hengfu Exhibition Hall opens to showcase the century-old history of the whole Hengfu area.

A two-story brick-and-wood building at 178 Wulumuqi Road S., built by the American Masonic Temple Association in 1932, will be opened to the public in July as the Hengfu Art Center, and will host lectures, forums and art exhibitions.


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