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June 5, 2012

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'Protected' buildings in danger of collapse

IN a century-old brick and wood building in downtown Huangpu District, Xia Zhongjun is cleaning the wall of a bedroom, but she has no way of erasing the ugly wide and deep cracks.

Wang Xiujuan, Xia's 87-year-old mother-in-law, who is partially paralyzed, lies on a bed in another room.

Both of them live in fear that the building could collapse at any moment.

Xia's family is one of nine households living in the two-story building at the Longmencun complex on Shangwen Road.

There are 76 shikumen (stone-gated) and western style buildings covering 17,700 square meters at the community. The site was the Longmen Academy of Classical Learning in 1865 and the buildings, some in baroque and Spanish style, were constructed between 1905 and 1934. In 1999, the Shanghai government has listed the area as protected heritage architecture.

From the outside, the mottled buildings are no different from other old buildings, but most are cracked and rotten inside. Residents are crying out for help from local authorities for repairs and a facelift.

Creaking wooden floors lead to Xia's three-room home, where she lives with her husband, her brother and her mother-in-law. Plaster has fallen to the ground, exposing the wooden structure. Rain seeps through the walls on rainy days, and the beams are rotten. Long, deep cracks are everywhere.

"The walls have so many cracks they look like a spider's web," Xia says. She points to an illegal structure used as a pigeon house on the top of a building opposite. There are more than 10 illegal structures built on the top of the buildings.

"Can you imagine it is a protected historical architecture and what is the meaning of the plate saying it is protected architecture?" she asks.

Xia used to take pride in living in such a building when she married her husband in 1984 and moved in.

Recently, one of the windows fell out on a rainy day because the iron hook had broken. Luckily, no one was passing at the time.

Huang Deming, another resident in the complex, said a beam in his house had big problems. He learnt that the wooden beam was in such a state that it could fall down if not repaired.

"I hope the government can take some measures to protect the building," he said.

Li Kongsan, an official with the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Commission, said he knew the area was listed heritage buildings, but said he was not in charge of the situation. Officials with the city's housing authorities declined to comment.


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