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February 6, 2012

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Shikumen restoration condemned as 'fake'

GOVERNMENT-BACKED restoration of Shanghai's biggest shikumen neighborhood has been dismissed as "reconstruction" by critics.

Locals have raised questions over the authenticity of the work, while an architectural professional branded the renovated buildings "fakes".

Built in the 1930s, the one-time 25,000-square-meter Jianyeli neighborhood sits on Jianguo Road in Xuhui District.

Shikumen - stone gate - communities are a distinctive 19th and 20th century Shanghai architectural style. Townhouse buildings combine elements from Western architecture with traditional Chinese features.

The Jianyeli lane, with its stone gates and laohuchuang - dormer windows - typifies traditional old-time local housing. It was granted heritage protection in 1994.

About 3,000 residents and some businesses were relocated from the 260 original apartments which had been suffering structural problems, such as rot, as well as over-crowding.

The government-funded restoration and redevelopment project began in 2008. Officials promised the project would see the historic buildings structurally strengthened and their original look restored.

But as restoration now takes shape, readying the project for commercial redevelopment, criticism has emerged.

Members of the public claimed that buildings were simply torn down for "reconstruction."

A news report by local TV station broadcast yesterday said its investigation showed most of the original buildings were razed and replaced.

A clip showed underground car parks and elevators in the restored lane.

"Obliterating historic structures and building new ones does not constitute preservation," said a nearby resident.

Wang Weiqiang, an architectural and urban planning professor with Tongji University, told the television crew that "the project is like having historic heritage demolished and then building a fake."

But a district government insider told Shanghai Daily that many original materials - including 40,000 pieces of brickwork - had been used in the new structures.

Other features, such as window frames, were too rotten to be salvaged, said the insider.

The Jianyeli redevelopment project is led by the state-owned Xufang Group. It will reportedly cost 800 million yuan (US$126 million).

It is planned the area will be a commercial and leisure center, modeled on Xintiandi.


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