The story appears on

Page A4

July 16, 2012

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

Damage at famous 'Green House' symptom of historic homes' plight

A PROTECTED historic building designed by Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec has been severely damaged after a Taiwan businessman rented it to use as a bar for years.

The four-floor mansion on Tongren Road is known as the "Green House" after the hue of its glazed tiles.

Cheng Naishan, a Shanghai writer, described it looking like a passenger liner and wrote a novel named after it.

But the 74-year-old villa is dilapidated as a result of a lack of maintenance, which has been heartbreaking for architects and local residents.

"The house is devastated, with the interior art decoration totally destroyed," said Wang Weiqiang, a professor of Tongji University's College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The shiny green exterior has dimmed, with some tiles broken or missing. There is a crumbling roof and floorboards are ripped out. Rooms have gaping holes in the wall and exposed piping and wires. The windows along the staircases are shattered and the stairs are damaged.

Only the old bedrooms hint at former elegance. A beautiful white fireplace remains in a former sitting room.

Completed in 1938, the residence was known as one of the most spacious and luxurious homes in the Far East. It was famous for its staggering array of rooms, including a banquet hall, ballroom, billiard room, bar, chess room and sun room. It was the first home in Shanghai with luxuries such as an elevator and air conditioning.

The house was owned by D. V. Woo (Wu Tongwen), "the pigment magnate" in old Shanghai. It is said Woo and his concubines killed themselves in the building during the "cultural revolution" period (1966-76), adding to the mystery of the house.

The building was used as the office of the Shanghai Urban Planning and Design Research Institute before it was rented out as a bar and restaurant for 15 years. The property owner asked the bar to leave after the lease ran out and inviting public bidding on its renovation.

The owner reportedly plans to make it into a "planners' home" for local architects and designers. Experts welcomed the functional adaptation.

However, lots of other historic buildings are not so lucky. The ones that are damaged often are not likely to be renovated soon because of a lack of money and public awareness.

"Many of the historical buildings are so dilapidated that they can be used for movie directors to shoot ghost stories," said Shen Zuwei, an adviser and director of the Shanghai Research Institute of Culture and History.

The city has listed more than 600 historic protected structures that are designed by famous architects or have great artistic or cultural value. But many are not well protected.

"Tenants may not cherish the house well," Wang said. "The property owner shall assume the joint liability for supervision if the buildings are damaged."

A lot of historic buildings are turned into restaurants or cafes, which can lead to extensive damage.

A very limited number of old buildings, such as in the Xintiandi and Tianzifang communities, display a perfect combination of commercial development and historic preservation.

More often, old buildings are subdivided to lease to separate households and are poorly maintained and damaged. Rents often are low and can hardly cover renovation costs.

Some experts want the government to set up a fund for renovating historic buildings.

Tu Haiming, another political advisor, proposed that local government relocate the residents of protected buildings into low-cost housing in order to renovate the historic buildings. Shen advised the government to use the fund to purchase endangered historic buildings from the owners and reopen them as public museums or meeting halls after renovation.

Architects and experts are calling on the government to improve the oversight of leases. "No one supervises whether the historical houses are damaged," Wang said, "As long as they are not torn down."


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend