Shanghai 2010 - Shikumen Old Neighbourhood

Shanghai is famous for its Shikumen Houses – distinctive 2 or 3-storey townhouses with brown-brick exteriors and European-influenced designs. Many of these houses were built in the 18th Century – during the occupation of foreign forces in Shanghai. At one time more then 60% of the population in Shanghai lived in these houses. Many of them are very nicely designed and detailed – much better then the faceless high-rise apartments being built all over the city now.

Originally built as individual residences, most of these houses have since been converted into tenements and rented out to several families under one roof. Each family will occupy one room, and the living conditions are really cramped. Once you look past the beautiful facades, the inside is an entirely different – much less savoury world. Facilities are mostly shared – including the common kitchen.

Life in the Shikumen neighbourhood.

While I was there, a film crew was making a documentary of the area.

As Shanghai continues to develop at a breakneck pace, many of these Shikumen neighbourhoods are in danger of being torn down to make way for new developments. Some have been converted to upscale lifestyle districts – like the famous Xintiandi. Hopefully Shanghai will find a way to preserve these charming and interesting neighbourhoods.


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