Xintiandi is an affluent car-free shopping, eating and entertainment neighborhood that has successfully utilized shikumen, the most representative house style of Shanghai. As “Shanghai’s Living Room”, Xintiandi is a popular location for hanging out and people-watching, and is considered one of the first lifestyle centers in China.
Shikumen, or translated as “stone gate”, is a style of housing unique to Shanghai. The origin of shikumen buildings can be traced back to the 1860s. In Shanghai dialect, wrapping or bundling is called “hooping”, giving rise to phrases like “hooping a bucket”. So doors “hooped” by stone bars were called stone-hooped doors, and later the name changed to shikumen. Generally, the shikumen-style buildings have long bars of stones as doorframes and burly wooden planks as doors, each fixed with a huge bronze ring. Shikumen-style houses formed the basis of the “lilong” (lane) community where private spheres and public spaces overlapped. Being economical and practical, this kind of accommodation soon spread throughout Shanghai, and shikumen at one point accounted for over 60% of urban housing in Shanghai.
As time went on, Lu Wan District was determined to renovate Taipingqiao area. In 1997, Shui On Group HK proposed their suggestion for shikumen renovation: maintain the appearance of hundred-year-old shikumen area which is located close to Middle Huaihai Road and Taipingqiao in Lu Wan District, change its original function as accommodations and attach to it brand new commercial value, i.e., build it into “Xintiandi”, literally “New Heaven and Earth”.
The construction started in 1998. In order to restore the original image of shikumen, the contractors adhered to the principle of “rebuild it as it was”, and constructed strictly according to the original blueprint that they found from the City Archives, which even bears the signature by its French architect. The plain brick walls are one of the features of shikumen. The original bricks and tiles were reused as construction materials so as to preserve the sense of history. Though the shikumen style has been kept, the interior structures of Xintiandi are totally of modern arrangement and design.
Xintiandi is divided into two parts – the south block (Nan Li) and the north block (Bei Li). The south block mainly consists of modern architecture, with shikumen architecture as an accompaniment. And the north block keeps the old shikumen architecture style, forming a contrast to the modern south block. Against the background of high-rises in Huaihai Road, the renovated shikumen buildings are shining with colorful lights.
Since most of the Shikumen houses were built by foreign enterprises within the foreign concessions at the time, they became a symbol of the East meeting the West. In order to keep a low profile and ensure security, some wealthy people chose to build their houses inside the alleys instead of along the street. They usually first built an alley, and then had their own residences hidden at the end of it. Those residences are grand, yet look similar to the houses in surrounding alleys. Therefore they are called “Alley Residences”, and One Xintiandi is a typical alley residence.
Built in early 20th century, One Xintiandi is the best preserved one among those old Shikumen buildings. The exterior displays a western taste with its European round balconies, enchased flower patterns and stone columns; while the interior layout shows the features of Chinese southern houses. Now, apart from a few modern facilities, in order to keep the basic layout and the brick walls as well as the detailed decorations with a sense of history, the mosaic floors and the enchased tall wooden gates are well preserved, showing the peculiar characteristics of that time. The building is listed as one of the most excellent modern architectural works.
Xintiandi is the place that will provide you an interesting window on Shanghai’s yesterday, today and tomorrow. Since it opened to the public in 2002, Xintiandi has drawn a continuous flow of visitors. Most of the cafes and restaurants in Xintiandi area feature both indoor and outdoor seating, and Xintiandi is at its most magical at night when locals, expats and visitors alike pull up a chair at one of the outside seating areas and watch the world go by.
1. The easiest way to get to Xintiandi is by subway. You can take Subway Line 1 to Huangpi Nan Lu Station and walk south for five minutes, or take Subway Line 10, get off at Xintiandi Station and walk north.
2. The dividing line of the south block and north block of Xintiandi is the Xingye Road, where the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (now a museum) stands. Inside the museum, you can see the room where delegates founded the Party in July 1921. It remains in its original form, complete with a table set for 13 people, while waxworks of top party officials are also on view.
3. At the bottom end of north block of Xintiandi is the Shikumen Open House Museum, which depicts traditional life in a Shanghai shikumen.