Restoring the City

Since December 2002, when the Bureau International des Expositions announced that Shanghai had won the right to host the 2010 World Expo, Shanghai has been preparing the city for its estimated 80 million visitors writes Anne Warr.

For Shanghai, Expo 2010 is much more than a trade fair, it is an opportunity to showcase the whole city and in the words of Tongji Professor and Urbanist, Zheng Shiling, “The EXPO 2010 will speed up the globalization, modernization and urbanization of Shanghai. What the EXPO will exhibit is not only the things exhibited in the pavilions, Shanghai city itself will also be exhibited.”

The Expo slogan “Better City Better Life” is being taken seriously by the Shanghai government who is determined to prove that Shanghai as a whole will indeed be a better city providing a better life for its inhabitants by 2010. Programs underway since 2002 include an expansion of the metro system from two lines to 12 lines making it the fourth largest metropolitan rail system in the world; greening of the city to ensure a greater per capita green space; the creation of “One hundred cultural centres” by 2010; and an upgrading of historic buildings.

Shanghai began taking active steps to protect its stock of historic buildings from the moment the city began to open up to development in 1993. The first list of 398 municipally protected buildings promulgated in 1993 has more than trebled, and in 2004, 12 conservation zones were announced, giving protection to whole areas, not just individual buildings.

First time visitors to Shanghai are often surprised by the number of pre-1949 buildings that have survived and are being preserved. Virtually all the major public buildings and large apartment buildings of the early 20th century survive today, with Shanghai’s unique lilongs being the main casualty to development pressure. Throughout 2009, the Shanghai Municipal Government has been busy implementing a maintenance program for its historic buildings. Scaffolding has been erected around most of the large apartment blocks of the 1930s, including The Normandie, Embankment, Washington, and Dubai.

One of the first buildings to receive a facelift was the Normandie, the famous ‘flatiron’ building on Huai Hai Rd designed by Laszlo Hudec and completed in 1924. Architectural plans of the proposed works were posted in the Normandie’s foyer to inform residents of the impending works which included a careful cleaning and modest upgrading of the original foyer, leaving all the significant architectural details, such as terrazzo floor and wall details, intact. Any temptation to ‘modernise’ the foyer with marble and gold was thankfully resisted.

The shopping arcade along Huai Hai Road was upgraded with new shop fronts installed to provide unity to the street façade. The exterior was carefully cleaned, masonry re-pointed and external air conditioners modestly hidden inside uniform steel boxes. The result is more like a good facial, than a radical face-lift, leaving the building to gracefully look its age.

Shanghai’s historic hotels have also been preparing themselves to accommodate the onslaught of guests expected to arrive for Expo. In 2007, the Peace Hotel, originally known as The Cathay, was closed for a three year renovation program and will re-open in spring 2010. Californian hospitality architects, HBA/Hirsch Bedner Associates, were appointed as historical consultants to ensure that the proposed new work is appropriate to the historic significance of the property. When completed, the hotel will be managed for the Jin Jiang Group by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and will be called the Fairmont Peace Hotel.

A low-rise extension is being added to the rear of the hotel, housing guestrooms and a sky-lit swimming pool and spa.

On the other side of Nanjing Road, the South wing of the Peace Hotel, built as The Palace Hotel in 1907, was also closed for renovation in 2007, to re-open in Spring 2010. It will then be renamed The Swatch Art Peace Hotel and play host to artists from around the world who will be able to live and work for a limited time in the hotel’s apartment/workshops.

The Peace, Palace, Yangtze-Langham, and Mansion Hotels are providing re-vamped interiors for their guests that evoke a sense of 1930s luxury and nostalgia, without necessarily undertaking authentic conservation works.
Further south on the former French Bund, another hotel renovation is nearing completion which is taking quite a different approach. In the words of the hotel’s design architect Lyndon Neri, founding partner of Neri & Hu, “This is a hotel that puts the emphasis on the traveller in search of some meaning, and not just the luxury component of living.” Designed within a 1930s warehouse, the Waterhouse Hotel (pictured left) will have just 19 rooms, each one with a different décor based around a real Shanghai character from the 1930s. Neri’s design blurs the traditional boundaries between public and private hotel space by inserting peep holes in guest rooms to allow glimpses between private and public spaces. Guest rooms will have adjustable shutters faced with mirrors opening onto the public courtyard to allow guests to “spy” on the public areas and other rooms.

This, he says, is reminiscent of the blurring of public and private spaces that occurs in Shanghai’s ubiquitous lilongs.

“It’s merely decorative to just put something new into an old building,” says Neri. “Respecting the space is about proper abstraction and reinterpretation of the feel and essence of the city.”

Nearby, at the back of the Bund, another major restoration has been quietly taking place over the past two years. The former Holy Trinity Cathedral has been reclaiming its soul. Completed in 1869 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott, Britain’s leading exponent of Gothic revival, the Cathedral was the social centre of British Shanghai.

In 1928, the Cathedral Boys School and Dean’s residence were completed to the west of the Cathedral. This was the school attended by the young J.G. Ballard, and immortalized in his book, Empire of the Sun. After 1949, the Cathedral was handed over to the district government and used as an auditorium, with the mahogany pews replaced with theatre style seating.

The school and dean’s residence became police offices and exit visa bureau. During the Cultural Revolution, the steeple was removed from the Bell Tower. In 2004, the government announced that the Cathedral would be restored for use by the China Christian Three-self Patriotic Movement. The East China Architectural Research and Design Institute (ECADI) were appointed architects for the project, in turn engaging the services of leading Canadian restoration firm, Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Limited.

Conservation work, which includes restoration of the spire and mahogany pews will be completed at the end of 2009. In 2008, the Dean’s residence was converted into a nine bedroom boutique hotel.
Walk into the grounds of The Bund Garden Hotel at 200 Hankou Road, and experience a time-warp as you find yourself in the former school quadrangle, facing the apse of the Cathedral, and wondering if the Dean is spying on you from his imposing Tudor revival residence.

*Anne Warr has lived in Shanghai since 2003 where she co-runs the Shanghai office of Australian architectural firm Allen Jack Cottier. Anne holds a Master of Arts in Heritage Conservation and during her time in Shanghai has written numerous papers including a book, Shanghai Architecture. Anne has also taught Western Architecture at Tongji University and has her own tour guiding business www.walkshanghai.com.

 **Peace Hotel picture courtesy www.simonfieldhouse.com

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