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China - The Diversity of Design in Shikumen Headers


China: The Diversity of Design in Shikumen Headers

The unique style of Shanghai is referred to Shikumen Headers, the old residential buildings that are steeped into the alleys. Shikumen means “The Gate of Stone” as the most elegant architecture comprises doorframes of stones and solid wood is used in door panels. The most significant part of design includes grey stone groundwork that is shaped in a semi-circle or triangle. The unique housing in Shikumen offers a great mixture of Western and Chinese structural designs.  

Where did it come from?

During the Revolutionary War of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Shikumen buildings were constructed in the 1870s when various rich businessmen from Jiangnan escaped to Shanghai. The Shikumen buildings were built for these officials in traditional Jiangnan style incorporating 3 to 5 rooms. These buildings attained popularity because of noiseless environment due to thick door designs. 

How the Shikumen was designed?

During 1920 to 1930s, the Shikumen lane was designed and it was thought, was there any planners who showed any potential to the consumers to select and pick? The Shikumen headers comprised of a lion on the top of the header, flower designs on pediments and stars engraved on the entrance columns. A mixture of European and Chinese symbols that indicate different superstitions are engraved entirely in homes.

The visitors can see the diversity in the Shikumen headers with a bitter fact that how fast these are vanishing. There are various symbols that are attentively chosen as household things such as peaches indicates longevity and an elephant indicated wisdom. 

New Style Shikumen

Shikumen structure experience first changes after 1910 that is now known as New Style Shikumen. There are no longer 3 to 5 rooms in the new structure, it incorporates only 1 to 2 rooms. The most interesting change was decoration of the door header and the traditional Shikumen was now mixed with western architecture. 

During the period of 1930, Shikumen became less charming with the establishment of new style in the alleys. The exterior of Shikumen is kept as it is but the interior has been changed to meet the requirements of the modern world. But from the last few years, Shikumen became a fast growing trend between locals and tourists from all around the world. 

Where to experience it?

The major area to experience the Shikumen structure are Luwan District, Jing’an District and Huangpu District. Around 40% of local people of Shanghai are the residents of Shikumen. Xintiandi and Tianzifang are the most famous places where the tourists can experience the Shikumen architecture and have a lot of fun activities. 

Shikumen Residence Household Museum 

The tourists and visitors can explore the Shikumen residence Household Museum on every Saturday and Sunday. A tall fig tree is standing in the courtyard that gives shade in the hot summers. You can view the traditional living rooms combining oriental and western style and can also explore the life of the locals in shikumen. The visitors can also view various paintings and calligraphy collected by residence owners over four generations. 

The visitors must not miss the architectural landscapes in which Shanghai is woven such as iconic Peace Hotel on the Bund, Jinmao Tower in Pudong, Astrid apartments and the Georgia Apartments. One of the oldest lanes that dates back to the 13th century is located in Wangyima that is a repainted header of Shikumen. 

From 2013 -2015, the lilong housing structure in Xintiandi was destroyed to put up luxuriant shopping malls and deluxe offices. The headers of Shikumen with simpler rectangular frames and flower motifs are offering a glimpse at the modest structure. 

The conversational and popular term for lilong is Longtang that was populated during 1842 – 1949 when Western appearance in the port city occurred. They have expanded into five groups that are the old Shikumen longtangs, the new Shikumen longtangs, the new-type longtangs, the garden longtangs and the apartment longtangs. 

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