Shanghai Shikumen

Shikumen is an urban housing typology that developed and flourished in Shanghai China from around 1850 to 1950. Sometimes refered to as a Lilong development, the Shikumen is a uniquely Shanghai typology that formed during a period of rapid urbanization and increased westernization, resulting in a hybrid of the British row house with the Chinese traditional courtyard house.

Shikumen, a name meaning “stone gate” in reference to the stone archways that wrap each alley and residential doorway and Lilong ("Li" means neighborhood, "Long" means lanes) is a typology characterized by a city block size development consisting of a dense clustering of 2-3 story attached residences connected by internal pedestrians alleyways. The perimeter of the block is usually converted for small-scale commercial uses. The developments are efficient and rationally ordered, making good use of scarce land, while still maintaining a sense of community and privacy.

Ironically the Lilong housing typology is under threat from a second wave of Western development, which started when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping initiated his open-door policy to stimulate economic growth. A Western led influx of development in Shanghai over the last decade has raised land values to speculative levels, making the aging Lilong housing blocks vulnerable to redevelopment. This has led the government to initiate a policy to buy out the residents in valuable land areas, relocating residents to residential towers conforming to a Westernized standard of kitchen and sanitary services that many of the older houses lack. Throughout Shanghai the Shikumen blocks are being rapidly demolished and replaced by high-rise commercial developments and condominium towers. This photo series documents one of the developments in the process of demolition.

ted kane

::for a more thorough review of Shanghai's Lilong housing typology and history, see the architectural thesis of Qian Guan