Shanghai under the radar

Shanghai under the radar

When looking at the skyscrapers of Shanghai’s Pudong district, it’s easy to imagine a city of tomorrow. What it has not been so easy to envision is yesterday, thus leaving many an old building precariously dodging the wrecking ball.


But there are occasional rays of hope for Shanghai’s elders. Jianguo West Road lies in the heart of the Former French Concession, often referred to as the Cultural Preservation Zone. The Jian Ye Li Estate located here dates to China’s colonial era and thanks to an ambitious restoration now has a secure future.

Opened in September 2017, the development sees an area of old shikumen buildings brought up to 21st-century standards, including a 55-villa hotel along with 40 serviced townhouses and street-front retail space. These stone warehouse gate buildings were last century’s answer to high-density housing for the masses in narrow-laned communities. Once the majority of Shanghai’s housing stock, shikumen are now disappearing fast.

Originally built by French company Foncière et Immobiliere de Chine, Jian Ye Li dates to the ’30s and blends French flair with Chinese elements. An influence continued by the Capella Shanghai Hotel within the interior space: French-accented furniture complements the Chinese-inspired artwork. Such sensitive design work helped the Capella Hotels turn the renovated and rebuilt structures into a boutique hotel while harmonising and highlighting the original architectural features.

“We still retain the romanticism of the historical past, but respect that we are very much in China. It’s a blend of east meets west,” says general manager, Dorian Rommel of Capella Shanghai, Jian Ye Li.

Most of the shikumen-style houses, such as famed Xintiandi, are repurposed. However, the restoration work in and around Jian Ye Li preserves this architectural legacy – restoring the buildings as accommodation in line with the district’s original intention.

Text Mark Andrews
Photos John Portman & Associates and Mark Andrews


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