Shanghai's largest Shikumen, or stone-gated houses, complex will reopen to the public in March as luxury hotels and service apartments after an eight-year restoration, officials said yesterday.
However, the government-backed project has proved controversial, with historic protection professionals criticizing it as "fake" heritage.
The Jianyeli neighborhood on Jianguo Road in Xuhui District will reopen as 55 Shikumen styled hotels, 40 service apartments for lease, and about 4,000 square meters of commercial facilities along the streets, Xuhui District government announced.
More than 80 percent of the commercial facilities have been rented. Restaurants, flower shops, tailors and gymnasiums are among those moving in. Some have launched trial operations.
The district, along with the Atlanta-headquartered Capella Hotel Group, the management company of the hotels and apartments, aims to create a "landmark project for the protection of the city's historic architecture," said Zhu Jinsong, general manager of Shanghai Hengfu Investment & Development Co, which is also in charge of the renovation.
Shikumen communities have a distinctive 19th and 20th century Shanghai architectural style, combining elements from Western architecture with traditional Chinese features.
Built in the 1930s by a French developer, the one-time 25,000-square-meter Jianyeli estate was granted heritage protection by the city government in 1994, which means the buildings are protected and cannot be demolished.
The west lane of the Jianyeli was built in 1938 with 22 lines of two-story Shikumen buildings. They have been renovated into the 55 villas to serve as luxury hotels.
The east and middle parts of the lane, accounting for two thirds of the neighborhood, however, were razed and reconstructed following their original architectural style, which became the focus of the controversy.
"The demolishing authorization should be questioned because the protected buildings mustn't be torn down," said Wang Weiqiang, an architectural and urban planning professor with Tongji University, who has been protesting against the demolishing for years.
After the government-funded restoration and redevelopment project began in 2008, officials said the project would see the "historic buildings structurally strengthened and their original look restored." About 3,000 residents and some businesses were relocated from the 260 original houses, which had structural problems, such as rot.
"It is a pity that the real cultural heritage has been replaced by the fake relics," Wang said.
But Xu argued that the original houses and materials, such as bricks and window frames, were too rotten to be salvaged. He said the appearance and even the distance between rows of buildings were exactly the same as the original blueprint from the French developer.