edited by tfr | 03 june 2019
photographer cody ellingham explores the unique communal shikumen lane houses in shanghai as part of his ‘shanghai streets’ series. His lens are focused to capture the historic homes before they are demolished and replaced with newer buildings seen rising closer and closer.
Shikumen (石库门), or translated as “stone gate”, is a style of housing unique to Shanghai that blends Chinese and Western structural styles. Shikumen houses are two or three-story townhouses, with the front yard protected by a high brick wall. The entrance to each alley is usually surmounted by a stylistic stone arch. The influences could be found in everything from intricate carvings in wooden doors, stone archways and door steps.
These residences can date back to the 1870s, when the Taiping Rebellion against the domination of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) broke out. Due to the turbulent warfare, the businessmen, ministers and wealthy people had to move to the concession for protection. As a result, many foreign estate businessmen had a large number of residences built to earn money. Those residences were therefore inspired by western style.
ellingham describes the series:
‘the founding myth of shanghai was that it was the brilliant new city pulled from swampland, the pearl of the orient, but it also was a bourgeois place of money and vice. in the old days the city was split into three areas: the french concession, the international settlement, and the laoximen chinese district. much of the former french concession retains a european vibe – the terrace houses and tree-lined avenues could be barcelona or paris, but they are not. this is china, with its noisy meat markets, modified electric motorbikes, bundles of live wires dangling from rooftops, humming neon lights and a dense smog reflecting the changing city below. card games and shops sprawling out onto the street give it a community atmosphere.’
all images © cody ellingham