Shanghai Shikumen Lilong, Socio-Spatial Transformations of Human Settlement. Appropriations in Shared spaces Beyond Destruction


Jérémy Cheval

PhD defended at: 

Tongji University Shanghai


This research on human settlements' socio-spatial transformations focus on Shanghai local architecture, such as the urban entity called Shikumen lilong. Their existences in the actual megacity, beyond their destructions or beyond their protections, reveal the marks of an urban architecture in movement. Our argument is that any change is going through complexes socio-spatial relationships in a common space, the shared spaces. We argue that appropriations processes, individual and/or collective, are connected at different level – the city, the lilong neighbourhood, the alleyway, and the shikumen house – according to various sharing degrees from anonymous to intimate relations. Residents and lilong are interconnected by place-names, forms, way of lives, and even way to transform their spaces. The objective of this study is then to understand how shikumen lilong residents' daily lives and spaces evolve or remain. What are the factors of transformations? How are they set up? How do they develop? The actual study of spaces compartmentalization and added architecture, traces different historical era. Every actor, whether they are, the residents, governances, even outsiders, are linked through their actions. Common rules or ways of living evolve with time and environment conveyed by lilong. So that the architecture of shikumen lilong transforms in relation with: political legitimacies, legal status, and administrative records, social and family relationships. To this end, we organize our study in three part, one historic and general at the city scales. Another one on one neighbourhood, an ancient shikumen lilong not too dense with strong architectural and historic value called Zhangjia Huayuan. And to finish, in a last part we present the case of the densest new shikumen lilong ever built and transformed called Siwenli. Although we know that every shikumen is particular, their transformations spread in the city still with similarities in few aspects between this two example chosen as study case. In the first part the Shikumen lilong as a peculiar socio-spatial research object in Shanghai is presented. Transformations are studied at the city level identifying their change through time between differences and invariants. In the second chapter, the shikumen lilong compartmentalization process is identified, as made by occupants and governances, in order to define the shared spaces as a complex relationship between private and public. Then in the third chapter each shikumen lilong name as toponym is studied: from an urban level, to the room, to transformation, showing connection, links, invariants and blurred elements. In the fourth chapter, the role and the impact of maintenance and surrounding demolitions is defined. The second part concerns Zhangjia Huayuan, a shikumen lilong complex made of old and new shikumen. The first chapter is about the particularity of this urban complex from its multilayered histories and words, to the evolution of its network of alleyways and shikumen. The second chapter shows an evolution of the shared spaces with large collective rooms and large individual rooms from original permits until their fragmentation. The manner in which territories and lives intertwine in it is then defined. It helps then in the third chapter to understand how transformations are flexible and interchangeable in entangled borders. In a fourth chapter this research examines in more detail how each room's name carries the transformation process from one shikumen to another, by looking at local situations in one alleyway. Lastly, the external change is defined, as either a threat or an opportunity in a shikumen, where the majority of occupants would like to stay and have a future. The third part is about the largest new shikumen lilong ever built in Shanghai called Siwenli. Its toponym, architectural and morphological characteristics are seen at every scale from room appropriations to shared space transformations. The second chapter demonstrates that shikumen transformation is related to occupants' arrival in Siwenli. It represents one of the densest lilong in Shanghai, although it has not yet been optimized in every shikumen. In the third part, the impact of maintenance and planned demolition is defined. So that in the fourth part it can be understood how that even during the delocalisation process the lilong keep being transformed by remaining families and from outsiders appropriating alleyways.