Reflective Nostalgia: Alternative Futures for Shanghai’s Shikumen Heritage

Nostalgia tends to be taken dismissively or negatively in both architecture and general culture, as Charles Maier aptly states: “Nostalgia is to longing as kitsch is to art.” This studio is based on the premise that nostalgia, rather than being reductive, offers a productive means to engage with issues of heritage, collective memory, displacement, and urban renewal. The studio will explore how reflective nostalgia may offer a new model for adaptive reuse in the context of China, where the erosion of cultural identity and local heritage have come as a consequence of rapid urbanization. Our test case for the studio will be looking specifically at Shanghai and the remnants of its historic housing typology—the shikumen lane houses. The site is located in the heart of Shanghai, encompassing the historic shikumen compound called Zhang Yuan (Zhang Garden) built by a British merchant in the late 1870s and later sold to a private businessman as a private garden. In its prime, the site was the most well-known place for entertainment and urban cultural diversions. Once a glamorous site that boasts of many monumental “firsts” for the city: the first electric lights, choice venue for foreign circuses, the first Western-style wedding, hosting the first public speech by a woman, the first nude painting exhibition in China, etc. Widely regarded as the city’s largest, best preserved compound, it still houses a lively community despite the adjacent encroachment of modern commercial developments. Today, after decades of social and economic changes, much of the compound is dilapidated and many of the residents who are migrant laborers and elderly citizens are struggling at the poverty line. 

The project will be the design of a hotel integrated with hybrid programs to be developed by each student. Students will research the hotel typology and make bold propositions for alternative models for the hospitality industry. Students will explore tectonics, materiality, and how to translate concepts into built, tangible form across various scales. The studio is interested in articulating methods and techniques of adapting an existing collection of buildings, interior spaces, and urban voids to create meaningful dialogue between old and new.


This course has an irregular meeting schedule.

Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri will teach on Tuesdays and Wednesdays: August 29 and 30, September 3 and 4, October 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30, November 19 and 20, and December 3 and 4, and for final reviews. 

The instructors will also be available via Skype to account for “off week” missed time. 

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