Understanding Shikumen architecture and lilong housing

Huaihai Lu Lilong

Siwen Alley Shikumen 01

What exactly is shikumen architecture and how does it fit into lilong housing? And why is it so unique to Shanghai?

Longtang (弄堂) is a colloquial term for lilong (里弄), a neighborhood of lanes populated by houses which had evolved since its creation from 1842 to about 1949, coinciding with the Western presence in this port city. They have evolved into 5 types: 1) the old shikumen (石库门) longtangs, 2) the new shikumen longtangs, 3) the new-type longtangs, 4) the garden longtangs, and 5) the apartment longtangs.

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. ~ Lilong Housing, A Traditional Settlement Form

“弄堂”是上海人对里弄的俗称,”里弄房子”就是弄堂建筑。弄堂是上海的特产,是属于上海人的。” ~ 上海人

Useful resources:

Archival photography of Old Shanghai, available at Virtual Shanghai, created and electronically preserved by Christian Henriot of the Institut d’Asie Orientale.

The Old Shanghai A-Z by Paul French is a useful index of old street names in Shanghai. He also blogs at China Rhyming.

The ever knowledgable  Tess Johnston who has been a cornerstone of documenting Old Shanghai since she first arrived in 1981.

Shanghailander website written by Hugues Martin who brings you endless wisdom of Old Shanghai.

The archives of Disappearing Corners is a very useful reference, created by Cintia Kou.

Shanghaimage is a major photo blog documenting Shanghai’s vanishing heritage architecture. It is run by Gropius Xi, who currently owns the largest contemporary archive on the subject.

Earnshaw Books runs Tales of Old Shanghai, also another important source.


“Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century”, Lu Hanchao, University of California Press, 2004


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