SEARCHING SHANGHAI AND FINDING A MAN NAMED LUO.
If you haven’t done your research, then Shanghai can intimidate even the most experienced traveler. Luckily for us, years spent studying dumpling menus paid dividends and upon arrival, we felt both comfortable and weirdly hungry. While a first-rate feast was top of the list, we ended up stumbling across a far more delicious discovery…
We’d always been told that Shanghai is a city where ‘old meets new’ but to be honest that seemed like something you slap on the front of a Lonely Planet guide to lure tourists in.
Then we arrived and it all made sense.
Shanghai: A spectacular city where you can’t help but notice the clash between the old world and the new frontier. Around every corner, we found ourselves delightfully confused. The architecture was a particular feast for the eyes. Inspired by a myriad of periods, styles and cultural influences there really isn’t any place in the world quite like it – hands-down.
We wandered around for hours, letting the city soak in and doing our best not to be mown down by frantic drivers. Note to readers: traffic in Shanghai is terrifying.
Needless to say, we’d worked up quite the appetite so we ducked into a downtown dumpling house for a quick feed. While eating our body weight in Xiaolongbao I was finally able to use one of the phrases I’d memorised before touching down in Shanghai.
ME: Nà tài hào chīle. Qǐng zài gěi wǒ yīgè!
Translation: That was delicious. One more please!
Fed and watered, Shanghai had already won us over, but the best was yet to come. We strolled through Shanghai Town, eventually arriving in the Xintiandi precinct. Xintiandi is pretty much a snapshot of what Shanghai is about - a melting point of tradition and trend. The streets are lined with cafes, wine bars and upscale designer shops, but that wasn’t what caught our eye.
It was here we found Shanghai’s greatest concentration of Shikumen houses. Shikumen is the architectural style that bubbled to the surface during the French occupation of the city during the 1800’s and it’s not hard to see the Euro-influence.
The precinct is now inhabited by dozens of high end retailers as well as a generous selection of world class hospitality.
Although western influences are very strong, Xintiandi still remains unquestionably Chinese.
Millions of footsteps every year have naturally polished the maze of beautifully laid herringbone ally-ways.
Recycled bricks lay ready in wait for their next chapter.
The wonderful Mr Luo.
The Xintiandi laneways were bursting with terrace houses that seemed part Parisian, part Art-Deco and part Shanghai - it was both bizarre and brilliant. We had no choice but to walk these laneways, running our hands along the bricks of the Shikumen, trying to listen to the whispers of their history.
We all immediately agreed that we’d found what we were looking for - a product that represented what we believed in. These ancient Shikumen bricks had a story, a handcrafted history that we wanted to bring home.
Which leads us to the man they call Mr Luo.
Once we’d decided that these ancient bricks would be a rich addition to the ever-evolving face of Australian design we started asking around about who might be able to help us out. One name came up time and time again - Mr Luo.
Mr Luo was born and raised in Xintiandi and as he spoke of the area, its history and its significance we knew he was the right partner. Luo recalled how the antique bricks became the crucial part of the puzzle in the Shikumen era, helping define the architecture of the precinct. But during the tumultuous reign of Chairman Mao, much of the magic of Xintiandi was destroyed.
A once great city had become a victim of upheaval and change, so too had its buildings.
Mr Luo was on hand as his beloved precinct looked to rebuild in the late 1990s. His little business, which repurposes bricks from abandoned buildings, helped play a part in restoring Xintiandi to its former glory by supplying the antique bricks.
Hearing Mr Luo talk about constructing the new with the old, using the past to make the present, it was clear his legacy needed to be a part of our product.
The Luo Family – Shanghai Antique Brick.
Embedded with memories of the past, The Luo Family bricks have endured the city’s colourful history to maintain their presence as the building blocks of today and tomorrow.
Leaving Shanghai with far more than we’d bargained for - namely a massive brick order and an appreciation for the city’s dedication to dumplings - Gather Co was excited.
It’s an honour to bring this evocative history from Shanghai to design and architecture projects here in Australia.
Long Live Mr Luo!