THE Ferguson Lane project on Wukang Road is about creating a Chinese urban village where people want to spend their leisure time sucking back lattes, shopping in trendy boutiques and browsing art in modern galleries.
The area comprises five buildings including a 1920s villa as the centerpiece. There’s also a 1970s industrial building that has been revamped and a hotel built in the 1990s that is indirectly linked to famous architect I.M. Pei.
Archival drawings indicate the villa was designed in 1926 by Southeastern Architectural and Engineering Company for Mrs. T.C. Quo. The white industrial building was originally the office of the state-owned Shanghai Meter Factory.
Alexandra Chu, chief architect in the revamp of the industrial building, says she was interested in the project for various reasons.
“It was one of the best locations in Shanghai, a lot of history and very residential. There weren’t many shops, almost nothing, very quiet, with the beautiful scale of the street, the trees and old houses,” says the Australian.
“Industrial buildings are usually flexible. The spaces inside had high ceilings and it’s very easy to adapt for commercial purposes,” she adds. “We are very attracted to these kinds of buildings and having this type of building in this location is amazing. Usually they are a little bit further away from the center and along Suzhou Creek.”
Ferguson Lane’s Fangdi Hotel was built in the 1990s and it’s biggest claim to fame before the revamp was as the site of I.M Pei’s childhood home.
According to Michael Cannell’s book “I. M. Pei, Mandarin of Modernism,” the young Ieoh Ming and his four siblings “dwelled comfortably in a two-story Western-style home with a grand garden in the comparative comfort and safety of the French Concession, a well-to-do enclave shaded by poplar trees where much of the city’s Chinese gentry resided.”
Chu believes the history and character come more from the location and the 1920s villa at the heart of Ferguson Lane. She and the design team opted for an Art Deco style during the revamp.
“Art Deco is the beginning of modernism, so it actually fits quite well with the buildings we had to work with and with the street’s historical context,” she says. “So you see a lot of the windows, railings and some of the moldings on Ferguson Lane are all very much Art Deco inspired designs.”
She says they also made an effort to emphasize public spaces because they can “create a feeling of liveliness and wanting to be there.” Thus Ferguson Lane has some outdoor decks and terraces. They also kept some beautiful old trees up to five-stories tall to ensure the space is inviting.
Chu envisions the neighborhood eventually being Shanghai’s equivalent of Greenwich Village in New York and Minami Aoyama in Tokyo. She says it will be a destination for both residents and visitors to enjoy dining and entertainment experiences in a tranquil setting unspoiled by glass and concrete skyscrapers.
Jiang Jiang, preservation officer of Xuhui District, sees the project as a good example of how to revitalize historical buildings. “Although Wukang Road is famous now the public still can not enter many of the buildings. A street can never remain the same during the process of urbanization and people will always need places to eat and enjoy the feeling of history. Some heritage buildings should fulfill this function,” Jiang says.
“I’ve noticed the developer has carefully chosen the right types of restaurants, cafes and bars to fit harmoniously within the context of the neighborhood,” he adds.
Chu says she enjoys coming to Ferguson Lane for a coffee on weekends and seeing people really enjoy the space.
“They don’t know why but they like it,” she says. “And it has really changed the character and brought more life to Wukang Road. The growth around the area is still very respectful to the history. It’s not just demolishing everything and building something new. That’s a very nice thing too,” she says.