22 March 2017

The last of the Nanjing turners

The turner's atelier
During an outing to visit the whereabouts of a relocated open air antiques market, I happened to find a turner's shop along an older stretch of Shengzhou lu. The turner himself hardly stirred as I approached his workshop and snapped a few photos of the interior.
The view from the workman's perspective on the streetscape
He is a turner in the classic sense that he only does lathework. The narrow shop had a ladder in the back that gives access to an upper level where he might maintain his household. The arrangement struck me as medieval, which in the conservative environment of mainland China, is not unusual, but this way of life is nearing an inexorable finality. I thought of this essay as I gawked about, seemingly like a time traveler. None of the tooling was commercially made. Some of the lathe chisels shows signs of having been made from recycled files. This spartanness is as much due to the paucity of Chinese manufacturing as much as the extreme conservatism of Chinese tradesmen, less pride of craft, apparently than stubbornness and group conformity.
Handmade lathe chisels

The lathe machinery

 tablesaw most commonly seen on jobsites
At my request, my wife asked him whether there were any other furnituremakers in the neighborhood. He uncrossed his arms to gesture that there was another turner a few doors down and then settled back into zombie mode. I wasn't able to learn who typically commissioned him to manufacture banisters, table legs, or whatnot. I bought two file handles that he had for sale in a bucket outside his door at 4 RMB each.
 a lot of turned piecework

Handles or turned offcuts

The handles demonstrate the skills of a workman who keeps a pattern in his mind's eye: controlled irregularity. I've had trouble find ferrules in China for student projects. The term in Chinese is, 铁箍,  tiegu. These ferrules, however, appeared to be nothing more than cheap tin. An unapplied example bent more easily that metal from a tin can.
File handles
We walked past the second turner's shop and saw a near copy of the first. Further ahead, we turned into an alley and began walking amidst a neighborhood undergoing demolition, renovation, and relocation of its residents. It's generally unclear what is happening whenever such Haussmannesque efforts are underway. Residents, squatters, and scavengers tend to hold their ground in order to negotiate for higher compensation from the local government.
Cat perch

historical architecture: demolition by neglect
Often the true nature of the renovations are obscured to keep the beneficiaries of public works projects in the shadows. The attitude outside of Shanghai towards historic preservation to demolish down to the bare ground and rebuild in order to make the area 'more beautiful'.  Historically this represent how one dynasty superseded the previous one.
recurring rafter tail detail

Shared courtyard of Republic houses

While it's too soon to say, there might better concerted efforts to preserving some of the preserved elements in this neighborhood. Historic markers identified these buildings as built during the Republic era. It's frustrating to see so much exposed timberframing that could have been preserved even 10 years ago with a minimum of efforts to keep it dry.
Semidemolished housing

Squatters and Squalidness

13 March 2017

Architectural elements: Shanghai spolia

modular units on display
The last few decades have seen cycles of construction and demolition across the mainland Chinese landscapes. This has been most evident in the cities where many urban and prefectural governments finance their operations by seizing and reseizing properties and leasing to developers for denser, higher priced redevelopment.
Windows and shutters against remnants of courtyard wall
This system creates masses of waste as concrete and brick structures get jackhammered on a large scale to be dwarfed by the new construction projects. Often the bricks get salvaged depending on the speed of demolition; more commonly it's only the rebar that gets extracted and recycled. As I have documented before, some structures built during the early years under Mao Zedong possess enough wood materials to justify prying the materials apart before bringing in the bulldozers. The numbers of such structures is disappearing fast as many cities set upon apartment buildings constructed in the 1980 and 1990s for yet another round of redevelopment.
Garret access ladders, perhaps
It was only happenstance that brought me to a Shanghai construction site where I discovered a very well organized sale of architectural salvage. The existence of such a market, which I have observed nowhere else, demonstrates two points. First, the high standards of construction in Shanghai has deep roots and continues in this manner. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there are active buyers for such salvage within Shanghai. I've talked with several Chinese who don't believe that wood is strong enough to be used to build houses! The buyers coming to this lot understand construction methods that have become obsolete elsewhere and notably value the aesthetics and functionality of these repurposed materials.
Lap joints with traces of plaster

Beaded exposed timbers

I don't know how long this sale had been going on when I stumbled across it. There were bundles of tongue and groove flooring in empty storefronts slated for eventual demolition further up the street. (The interiors were too dim to photograph effectively.)
Stacked newel posts

Pilaster with carved motif, tongue and grooved flooring bundles

It's comforting to documents positive actions such as this. For those interested, the address is 612 Kang Ding lu, Shanghai. Prices are negotiable so act now!
Glazed doors

Was this tenon (drawbore) ever pegged?