06 May 2018

Discovering woodwork while strolling in a corner of Nanjing

The Uber of woodshops coming to your city

The #13 building XinMenXi Commerce and Trade Zone

A former employer has announced its plans to expand its operations into several large Chinese cities and Nanjing is one of them. I asked my wife to accompany me to see what to make of the new location somewhere near JiQingMen 集庆门.
better than underground
It was evident early on during our stroll, that it was located within a new construction site that involved a lot of demolition and a lot of bland new construction that would be certain to attract many new consumers. The ubiquitous Vanke was at the center of the activity, semmingly having taken over the operations from Mingfu construction, that would be the new headquarters for an internet company.The building in question was eventually discovered in the center of the Xinmenxi sport area. Even my wife made the comment that the bosses don't seem to value windows.
entryway architecture

Safety First

We saw no signage nor 'woodshop' construction so we continued wending our way along jiqingmen jie until we crossed Fengyousi lu. I recognized the character of si as meaning temple so I suggested that we try to find the temple that the street was undoubtedly named after. I learned only later that the whole neighborhood was named after the FengYou Temple. She asked a fruitseller in her corner shop who explained after a bit of confusion that there was no temple because it had been torn down to make way for a school. Drat. I could neither find any history of the temple online.
We decided to head in the direction that she indicated where the replacement school has been built.
I also later learned that the school that rests on the formerly sacred site is the Nanjing #43 middle school on HuaLu Bei Gan.
securely bolted from the interior
 We were drawn along this road and spotted the locked door of an unnamed building built in an older style. On the left I spotted the sad remains of a once proud brick structure that had been allowed to selfdemolish, its roof long since collapsed as well as the roofs of the shanties that been built up against it.  I have learned that this was once the Nanjing Shanghai Electric Insulating factory. 
electric insulator factory, view from Hualu Bei Gan

Electric insulator factory gable end

I was more appalled by the stench of human waste than the likelihood of PCBs and dioxins that lingered around the site. I turned into a narrow alleyway to find a perimeter wall built with embossed brick spolia taken from the citywall.
falling rendering revealing the ancient monument beneath

wall from spolia possibly taken from the JiQingMen construction

Further along the street, on the south side of the street another building caught my attention.
citywall stones repurposed
 The mass of the foundations seemed so very out of place.  The large stones could be hiding a courtyard houeshold, invisible from the streetside. It was difficult to say but I suspected that the upper courses had been rebuilt a few times more than the lower. At the Gu Wanguansi, a temple that is still in operation but under threat of eviction according to a member, we turned left onto Hualu Gan.
Rotting remnants of timberframe roof structure

Cut stone spolia awaiting its next application
 We were able to view some of the buildings that we had passed along the streetside.
Abandoned archaeological pit, perhaps
pallets can help avoid having to move stones so often by hand

Despite usually tight security on Chinese construction sites, the new temple back door was left ajar, calling out to us to enter.  How dare we refuse such a sacred invitation?

Temple doorway

Interior temple courtyard

All construction had apparently come to a halt some time before our arrival (I estimate at least a year) even though much remained to be done. The woodwork that was more exposed to the elements had begun to decay in its unpainted condition. Or perhaps, the intention was to buck tradition and follow the modern trend of preferring the 'real wood' style.
Contemplating interior decoration

modern sprinkler systems

ham-fisted sensitivity to aesthetics
door bolt

Further inward we trod with assurance to avoid being told that we were trespassing. It still amazes me what can be considered habitable housing. Out of respect, I didn't photograph the worst examples.
Early modern dilpidation
In piles placed here and there between the half demolished structures were recyclable items and trash for stripping of resalable materials. My eyes were drawn to short sections of a timberframe structure, which did not resemble the members of the new temple that we had just been through.
Discarded timberframe members

Chinese timbered roof structure

A section of Haulu Gan had been covered over to form a makeshift woodshop complete with a homemade tablesaw that is more typical on construction sites than factory made machines. It was evidently used in the reconstruction of the protected building that was adjacent to it.
semipublic woodshop

the designated historic building
examining the street name sign
Rendered wall

The protected building, which doesn't appear on googlemaps, sported a plaque that announced it as being 'unable to be moved'. I would have photographed this for its information but it was made of a reflective brass that was nearly impossible to read clearly and certainly impossible to photograph.
a wing of the protected building

A hidden view taken by craning over the perimeter wall

It was an expansive compound that was better guarded than the new temple.
Saved former industrial building

evocative of the electrical insulation factory

Too bulky to demolish, perhaps

Further ahead we came across another former factory that somehow managed to remain intact.
historical dead zone

The razed area next to the empty factory, which escaped our exploration and awaits further development.


Brian Eve said...

It's weird to me to see Chinese buildings that someone spent a lot of time, effort and money making, and seem to have been totally neglected since.

Jonas Jensen said...

What a remarkable difference between the polished pictures that we often see on the "News" of modern day China, and the adventures that can be found by taking a small detour to the path less trodden.
Thanks for sharing.


Potomacker said...

Typically Shanghai is all that many foreign reporters explore and document since it's so internationally oriented and close to an airport. Many expats live there exclusively and it becomes their bubble.
Thank you for the feedback

Potomacker said...

It's much easier to understand how the situation has evolved to what it is when you understand that nobody owns clear title to the land any more and the traditional building trades have suffered under the latest regime. It's a frustrating story that is challenging to convey but which seems perfectly normal to the average Chinese.