The magical lane houses, which were once the dominant fabric that made urban Shanghai the intoxicating place that it was in the 1930s, are now slowly being demolished, taken over by high-density developments all over the city. Neri&Hu was commissioned to reconstruct a dilapidated lane house left with almost nothing except its glorious shell in the historic and artistic Tianzifang area in Shanghai, and the mission was to transform it into three separate apartment units.

Neri&Hu’s strategy was to rethink the typology of the lane house–keeping the split level formation, a typical trait to lane houses in this city, and add spatial interest through new insertions and skylights to accentuate the architectural integrity of such a typology, contemporizing it for today’s lifestyle.

Historically the lane houses are separated with two distinct spaces–a longer and often rectangular space with a smaller room half a level above that creates a split section connected by a winding stairway in between. These lane houses which were often occupied by single families during the turn of the century, have changed over the course of the city’s economic history. They are now typically occupied by three or more families, sharing the public stair case and landings, so that neighbors living on different levels or rooms have a chance to interact as they move in and out of their personal units.