cardboard shikumen

Cardboard Shikumen is an interactive documentary project aiming to preserve the architectural and cultural heritages of the endangered Shikumen neighbourhoods in Shanghai.

Featured on TechNode, Vice Creator Project China, Time Out Shanghai, and NYU Shanghai official website. Recipient of the 2015 Dean's Undergraduate Research Fund of NYU Shanghai.

Selected for exhibition Shanghai Project - Qidian 2116.

Access a demo of the project here

Cities with long histories often face the dilemma between preserving old architectural heritages and making space for new developments. In Shanghai, many neighbourhoods of traditional Shikumen houses ("stone gate houses"), featuring an architectural style unique to Shanghai that blends Chinese and Western architectural influences, are quickly disappearing due to the accelerating urban gentrification process in the city largely driven by China’s real estate boom. This has set not only the architectural heritage of the Shikumen but also the cultural heritage - the unique Shikumen lifestyle formed over the years - at stake. Although the government attempted to preserve a few Shikumen neighbourhoods of historical importance, most of the neighbourhoods have been demolished over the years to make way for more modern buildings.

Virtual reality technologies have been previously employed by researchers to preserve architectural and cultural heritages of historic neighbourhoods by creating a digital replica of the neighbourhood, which a viewer would be able to enter and explore in an immersive fashion with suitable software and hardware. However, existing virtual reality authoring and viewing solutions are often costly and difficult to operate, for both producers and viewers. This limits the application and the accessibility of virtual reality. If the cost is driven down, virtual reality has the potential to power a participatory platform where users with little technical expertise and budget can use virtual reality technologies to record and preserve their own neighbourhoods.

Cardboard Shikumen started with two missions: it serves both as a documentation of one actual Shikumen neighbourhood facing demolition in Shanghai and a technical prototype of a virtual reality presentation software that requires little technical expertise and budget to operate, and thus can be possibly used as a basis for a potential participatory platform for heritage preservation, where users can freely upload, view, and share virtual reality footages of historic neighbourhoods.

The name Cardboard Shikumen derived from Google Cardboard, which is the low-cost VR viewer released by Google that this project is originally designed to work with.

Access a demo of the project here


Project Advisors
Professor Lena Scheen, Professor Clay Shirky

Technical help and suggestions
Professor Christian Grewell, Bruno Kruse, Jack B. Du, Professor Anna Greenspan, Yongbing Zhu

Software libraries used in the project
a-frame, mustache