Five-story building in China “moves” to a new location

Residents of Shanghai, passing through the eastern district of the city of Huangpu in October, could stumble upon an unusual sight: a “walking” building.

The 85-year-old elementary school was completely lifted off the ground and relocated using a new technology dubbed the “walking machine”.

As part of the city’s latest effort to preserve historic buildings, engineers have installed about 200 mobile towers under the five-story building, according to Lan Wuji, chief technical officer for the project.

The legs act like robotic legs. They are divided into two groups, which alternately rise and fall, imitating a human step. Attached sensors help control how the building moves forward, said Lan, whose company Shanghai Evolution Shift developed the new technology in 2018.

“It’s like giving a building crutches so it can stand up and then walk,” he said.

The company’s slow motion footage shows the school struggling to move forward, step by step.

According to the Huangpu District Government, Lagen Primary School was built in 1935. the municipal council of the former French concession of Shanghai. It was moved to make way for a new retail and office complex, which will be completed by 2023.

Workers had to first dig up the building to install 198 mobile supports in the space below, Lan said. After the building’s legs were truncated, the robotic “legs” were extended upward, lifting the building before moving forward.

Within 18 days, the building rotated 21 degrees and moved 62 meters (203 feet) to its new location. The move was completed on 15 October and the old school building was to become a center for heritage protection and cultural education.

The government said in a statement that the project marks the first time the “walking car” method has been used in Shanghai to move a historic building.

Decades of destruction

In recent decades, as a result of China’s rapid modernization, many historic buildings have been demolished to make way for gleaming skyscrapers and office buildings. But concern is growing over architectural heritage lost in demolition across the country.

Some cities have launched new conservation and conservation campaigns, including, in some cases, the use of advanced technology that allows old buildings to be moved rather than demolished.

Official indifference to historic architecture dates back to the reign of Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. During during the disastrous Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, countless historic buildings and monuments were destroyed as part of his war with the “Old Four” (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas).

After Mao’s death in 1976, calls for architectural preservation were revived, with the Chinese government granting protected status to a number of structures before passing a heritage preservation law in the 1980s. In subsequent years, buildings, quarters and even entire cities received state support to preserve their historical appearance.

Nevertheless, the ongoing urbanization still poses a serious threat to the architectural heritage. Land sales are also a key source of income for local governments, meaning buildings of architectural value are often sold to developers for whom conservation is not a priority.

For example, in the capital Beijing, more than 1,000 acres of historic alleys and traditional courtyard houses were destroyed between 1990 and 2010. This is reported by the state newspaper China Daily.
In the early 2000s, cities including Nanking and Beijing, spurred on by critics protesting the loss of old neighborhoods, has drawn up long-term plans to preserve what remains of their historic sites, with safeguards in place to protect buildings and restrict developers.
These conservation efforts have taken many forms. In Beijing, a dilapidated temple was turned into a restaurant and gallery, and in Nanjing, a 1930s cinema. was restored to resemble its original form, with some additions to allow it to be used in modern settings. In 2019, Tank Shanghai, an arts center built in refurbished oil tanks, opened in Shanghai.

“Relocation is not the best choice, but it’s better than demolition,” said Lan, project manager for the Shanghai Primary School. “I’d rather not touch historic buildings at all.”

He added that in order to move the monument, companies and developers must go through strict rules, such as obtaining government approval at various levels.

Still, he says, moving into buildings is a “viable option.” “The central government is paying more attention to the protection of historic buildings. I’m glad to see progress in recent years.”

Moving monuments

Shanghai may have been China’s most progressive city when it comes to heritage preservation. Surviving buildings from the 1930s in the famous Bund area and 19th-century “shikumen” (or “stone gate”) houses in the restored Cintiandi area are examples of how to give old buildings new life, despite some criticism of how remodeling has been carried out.

The city also has achievement list about moving old buildings. In 2003, the Shanghai Concert Hall, built in 1930, was moved 66 meters (217 ft) to make room for a flyover. The Zhengguanghe Building – a six-story warehouse also built in the 1930s – was then moved 125 feet (38 meters) as part of a local renovation in 2013.
More recently, in 2018, Mr. relocated 90-year-old building in the Hongkou area, which was then considered the most complex resettlement project in Shanghai to date, according to state news agency Xinhua.

There are several ways to move a building: for example, it can slide on rails or be pulled by vehicles.

But Lagen’s elementary school, which weighs 7,600 tons, has taken on a new challenge – it is T-shaped, while the previously relocated buildings were square or rectangular. according to Xinhua. According to Lan, the irregular shape meant that traditional methods of pulling or sliding might not work because it might not be able to withstand the lateral forces applied to it.
An aerial view of the Shanghai Lagen Elementary School building.

An aerial view of the Shanghai Lagen Elementary School building. Credit: Shanghai Change Evolution Project

The building also had to be rotated and followed a curved path to where it was moved, rather than just moving in a straight line—another problem requiring a new method.

“In my 23 years in this field, I have not seen any other company that could move structures along a curve,” he added.

Experts and technicians met to discuss possibilities and test a range of different technologies before deciding on a “walking car,” Xinhua said.

Lan told CNN he couldn’t give an exact cost for the project, and that relocation costs will vary on a case-by-case basis.

“It cannot be used as a guide because we must preserve the historic building no matter what,” he said. “But in general it’s cheaper than demolishing and then building something in a new location.”