A Man Who’s Spent All His Life Dealing with Old Houses

Released on:2017-09-20


(Reporter: Wu Jingjing) As one of the “First Jing’an’s Craftsmen”, Wu Gongbao, from Jing’an Construction and Decoration Engineering Company, has spent his lifetime dealing with old houses. Since he joined the Bureau of Housing and Land Administration in Jing’an District as a housing repairman at the age of 19, Wu has been in this industry for decades. Through hard work and study, he has developed himself into a technical “backbone” of the company, leaving his footprints in famous historic buildings such as Astor House Hotel, Mahler villa, AIA Building and the Site of the Second National Congress of CPC.

In June 2008, a new round was launched for renovating and repairing the Site of the Second National Congress of CPC. Speaking of dribs and drabs of the project, Wu recalled those days, “My colleagues and I forgot eating and sleeping in order to crack the tough nut.” Originally, the memorial hall was a two-storey shikumen (stone warehouse gate) building. According to design drawings, the lobby must get through to the first and second floors so as to increase the overall height and broaden the view of visitors. Since the site was of shikumen brick-wood construction, every room was supported by pillars to bear weight of the second floor. If the load-bearing pillars were removed, this ninety-year-old house would be in danger of collapsing. The technical problem drove Wu and his colleagues to their wits’ end. “Overcoming difficulties” is not just an empty slogan in Wu’s eyes. Leading his colleagues, he spent two weeks thinking of any possible solutions and they finally came up with a feasible plan after several drafts. “We solved the problem through a combination of three measures. First pillars were added in the north and south bearing walls, and then shear walls were added to decompose the stress. Finally, underground piled were added to reinforce the foundation.” Eventually, the plan worked and created a record in Shanghai. After the renovation, the site still retains its original architectural style. Standing under the bright red party flag in the lobby, visitors seem able to feel personally on the scene the indomitable fighting spirit of CPC members. On March 5, 2013, the site was put by the State Council on the seventh list of Major Historical and Cultural Sites Protected at the National Level.

In 2010, Wu started to lead a team to participate in dismantling and reconstruction project of reserved buildings at the Nanjing West Road, Metro Line 12. The project is the first of its kind in Shanghai and even in China, so the difficulty is self-evident. Wu led the project team to review and proofread all kinds of drawings, and required the on-site construction personnel to dismantle every brick, tile and door carefully and keep them at constant temperature and then restore the roofs, walls and arches, etc. as required by construction operation instruction for protected buildings. During the restoration, title carving was undoubtedly a touchstone to test Wu. “Different from sculpture, tile carving is doing subtraction, any excess carving is irredeemable.” So, Wu maintained a strict standard on tile selecting and knife carving. He would knock on each tile repeatedly in person and hear its sound. If the sound was too dull, it would be hard to carve it; if too clear, easy to break. And each carving knife was tailor-made according to each technician’s actual conditions. Thanks to his great care and hard work, the project was completed successfully, and the historic buildings were able to retain the maximum original style.

Recently, Wu is engaged in rehabilitating historic buildings in East Siwenli. He is going all out to protect and maintain the shikumen building complex for later generations. Someone once joked Wu as someone with reinforced steel bars in bones, cement flowing in blood and a head piled with three or four bricks -- hard, stubborn and inflexible. But he said laughingly, “With enough people with smart brains in society, I’d rather be a one-track minded man.” Wu does any project and any work, big and small, in a scrupulous and methodical manner, neglecting no details. What a true craftsmanship!

(Source: Jing’an Newspaper)