Cosmopolitan Apartments were one of the first luxury buildings in Shanghai 1930s, in a time when the city was known by some as the Paris of the East or by others as the Whore of Asia.
Building 173 is a more socialist name to refer to this 9-storey art déco residential block. But also is a documentary, which takes viewers behind closed doors and into the rooms of 1 apartment building in downtown Shanghai to watch the stories of 7 families unfold over 3 generations.
With Mao’s Cultural Revolution the once glamorous tenants had to choose a new life: to flee abroad, to share their dwellings with other comrades families, to move to their formerly car-garage in the first floor, commit suicide… As in most urban dwellings, large apartments were turned into dwellings for 3 to 5 families each, subdividing every piece of living space. Their stories of life, death and survival under one roof shed new light on China’s turbulent recent history.
Nowadays, some floors of 173 Shaanxi Road remain overcrowded and subdivided into pieces; other parts wait empty for rising property price; and others have already fallen into gentrification. Coming back to its cosmopolitan times again, but in a contemporary China, which is rushing towards an even more fierce luxury than in Old Society.
[All images> Stills from the documentary Building 173 by Charlotte Mikkelborg and Petter Eldin] [Watch trailer]