While the West has many Chinatowns, Shanghai gets a "Czech Quarter"


Several of Europe and North America's major cities have Chinatowns, areas populated with Chinese immigrants. Now, however, that trend is being reversed somewhat, with the building of a "Czechtown" in the Chinese city of Shanghai. Radio Prague's Ian Willoughby has been finding out more.

When I visited Vlado Milunic, one of five leading Czech architects involved, he showed me a scale model of the Czech Quarter project on the wall of his Prague studio. The project came into being when Chinese property tycoon Tu Haimin paid a visit to the Czech capital: he was greatly impressed by the city's beauty and architectural diversity.

"Prague was for him very interesting, to see how Prague was made from a 'goulash' of all the styles from many centuries. The Romanesque style, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. And he had the idea to buy this kind of style for rich Chinese people."

Once the five architects were chosen they began designing the Czech Quarter for Mr Tu, who had at one point requested a model of Prague's Charles Bridge to cross a river dividing the district. The most ambitious of the architects started drawing versions of some of Prague's historical buildings, such as the Kinsky Palace on the Old Town Square. However, the other members of the team soon reigned in those ideas. As Vlado Milunic says, they chose to use Prague for inspiration for the Shanghai project, not an exact blueprint.

"In the urbanism of Prague every building has some articulation and there is different vertical division of buildings. Prague's topography is very dynamic. Because the site in China is very flat we wanted to make it similar to what it's like in Prague."

The title Czech Quarter is perhaps something of an exaggeration: forty houses and forty apartment buildings are being built in what in essence will be an exclusive and highly unusual suburban estate. That said, Tu Haimin, the man whose love of Prague inspired the project, does apparently plan to open Czech shops there.

"In principle he wants to have Czech beer, have some shops with Czech glass and some other special shops."

And, says architect Vlado Milunic, the developer is also hoping to persuade Czech President Vaclav Klaus to cut the ribbon when Shanghai's Czech Quarter is officially opened later this year.


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