Rebuilding Little Italy

10:50, July 13, 2010      

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Tianjin's Italian Concession (1902-47).

According to Zhou, the 2-billion-yuan ($295 million) project included the construction of new infrastructure, the repair of old buildings and the relocation of 5,000 families who were living there.

"I was quite surprised to see about 20 families living in one building and some were dirty and broken inside," Machetti said of his visit to the area in 2004.

He explained that his team conducted extensive research on the original buildings before beginning any reconstruction work.

"We analyzed the materials used in the original buildings, found the original drawings or pictures at that time and did research on historical figures and stories from that time, which gave us the reference for their original look," he explained.

"By this kind of retelling of history, you can find the real Italian style, instead of imagination," Machetti added.

Machetti and his team also took samples from the old Tianjin buildings back to Italy for chemical analysis to ensure the original paints and coatings were used in the restoration project.

"They even cleaned all the bricks in the buildings which had been painted with many coatings throughout the years and they used many traditional crafts and materials when repairing," Li said.

"Sometimes, if you found the material can only be found in Italy, you have to import the stone from Italy," Machetti said, adding that the cost of such imports had to be considered.

A major problem facing the project was communication between the Chinese workers and Italian experts and the vastly different construction processes in both cultures.

"Firstly, the Chinese workers can not follow our way of repairing and it took time to communicate with them," Machetti said.

"The workers just wanted to finish their job as soon as possible and were very careless," Li added. "I told them 'you have to love the buildings and be patient, you can repair them well.'"

An Italian-style building in Tianjin's Little Italy. Photo: CFP

After six years of painstaking work, the results speak for themselves, almost all of the old buildings in the 28.45-hectare area, have been renovated, with the new Little Italy now attracting tourists and businesses alike.

"About 30,000 square meters has been developed into a business area and 22 businesses and organizations have already moved in, including restaurants, cafes, clubs, galleries and cultural centers of foreign embassies," Zhou said.

Machetti and Li are also hoping that more Italian companies will decide to set up their Chinese headquarters or businesses in the area, enjoying a home away from home and offering an authentic setting for their clients.

"Culture can be the real charm of this area and the original old buildings can bring value for business, I hope future business owners can respect history and bring the original lifestyle and culture of Italy to this area," Li said.

"If we do not renovate them, they can't be everlasting and if we do not have shops or commercial zones there, there will be no value in the future, I hope it can be a win-win for both culture and commerce," Machetti said.

Source: Global Times


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