Infiltration: Normandie Apartments in Shanghai
Recently, Shanghai based writer Ric Stockfis has claimed some amazing scalps in the field of urban exploration. He didn't merely track down a building of previous importance, he stumbled into truly Ballardian landscapes of decay and abandonment. Marvel at these photos from the rusting hulk of the music ship and read an amazingly evocative article about an abandoned driving range.
I'd been thinking about doing some of this lately, especially after Ballard himself passed away and I was re-reading some of his stuff. However, Shanghai centre is a mass of security guards and walls where even the most lavish buildings have grounds the size of postage stamps. Never the less, I strolled down Huaihai Road at night, with some kind of a hunch that I'd get into somewhere. I had almost given up on the idea when I came alongside my favourite deco style pre-war building in the whole city - the Normandie Apartments, now called the Wukang Building.
Pre-war shot of the Normandie Apts.
This was at night, remember, so there's not going to be an amazing photo set. This one was all about the experience anyway. The building is at the tail end of renovations and the halls were littered with paint cans, makeshift benches and wooden boards. I looked into the deco lobby and saw the doorman off talking to a resting worker. Behind them, the elevator was boarded up, but the original 'dial' showing the floor number with a green metal arrow could be seen. Beyond all that was the wide curving staircase. I just knew at that moment that all the doors in the place were left open.
It was about ten-thirty and no one was stirring out of their apartments. Each floor was strewn with painting and decorating equipment, but not a workman in site. At the bend of each flight of stairs were small windows leading out onto narrow gothic ledges, tempting, but not my mission tonight. And don't try that one at home, kids. I got to the final floor and had to contain my excitement when I saw that the workmen had in fact left that door up to the roof open and had stored a bunch of stuff up there.
I got to the top exit, half expecting to be busted by some guys having a smoke but all was open and deserted. The roof is completely flat and all one huge area. The stone balconies are only just up to waist height so you get a 360 degree view, apart from the small hut like building that the stairs exit from. It was pitch black up there and the roof is covered in dark material too. I felt like I was floating around up there. Beautiful night views and the buzz of being up on the roof undetected. I was worried that they might unknowingly lock me up there, but that just made it all better.
It wasn't such a big thing to be up there but it felt exactly as it should. Discovering a new space in a crowded and largely forbidden city changes your perception and opens up mental spaces you were previously unaware of. To get Ballardian about it, the experience and emotions felt in connection to the space combine to open up the psychoscape to you just for a brief moment.
And in case you think I'm making this up, I did take one quick photo for proof. People familiar with the area will recognize 'Coffee Seeker' with it's bright red neon sign down below on the corner of Wukang and Xingguo Roads.
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