AIA Shanghai recognizes John Portman & Associates for Design Excellence

ATLANTA (January 8, 2019) ­- The Shanghai Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has bestowed upon John Portman & Associates the Honor Award for Heritage Architecture in recognition of design excellence in the preservation, restoration and adaptive re-use of the Jian Ye Li site, part of what was previously known as the French Concession District in Shanghai. “Our firm had a profound responsibility in the execution of this design,” said Lell E. Barnes, III, AIA, NCARB, Principal and Design Director for John Portman & Associates. “It was vitally important that this significant and culturally relevant historic development be allowed to maintain its sense of place while also fulfilling contemporary usage requirements in order to advance the neighborhood forward.”

Jian Ye Li, a French construction company, established the site to house the company’s workers and their families, and, although Chinese in style, the complex was originally designed by a French architect. The 250,000-square-foot (23,000-square-meter) project divides its linear tenement structures into West, Middle and East portions. The Middle and East portions were completed in 1930 using simple structural designs and basic materials. The West portion, completed in 1938, incorporated larger unit floor areas, partial upper levels, and a more decorative use of materials. All units enjoy a Southern orientation enhanced by the Shanghai “Shikumen” or “stone framed door lane” transitional entry sequence. It is this uniquely functional aspect of the Shikumen house that creates the comfortable human scale and intriguing spatial relationships.

In 1994, Jian Ye Li was declared a protected heritage site by the Shanghai Municipality. Protection, focused on the exterior building appearance and the surrounding environments, created unique challenges requiring the patience and fortitude of diverse expertise. The Middle and East portions of the project were painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt, using the original materials where possible and recreating materials as needed. A two-level basement was also added. The West portion of the project was left intact and restored to its former beauty. Throughout the project, the unique features of Shanghai’s Shikumen-style lane housing prevailed, the original architectural integrity was precisely restored, and the interiors were updated to satisfy modern, sophisticated standards. Particular attention was given to the project’s Anhui-province-inspired “Horse Head” wall feature, ensuring the wall’s special place in Shanghai’s architectural history. Research revealed that the project had once incorporated a water tower. This long-gone feature was paid homage in a modern interpretation that serves as an observation tower and a glowing icon for the development. Hotel, hotel serviced apartments, hotel serviced homes, retail and restaurants comprise today’s vibrant “Capella Jian Ye Li” community. Now a stylish international urban destination, the prestigious Jian Guo Road historic mixed-use development attracts both local and foreign visitors to experience Shanghai’s rich culture and diverse history.

The 2018 Honor Award for Heritage Architecture acknowledges a prolonged labor of love. For John Portman & Associates, the Jian Ye Li journey first began in 2004 when the firm’s concept won an international design competition. “We approached this special project with great honor and heartfelt appreciation,” stated Jack Portman, FAIA, Chairman and CEO of John Portman & Associates. “Our cohesive design, development expertise and the credibility established by our firm’s strong history in Shanghai allowed us the opportunity to restore Jian Ye Li back to its original grandeur and deliver lasting value to the community.” John Portman & Associates is an internationally-recognized architectural design firm with offices in Shanghai and Atlanta. The firm is renowned for innovative, responsive design solutions that are sensitive to the local culture and the context in which they exist. For more information, please visit