Shanghai is our home and the birthplace of ArchiXpress and as such it’s important for us to better understand some of the architectural gems which can be found in this historic city.
Much of Shanghai’s Art Deco buildings were constructed in the early 1930s and following years of restoration many of them are in fine condition ninety years on.
First, we will take a look at a personal favorite, Wukang Mansion. This is one of several buildings in the city designed by famous Hungarian-Slovak architect László Hudec opened in 1924. It is maybe more French Renaissance than art-deco but its popularity and similarities to New York’s Flatiron Building warrants its inclusion.
It’s 30 metres tall and originally contained 63 apartments with servants’ quarters. Over time it has remained popular with celebrities and the streets opposite are full of tourists vining for the best shots of the building.
Many of Shanghai’s finest examples of Art Deco are in the form of theatres and cinemas and the Grand Theatre is no exception occupying prime position on Nanjing Road on People’s Square. It’s also another example of the work of László Hudec and screens opened in 1933. Features of the cinema when it opened included translation at your seat, Italian marble and six screens.
The auditorium is shaped like a bell and can seat 2,000 people over two floors which was the largest cinema in China when it was opened. Lighted fountains, stylish staircases filled the interior with elegance while the exterior facade was embellished with lines and vivid colors. A renovation in 2009 restored the original architecture, added a roof garden and restaurant and made the building one of the centre pieces of People's Square once again.
Broadway Mansions is on a much larger scale than the previous buildings and sits alongside the Suzhou Creek near the Huangpu river in downtown Shanghai. Reaching 19 floors and 78 metres it dominated the skyline when it opened in 1935. The building was occupied by the Japanese during WWII and later used by the US military and then occupied by government offices until the 1970s. The hotel is a steel-framed red brick building constructed in a stepped mode. Gems include the roof top garden and views over the whole of the city centre.
The Paramount is another entertainment centre in Art Deco style. It opened in 1933 and was designed by a local architect, Yang Xiliu, and has been used as a ballroom during its early and recent history. Between 1949 and 2001 it operated as a cinema commonly showing propaganda movies. Following the collapse of part of the façade in the 1990s it was extensively renovated and in 2017 reopened as a ballroom and nightclub once more.
The Peace Hotel
The Peace Hotel was built by Sir Victor Sassoon and consists of two buildings on either side of Nanjing Road on the Bund, a district famed for its colonial era grand buildings. The north is ten stories high with the north building being 83 meters while the south building is six stories and 30 meters tall with a more Renaissance style. The Art Deco scheme is consistently followed through both the interior and exterior designs and décor. Following 1949 it was used as a municipal building before becoming a hotel once again in 1956.
Surprisingly, one of Shanghai's prime examples of Art Deco was originally supposed to be designed as a neo-classical high-rise but a trip to Paris by architect G.L. Wilson resulted in a change of ideas combining Commercial Gothic and Art Deco and producing today's Bund masterpiece.
The interior features a lobby dominated by a domed rotunda with elegant stained glass, metal lamps and a plethora of Art Deco carvings. The hotel's dining rooms featured Lalique chandeliers and much of the original features have been masterfully restored following a three-year renovation in 2010.
Park Hotel (on the left) is a colossal sitting to the north of People’s Square and is yet another building designed by László Hudec. This 24 floor hotel, 83.8 meter tall building, was the tallest building in Asia from its opening in 1934 to 1963 (tallest in Shanghai until 1983). It clearly resembles the American Radiator Building in New York. It originally overlooked Shanghai Race Club. The lower three floors are finished by polished granite while the upper floors have been clad with brown brick and ceramic tiles. Most of the original design remains although some elements were removed in the 1950s because of their bourgeois style only to be restored in later years.
This is often described as Hudec's most famous work and the design was largely inspired by Hudec's visit to Chicago and New York a year before construction began. The hotel sits on reinforced concrete with a base of 400 huge piles of Oregon pine to ensure it is stable on the bed of soil and mud which makes up much of this part of Shanghai. The stunning facade consists of stylish vertical lines which shrink as they rise and the climbing, staircase-like structure above the 15th floor guarantees the building's elegance when surrounded by so many other larger skyscrapers.
Dating to 1932, this masterpiece sits on the busy Huaihai road in central Shanghai and has been showing films since it first opened in its 1000-seat screen. It was designed by Czech artitect, C.H. Gonda. The interior lacks the beauty which is seen from outside as the cinema was divided into three screens in the 1990s and most original features were removed.
Changde Apartment is a baby (only eight stories) compared with some of the hotels and entertainment venues mentioned but its juxtapositioning right among skyscrapers makes it stand out. It’s another building of the 1930s. The salmon pink walls include brown lines and the east side features long ribbon-shaped balconies. It’s a popular attraction today for its architecture and its history of having been the home to celebrities.
Hengshan Picardie Hotel
The Hengshan Picardie Hotel is another Art Deco construction which overlooks a park, this time Xujiahui park, in Xuhui district. It was constructed in 1934 and lines the main avenue which swept through the Former French Concession, avenue Pétain (today, Hengshan road).
Our final example of Shanghai Art Deco for now is Robert Fan’s Majestic Theatre which has not been spoiled by the proliferation of skyscrapers on all sides of it. Robert Fan (Fan Wenzhao) learnt his trade in the US before returning to China and building a number of buildings in Beaux-Arts, Modernist and Art Deco styles. This theatre opened later than many of the other buildings on this style in Shanghai in 1941 with a capacity of 1640. It’s a fine example of parallel lines and sweeping curves both inside and out. It has consistently been used as a theatre or cinema since its opening and was recently restored.
The theatre is a clear example of late-Art Deco architecture and the rigid lines which were a constant with the early period have become more curved. The recent renovation restored many of the original features, tidied up the facade, removed ageing paint and coverings of windows while adding much-needed modern features such as air conditioning and state-of-the-art sound systems.
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