One name stands out ahead of all the famous, foreign architects who have made an impression on the skyline of Shanghai, László Hudec.

László Hudec at work in his Shanghai office - László Hudec's Shanghai

About the man

First arriving in Shanghai in 1918, László Hudec was born in Austria-Hungary and opened an architecture company in the city in 1925. Early works included Wukang Mansion (Normandie Apartments) and the American Club. Later work included designs featuring Gothic revival while his most famous buildings were firmly Art Deco such as the Grand Theatre.

His most prestigious building is often considered to be the Park Hotel which overlooks today's People's Square and is an early copy of American skyscrapers of the time with a height of 83 metres.

Today, 25 of the buildings he was responsible for have been listed as Shanghai Excellent Historical Buildings and the Park Hotel is recognized as part of China's national heritage. The range of projects included hotels, hospitals, churches, cinemas and private residences. Styles employed consist of modernism, Art Deco, expressionsim and classicism.

Park Hotel

The stunning Park Hotel rises to 22 stories and was originally designed for the Joint Savings Society. The height is 83.8 metres and the hotel was the tallest building in East Asia when it opened in 1930. When built, the hotel overlooked Shanghai's central race course which is now People's Square and People's Park.

Inspiration for the Park Hotel came from recent hotels in Chicago and New York which were seen by Hudec during his trip to the United States. One particular local challenge was building such a large building in Shanghai's soft muddy ground and sand. Reinforced concrete and huge piles of Oregon pine are what kept the building from sinking.

The facade stands out for its vertical stripes which shrink in size the further up the building they reach which is very typical of Art Deco architecture. Most material used in construction was sourced from China including the black polished granite on the facade which originated in Shandong province and the dark brown Taishan tiles. Since opening, the hotel has been recognized as one of Shanghai's premier residences, is preserved as a national heritage building and presently a four-star hotel belonging to Jinjiang Group.

Park Hotel, People's Square, Shanghai - László Hudec's Shanghai
Moore Memorial Church, People's Square, Shanghai - László Hudec's Shanghai
Inside Moore Memorial Church, People's Square, Shanghai - László Hudec's Shanghai

Moore Memorial Church

This church was designed in 1929 to replace a church of the same name on the same site whose congregation had grown too big for the small space. The church is divided into five parts: the main auditorium which can seat 1,200 people and large rooms for entertainment, education, society and church management. 

Gothic vaulted ceilings blend with stone ribbings and pointed arch windows with stained glass ensure a solemn atmosphere. The church's facade is partially Collegiate Gothic with some Romanesque features. Reddish-Scarlett bricks in a variety of textures adorn the exterior and a 42 metre bell tower with its 5 metre cross ensures that the building stands out even in the modern era where it's surrounded by skyscrapers on three sides.

Following 1949, the church was repurposed as a school but since the late 1970s it has hosted religious services once again.

China Baptist Publication Society, Shanghai - László Hudec's Shanghai

China Baptist Publication Society

A prominent example of Art Deco and Expressionism combined - and also a base for Hudec's company at one point. This pair of buildings is found on Yuanmingyuan Road and housed the influential publishing company which was one of the first companies to introduce Chinese society to the works of Karl Marx.

The buildings are designed in Art Deco style with typical dark tiles on all facades, frequent horizontal lines and a structure which is setback somewhat. The design is quite typical of American and Shanghainese skyscrapers of the period. The facade features shaped lines rolled on the parapets. The simplified arches are typical of German expressionism architecture. The building has had many uses over the years and suffered from some years of neglect but is today being used to house offices.

The American Club, Shanghai in American-Georgian Colonial style - László Hudec's Shanghai

American Club

The American Club was originally intended for male expats in the city when it opened in 1924 and was one of the most well known expatriate clubs in the city. The building covers 916 square metres and seven floors and was made from a steel and concrete structure. The style here is mostly American-Georgian colonial architecture which was in vogue in the United States and elsewhere during the 1920s.

When opened it was beyond its time with all mod-cons including a Turkish bath, bowling rooms, card rooms, bars, a gym and a huge banquet room on the sixth floor. The roof garden overlooked the nearby Huangpu river and two elevators were included from day one.

The symmetrical facade features three main sections and the entrance consisted of a large porch and white marble. French windows and solid iron railings are a feature on the second floor and the top floor has double-pilaster arched windows. Brown facing tiles sourced from the USA cover the external walls. Inside was mostly dark wood and floors of beige marble or oak wood.

After 1949, the building housed local government and legal offices but has been largely vacant in recent years.

The American Club, Shanghai in American-Georgian Colonial style - László Hudec's Shanghai
Grand Theater / Grand Cinema, People's Square, Shanghai - László Hudec's Shanghai

grand Cinema

This lively building was considered to be one of Hudec's most difficult projects because the design brief required building a large, stylish cinema in a small, unusually-shaped space. The Grand Theatre (also known as Grand Cinema to avoid confusion with a nearby modern building) opened in 1933 and screened popular Hollywood films and was the first cinema in the world to offer simultaneous translation in the form of a technology called Earphone.

The space is narrow and mostly-triangular and contains (originally) a cinema, dance hall, cafe and billiard rooms. The main auditorium is shaped like a bell and could seat up to 2000 viewers which was a record at the time. Elegant fountains, air conditioning, cove lighting and grand staircases ensured that the cinema had a fine reputation from the day it opened.

It is considered to be a typical Art Deco building with a facade which shows off vertical and horizontal lines and vivid colors. Recent renovations have largely restored original features while also adding a roof garden and smaller cinema screens.

Wukang Mansion

Today, Wukang Mansion (also known as Normandie Apartments) is the most visited work of Hudec with large numbers of tourists in front of the building day and night taking photos. The apartments within are said to be Shanghai's earliest Veranda-style residences. The triangle-lot ensures that all angles offer impressive views of the building which is situated at an intersection with five roads leading off it. There are eight floors and the resemblance to the Flat Iron building in New York is well noted.

The ground floor features shops and cafes with an open arcade along the busiest road. The apartments above include one to four bedroom spaces with 63 apartments originally and rooms for 30 servants. The style of this masterpiece is French Renaissance and the exterior elevation is clearly divided into three distinct parts. Red bricks cover the exterior of most of the building while white artificial stone is the basis of the lower floors. The top floor has a similar facade to the lower floors.

The building has had a turbulent history as it was once a location for people choosing to commit suicide because of its height. Today, apartments inside sell for many million RMB and the structure is listed as one of Shanghai's Excellent Historical Buildings for Preservation.

Wukang Mansion / Normandie Apartments, Xuhui District, Shanghai - László Hudec's Shanghai