Shanghai Art Deco

So we are in Chengdu, scheduled to leave on an 11:30 flight to Shanghai. It is cancelled, stranding our group of 21. I have a lecture in the Peace Hotel in Shanghai at 7:45 PM, so China Advocates gets me on the 3:50 PM flight and then books a later flight (which will require at least two fight/negotiations by Huo Yujia (Nancy) our tour guide) for the other 20. I arrive in Shanghai at 6:25, get my bag at 6:35 and get in the waiting car, which delivers me to the Peace Hotel at 7:25. I check into the most FABULOUS 6-room suite I have ever seen, change my clothes and run up to the 11th floor Ninth Heaven room for the lecture.

My friends Professors Yang Li and Mei Qing, whom I met in Amherst at the ICOMOS conference in May, are already there, and the organizers are amazed at my composure, but this is hardly my first time for this sort of minor adventure. In the audience is Peter Hibbard, who literally wrote the book on the Bund and knows ten thousand things more about it than I do, and gives me a signed copy of his book.

The view right outside my lecture, in what was Sir Victor Sassoon’s private suite atop the Peace Hotel.
I talked about the similarities/connections between the Bund and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, two landmark collections of buildings on one-sided streets facing parks and water, and built in basically the same materials and range of styles over a similar stretch of time, starting in the late 19th century and ending in the early 20th.

Peace Hotel, 1926-29, Bank of China, 1935-40, on the Bund
I later met with Global Heritage Fund’s Han Li and Will Shaw again, and got a chance to meet Professor Nancy Shao from Tongji University who did the excellent planning work with her students in Pingyao (see post before last). Professor Mei Qing suggested we collaborate on an article on Shanghai Art Deco which I think is a great idea, because there is TONS of it, especially in the old British and French Concessions, which are sort of preserved (unlike the American concession) and along the shopping street, Nanjing Lu.

Shanghai No. 1 Department Store
I of course was well aware of the Deco buildings on the Bund, and one of the fascinating things about Deco in Shanghai is that it continues well into the 1930s, long after the Depression has killed new construction in the States.

Bank of Communications, the Bund, 1937. Photo copyright Felicity Rich, 2006.
The more I looked around, the more Deco buildings I saw, not just along the Bund, which has more than its share of Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Classical and even Victorian buildings, but on side streets, and I recalled that on three of my trips to Shanghai I stayed in 1930s Deco hotels, Broadway Mansions just north of the Bund and Hengshan (1936) in the French Concession.

North end of the Bund – Broadway Mansions at far right
Deco buildings line the Bund, Nanjing Lu, Peoples Park and even the side streets, despite the rapid pace of redevelopment that has added HUNDREDS of buildings to the skyline on both sides of the Huangpu since I first visited seven years ago…


The challenge of course is to relate these buildings to their contemporaries and forbears in America and Europe. Just like today, international architects practiced in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s, although many specialized there, like George Leopold “Tug” Wilson, responsible for six of the nine Palmer and Turner buildings on the Bund. He practiced in Shanghai for decades, and interestingly visited America and Europe in 1931 and declared that “there is not a great deal which Shanghai today can learn from elsewhere” (Source: The Bund, Shanghai by Peter Hibbard)

Tug Wilson’s Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building, 1923

Tug Wilson’s Cathay (Peace) Hotel, 1929

Tug Wilson’s Bank of China Building, 1937, with Lu Quanshou
I am looking forward to learning more about Shanghai Art Deco and am at least a little convinced that it is one of our great Art Deco cities, along with Miami and Mumbai and Tel Aviv. Will learn more soon….

I also got to go up in the “Bottle Opener”, the tallest building in China, officially the Shanghai World Financial Center, where I took this photo in an obvious but fun attempt to emulate that famous image of Le Corbusier’s godlike hand over the Plan Voisson model.

There is a scale to China that is overwhelming. Where we build a building, as a residence or an office or a hotel, they build 20, and they are taller, denser and more multiple. Shanghai especially has leapt into the modern world in architecture. When I was first there in 2004 we toured Adrian Smith’s excellent Jin Mao tower, the tallest building in Shanghai. This time we looked down on it.

Finally a view of the Bund and its counterpart, Michigan Avenue on Grant Park:


Back home – Fourth of July. Where are my beef noodles??

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One Response to “Shanghai Art Deco”

  1. Roland Luo Says:

    Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in truth was once a amusement account it. Glance complicated to more added agreeable from you!
    Shanghai Travel Guide

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