London recalling

Shanghailanders like me are used to the mix of architecture that makes up Old Shanghai. Elements of various nations were taken to create buildings in the city and seeing faux-Tudor style next to Art Deco are quite common. All of them are reminders of the past and often much better than the present rows of unimaginative apartment buildings or ugly office towers.

It’s only when coming to European capitals that one suddenly realizes how Shanghai old buildings are most often imitating the style of the home or adoptive country of the one who built them. I remember taking a suburban train to Paris, and looking at houses from the 1910’s, 1920’s that look very much like the ones in my neighborhood in Shanghai’s French concession (see post “portrait of an old neighbour“). Similarly, Mexican or Spanish revival buildings are very similar to the ones found in California (see post “”Spanish revival architecture in Shanghai” and “California Dreaming“), and German house on Xin Hua Lu are very much in the style.

I had a similar déjà vu feeling walking on Marelyborne road in London a few days ago when I ran into the Court of Westminster (center picture) and could not miss the similarities with some of the Bund’s facades, in particular the customs building. The little tower on large buildings that I so much associate with Shanghai is just typical from British architecture from this period. The building even have the same flag poll with a Union Jack floating on it. It does not take much to imagine a Union Jack floating on every tower on the Bund like it floats on the one in the picture.

Walking around the area, I went to neighboring Regent’s Park. Regent College building does also look like some of the large mansions in old Shanghai. Similarly, some of the Lilong or Shi Ku Men houses have a lot in common with terraced houses in London or with row of houses in The Netherlands. They were also designed to maximise use of limited space and they tend to have a similar design of narrow front with deep rooms piled on the top of each other inside the building.

Old Shanghailanders only reproduced the architecture they were used to in their new home. Just like large columns and small towers represented power in t19th century London, it represented power in 19th century Shanghai on the Bund. With gray sky and brick or gray stone buildings, parts of London from this period feel like parts of Shanghai to me. People of the Empire really managed to re-create the illusion of their home countries far away from home… or Shanghai has become so much a part of myself that I see it everywhere I go.

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