Paris Art Deco

Art deco Building in St Germain
Art deco Building in St Germain

Just like in previous post “Home sweet home“, I used my trip in France to look at French buildings from an old Shanghai point of view. The heart of Paris was mostly built in the mid XIXth century, thanks to the design work of Baron Haussman who redesigned the French capital. Paris new design with large avenues connecting train stations organized in a network gave inspiration to design of cities all over Europe (just like Budapest where I used to live and many others). It also inspired the design of American cities like Chicago in the early XXth century as well as Moscow with its huge avenues … and finally came back to Shanghai as a model for building today’s Pudong.

normandy-2000-01

Built on a ad hoc basis and constantly changing in a bit of architectural anarchy, old Shanghai was never planned in such a way. Although it was called the Paris of the orient, the similarities of town planning only goes so far as Avenue Joffre (today Huai Hai lu), that is indeed far from its model. However, Paris continued to be built in the 1920’s and 30’s at the same time as old Shanghai, here are a few examples of similarities. The first one to catch my attention was the building left that is located near St Sulpice in Paris Rive Gauche area.

Art Deco Building in Montmartre
Art Deco Building in Montmartre

Although it is not a triangle building like the Normandy building in Shanghai (picture right), they have a lot of similarities with the usage of red brick over 2 floors of stones as buildin g materials. The fist floors are both using large arches and a balcony it circling the top floor.

Willow Cour door frame
Willow Cour door frame

The second one is this art deco building in Montmartre. It did not specifically remind me of Shanghai art deco, apart from one important detail at the bottom right of the picture… the entrance door. Its shape is peculiar as it is non rectangular shape, but with cut angles instead. This shape is special enough to be remembered and I have seen it before in Shanghai, in Willow Court on Route de Boissezon (today Fuxing Xi Lu). Small detail, but clear similarity miles away from each other.

Up river, Hankou’s foreign concessions

Hankou's custom house
Hankou's custom house

Hubei’s capital Wuhan is mostly known in today’s China to be a heavy industry base. The current city is the agglomeration of two cities on each side of the river. Wuchang on the right side is known for its revolutionary history, where the 1911 revolution started as well as center point of 1927 northern expedition to re-unite China. This is a legacy that still holds today. On the left side of the river Hankou the trade city was the location where foreigners settled in when the city was opened as a treaty port in 1862 and Hanyang a more remote part. Foreign concessions in the coastal area like Shanghai, Tientsin (today Tianjing), Amoy (today Xiamen) and Tschingtao (today Qingdao) are quite well known in and out China. Concessions and treaty ports were also established in-land, mostly on the main rivers like Hankou and canals like Suzhou.

Old picture of the Hankou Customs HouseBeing up the easily navigable part of the Yangtse river, Hankou was a major point of trade for China’s inland. Wuhan is still the most important port on the river today. The area around the customs house has been changed a bit by the enlargement of the Bund road like in Shanghai, but the buildings are still there and easily recognisable from the pictures. Just like in Shanghai, the Hankou customs house is a massive building that could be seen from far away, being probably the first point that visitors would see coming up the river, and it is still the main building of the old areas.

Hankou's Foreign concessions map
Hankou's Foreign concessions map

I used a recent business trip to Wuhan to spend a few hours in the old concession area. Unlike in Shanghai, the concession area is not (yet) in the heart of Hankou’s business district. The concessions were also much smaller than the ones in Shanghai, limited to an area near the river. I read somewhere that up to 1500 foreigners lived in the concession at the most. Just like in other locations, concessions of various countries were lined up next to each other on the Hankou Bund, with a different atmosphere in each of them. Hankou’s first concession was British, followed by Russian, French, German and Japanese. The custom house was located just off the British Concesion, as Chinese customs were delegated to foreigners at that time. Just like in Shanghai, their is a large commercial street perpendicular to the Bund with massive buildings lined along. This area has been pedestrianised and most building now host Chinese banks or brand new shops. It is quite similar to Shanghai’s Nanjing Dong Lu. The whole area is lined with Neo classical style buildings, similar to the ones on Shanghai Bund. As the British concession was seized back from China in 1927, there are only a handful of Art Deco buildings on that street as this style was only emerging in the late 1920’s and 1930’s.

Art Nouveau building in Wuhan
Art Nouveau building in Hankou
Art Nouveau facade in Hankou
River facing Art Nouveau facade

The British Concession is the most visited part of old Hankou, but there are some other very nice parts next to it. The old Russian and French concessions have quite a similar atmosphere to Shanghai small streets of the French Concession, with pane trees shading the strong Hubei sun. Building there are not in great shape, but work in restoration would bring them back to their original glory. The most surprising for me was to find a Central European Art Nouveau style (also called secession) building in Hankou. Having lived many years in Central and Eastern Europe, I have seen many of those in Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Riga and so forth. Surprisingly, I never saw one in Shanghai as I think this was a mainly  European Style that was never popular in Asia as it was quickly supplanted by Art Deco. This was really a nice surprise to discover the building of the Daosheng bank, built in 1927 in Hankou, China.

London of the East

High Street Kensington, London
High Street Kensington, London

Old Shanghai was often called “Paris of the orient” or “Paris of the East”. I have read or heard the later used for several cities inspired by the French capital including Budapest (with its Andrassy ut looking like Champs Elysees), Bucharest (because of boulevards and buildings French inspired), Saigon and Hanoi (with obvious French architecture) along with Shanghai. Wellknown characteristics  of old Shanghai people, in particular their high interest in fashion, dresses as well and cafes and restaurants have been well documented and clearly have links with Paris lifestyle in the same period. It is still true of today’s Shanghai as the particular city’s culture re-emerge after so many years.

Some houses in the old French Concession are the very same style as some of the Paris suburbs build in the 1920’s. That is very understandable since they were build by French architects. Parts of Huaihai lu used to look like a Paris boulevard, although most of it has been destroyed since. The French Concession’s atmosphere with its streets lined with trees, shops and cafes maybe had a similar atmosphere to Paris but in terms of architecture most of Old Shanghai looks much closer to London.

I already wrote about the Court of Westminster on Maryleborne Road (Click here to read post “London recalling”) that definitely looks like building’s on the Shanghai Bund. In my last trip to London, I stayed in a different part of the city, next to High Street Kensington. The mix of building in this area and in particular above High Street Kensington’s tube station is for me  very similar to the streets of Shanghai just behind the Bund, in particular JiangXi Lu.  It obviously starts with Queen Anne style building’s that were fashionable in the late XIXth Century and the early 1900 years. There are many of those in the Kensington area, and there were many in Shanghai as well. They were mostly the work of Atkinson & Dallas, a British architecture firm very active in the early year of Shanghai construction boom.

Queen Anne Style building in London
Queen Anne Style building in London
Queen Anne Style Building in Shanghai
Queen Anne Style Building in Shanghai
Art Deco Ornament in Shanghai
Art Deco Ornament in Shanghai
Art Deco ornament in London
Art Deco ornament in London

Similarities do not stop there, as both cities added Art Deco buildings in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. The inspiration was clearly the same, as the decorations on the buildings are strikingly similar. The same iron works in the windows and doors were used. Symbols used also had similar mythical inspiration.What is probably unique of Shanghai and this area of London is the mix of both in the same area and a similar spatial arrangement. In architecture, many Shanghai buildings are a reminder of the London ones… or maybe I love Shanghai so much that I see it everywhere.

The revival of Gulangyu

Gulangyu beach
Gulanyu beach in the fog

Our third trip to the Gulangyu Island near Xiamen is making it a bit of a yearly pilgrimage.  Xiamen is about 800 km south from Shanghai and the 1 hour flight is enough to transport from Shanghai winter to Xiamen spring. Just like Shanghai,  Xiamen was one of the treaty port open by the Treaty of Nanjing from 1842. Although it did not turn into a metropolis, it became an important trade city. A number of old buildings are still visible on the shore front, including the “Lujian Harbour View Hotel”. As our taxi driver proudly pointed out, “these buildings are as old as the ones on the Bund in Shanghai”. Like in Shanghai, they are being rediscovered and transformed into tourist attractions.

We have walked the streets of GuLanYu many times before, but this year’s visit was a little bit of a surprise. Since the closure of our beloved Night Lilly guest house in 2006, accommodation on the island was quite limited. Choice was basically between a few state owned hotels (with the delights of the Karaokes and low quality Chinese breakfast) and small chinese hostels that can be really friendly, but not that comfortable like the Boat House hotel where we stayed last year (www.boathouse48.com).

Leeming hotel
Leeinn hotel at night

We were really excited to find out that a real private hotel had opened on the island. Leeing hotel (www.leeinn.cn) is located in an old mansion on 38 Zhangzhou lu.  The building has been renovated, meaning that only the walls were kept and all orginal fixtures have been removed. The interior is very modern with design bathrooms and LCD TV screens in each room. Like in many Chinese hotels, the beds are hard and the noise insulation is not the greatest point but it makes a comfortable stay. The hotel also has a coffee bar and restaurant, great place to sit and relax with a bottle of wine. It is located in side street of Zong Hua lu, the main walk through the island, making it quite but of short distance to many of the interesting places to visit like the Catholic church, the Huai Jiu Gulangyu museum (www.hjgly.com/index.sap), High Heaven complex and the beach.

Glass window in Gulanyu
Glass window in Gulanyu

The other interesting place we discovered was the Reminiscence hotel, behind the Huai Jiu Gulangyu Museum on 38 Huangyan lu (tel: 0592-2065000). It is probably less comfortable and modern than the Leeinn, but all furniture are antics and the renovation has left most of the inside fixtures in place creating a really nice atmosphere. This is a great place for history lovers like us and we will surely try it next year.

The most visible change from last year was the opening of many coffee shops on the island. Until last year, the only places to get descent coffee on a terrace after walking around the island was Naya hotel and Cafe, in the former German consulate (12 Lujiao Road, near the harbor), and slowly Cafe (An Hai lu 36). Coffee shops have sprung up around the island, particularly around Zhong Hua lu. Gulanyu is quickly transforming into a new version of Yangshuo or LiJiang with backpackers hotels and small “western restaurants” everywhere. Quite a number of houses are under renovation, showing that more of these places will open soon. Tourists were also in a much higher number than the year. The quite little island is transforming to become a mass tourism destination. It definitely makes a stay there more comfortable… but a little less private and exclusive. It’s probably best to enjoy it soon before the nice and quiet feeling disappears under the coming wave of KTV and tourist masses.

For more pictures about Gulangyu, click here.

Plaza 353 ruinovation

Plaza 363 outsideWatching the renovation of the “Dong Hai building” on Nanjing Dong Lu was a mixed joy and disappointment… just like the final result. The Continental department store building from 1933 is a fine piece of Shanghai architecture. Although not as extravagant as other Shanghai building from this period, it had an interesting “zig zag” façade representative of the geometrical motives used in Art Deco.
Seeing this building surrounded by scaffoldings was scary as always in Shanghai. One is never sure whether the next step will be destruction or renovation. The prime location on Nanjing Lu and previous demolition of neighboring buildings did not give much hope … but it survived. The facades have been well preserved, even if the ground floor is just not the same as it was before. At least, it keeps a consistent look with the building’s style and keeps the atmosphere around this part of Nanjing Lu… the less nice part of the story is the inside.
Plaza 363 insideThe building had an inside courtyard that has been covered to create indoor space inside. I have seen this feature many times in Central and Eastern Europe and it’s a great way to develop such a construction. Having seen many early 20th century buildings being carefully restored and transformed into office buildings or high class shopping malls… I was expecting more. As in most “ruinovation” in Shanghai, nothing remains from the original interior. Some (like Central Plaza on Huai Hai Lu) managed to keep use the original volume, giving a special feeling to their store… but this was not the aim of the developer of Plaza 353. The inside looks and feels like a cheap copy of CITIC Square and could be just in any concrete building in any suburb of Shanghai… not a high class shopping center on the busiest shopping street of Shanghai. Best advice for old Shanghai lovers… enjoy it from the outside but don’t get inside. At least the facades were preserved, that is already not so bad.

Dancing in the bank

The Bund was the center of business in Old Shanghai. Major banks and companies had their headquarters on the riverside or in the streets behind. A number of these buildings are finally being renovated in turned once again into greatness, though mostly into fancy bars and restaurants. One of the most popular one is Bund 18, open in late 2004, the old building of the “Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China”. Renovation of this old lady was run by Italian experts in old building renovation. Thanks to their work, this dilapidated piece of art has been turned into a luxury shopping mall and an entertainment complex. Bar Rouge on the 7th Floor opened in late 2004 along with restaurant Sens & Bund. Bar Rouge was the undisputed star of Shanghai nightlife (see my post “Decadence on the Bund“) and has been joined by Lounge 18 (4th floor) in late 2007.

Bar Rouge is all about modern design, using very little of the original building’s features, apart from the incredible terrace with the fantastic view on the Pudong. Lounge 18’s decor really uses the building much more, as the 4th Floor was originally dedicated to be an art gallery. The careful restoration of the windows, ceiling and interior adds a lot to the atmosphere, giving real feeling of history in the building. The most breathtaking part certainly is the staircase seen by most people on their way to the bars.

The original owner, the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China was founded in 1853 in London, following the grant of a royal charter from Queen Victoria. The Shanghai branch opened in 1858. It developed in the city, financing trade between India, China and other parts the British Empire. Business must have been good, as the bank built its headquarter on the Bund in 1923. The building was remarkable, competing in style with others along the river… but at the end of the day, it was a bank. In here, like in any bank, people would come in to deposit and take out money, collect their salaries and make investment. Exactly like in today’s Bank of China, people would have a little booklet listing all operations executed on the account. I happened to find one of these booklets from 1940 (picture up and left). The last operation is from September 1941, as probably the client left Shanghai then. Everything was handwritten at the time and very well kept. The Chartered Bank merged with the Standard Bank in 1969 to become “Standard Chartered bank”. After leaving the country in the 1950’s, it has come back many years later as one of the main foreign banks now operating in China. Bund 18 is not a bank anymore, but I think about the booklet every time I go there and the building still is one of the jewel of the Bund.

Last serving on Wujiang Lu

Wujiang lu is one of the most popular and peculiar streets of Shanghai. It’s a restaurant street. My office moved on this street about 4 years ago, before it was actually pedestrianized. Their was not many cars crossing, but every now and then a Shanghai driver would force his way through the crowd. The street was blocked for cars last year, and is full every night with people eating small snacks on sale in the many shops.
When we moved in the tower (in the background of picture left below), the owner of the office proudly told me “All these horrible old buildings will be destroyed in 3 months and they will create a nice park instead”. It was so true that although the building is physically on WuJiang Lu, there is also a postal address on Nanjing Xi Lu… for the time when these buildings will not exist anymore. This was more than 4 years ago and the buildings still stand although the neighborhood has already been destroyed (Click here to see post “Another one bites the dust“). Unfortunately, this is all about to change.

Restaurants are still serving, but shops on the Shi Men Yi Lu side of the blockare already closed down and walled up. Soon will come the last serving on Wu Jiang Lu. The city will loose one it noisiest but also most popular street. This part of Shanghai will become more shiny, more modern and more sterile. Like in other areas, the renovation is a great excuse to destroy very nice old buildings that could be renovated. It surely will make much more money for the developers, but will also greatly alter the landscape of this part of Shanghai.

The block separating Wujiang lu from Nanjing Xi lu is one single building. Like many of the old Shanghai, it is a combination of several styles (art deco mixed with beaux-arts and neoclassical columns). Still there is something really nice about the round shape espousing the street corners (see pictures below). To judge form the construction details and location, this was once a luxury apartments and high class shops building. Renovation could have made a great small boutique shopping center out of it, keeping the corner’s historical view while creating high street shopping… just like this was done on Huai Hai lu. Unfortunately, this is not what will happen and soon this building will be gone.  I particularly like the balconies, the columns, the shape of the building and the white shape repeating itself all along the facade. They are detailed on the pictures below. Adieu little building on the corner of Bubbling well road and Yates road.

Brooklyn Court, Routes des Soeurs

People often ask me why I am so fascinated by old Shanghai. The answer is very simple, there is a sense of mystery about it, of uncovering a past that was long lost. In my (nearly five) years in Shanghai, a lot has been re-discovered and documented… but there is always something more to find.

ARCO logo on the wall
ARCO logo on the wall

Walking on the Ruijin lu 1, we passed an old building near the corner of Huai Hai Lu one spring evening. The buildings on the East side looks old and tarnished, particularly compared to the newly renovated Estrella Apartment, designed by Laszlo Hudec, on the opposite corner. We were looking at an old door in what was probably its grand entrance, when we noticed the sculpture on the wall (picture left). After some research, it became clear that the “ARCO” sign stands for “Asia Realty Company”. This American company was the largest property owner in Shanghai and had a large office building near the Bund. Like many others, the building has suffered a lot from the lack of maintenance, various episodes of Chinese history and the add-hoc transformation by residents. Despite all this, the sign of the original owner still stands in its place.

Street facade of Brooklyn Court
Street facade of Brooklyn Court

The facade on RuiJin Lu has seen better days, but would surely look great after some renovation. The bottom floor of the building is occupied with shops, as probably in the original design. Real-estate in this part of town was surely not cheap when this was built, and has become again very expensive. The building has three entrances, a central one large enough for cars to go through and two smaller one for access to other apartments. The main entrance of Brooklyn court leads to a back yard, passing by entrances to the apartments above and a cross shaped light well (picture down). The left entrance is occupied by a temporary socks shop. The ARCO sign is located right above the shop’s display on both sides. The shopkeeper was really surprised that I wanted to take a picture of this “thing on the wall” that she probably never noticed before.

Light well in Brooklyn Court
Light well in Brooklyn Court

In my old Shanghai documents collection, there is a rental contract for an apartment in building in what I thought was on Rui Jin Lu. The address of the property was “143H Rue des Soeurs”, which is quite different from the 243-245 Rui Jin Lu, where the ARCO building is. However, from an old map of the French concession, it shows that this particular section of Rui Jin Lu (from Avenue Joffre / Huai Hai Lu to Avenue Foch / Yanan Lu) was called Rue des Soeurs… the 143 Rue des Soeurs is this particular building. “Brooklyn Court” was clearly an upper class residence. This part of Avenue Joffre was an upscale area, with proximity to the “Cercle Sportif Francais”, The Cathay apartments, the Lyceum Theater, the French Park (now Fuxing Park) as well as the French municipality. This old piece of paper that I bought 2 years ago turns out to be a rental contract for an apartment in this particular building. Too bad it’s not valid anymore… Sounds like a great place to live.