Shanghai's Art deco architecture

Posted on April 10, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 2 comment(s)

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Cathay Theatre/cinema (1932)


Even though highrises have been built over the past two decades in this mega city, Shanghai is still full of fascinating historical architecture notably art deco ones. The Bund is probably the best place to appreciate its glorious past... when I visited Shanghai 12 years ago, I asked my friend to take me to the famous Art Deco style Peace Hotel ( now renamed as Fairmont Peace Hotel) one evening but I was disappointed with its rather shabby and dated interior. On this trip, I paid the hotel another visit after its 3-year renovation by a joint effort between the Fairmont group, Jin Jiang International Group and design and architectural team Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) and Allied Architects International. And I was very glad to see that the hotel has been restored to its former glory (see below), it is absolutely stunning and should not to be missed.

The North Building was formerly known as the Sassoon House, it was designed by P & T Architects Limited (Palmer and Turner) and commissioned by Sir Victor Sassoon, an Anglo-Jewish tycoon. The 10-storey building was completed in 1929, and six of its floors used to house Cathay Hotel, which was known as the "Number One mansion in the Far East" before the Communist government took over in 1949. The hotel reopened as Peace hotel in 1956, and it is especially renowned for its legendary Old Jazz Band.

The Peninsula hotel nearby also has an art deco flavour to it, though it is a brand new building that was only built in 2009. Another interesting building is no.27, The House of Roosevelt, formerly the Jardine Matheson Building, which was designed by Stewardson & Spence and completed in 1922. Now the building houses the Rolex Flagship Store, the largest wine cellar in China, two restaurants, a rooftop bar and a private club.


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Top, 2nd & 3rd row left: Fairmont Peace Hotel (1929); 3rd row right & bottom row left: The House of Roosevelt (1922); Bottom row middle & right: Peninsula Hotel (2009)


One of the most famous architects of the 1930s in Shanghai was the Austro-Hungarian, László Hudec (1893-1958) who built over 100 buildings spanning 29 years (1918-1947). Two of his famous art deco work can still be seen on West Nanjing Lu: The Grand Theatre (1931-1933, now The Grand cinema) and the Park hotel (1931-1934), which reminds me very much of the highrise in New York built around the same period (see below). In fact, this 22-storey hotel was once the tallest building in Asia from 1934 to1958. The building next to it is the former YMCA building (1928), which has an interesting facade and was renovated in 2009 and turned into Sports Club hotel.

In the nearby People's Park, there is also another art deco style building, the former Shanghai Art Museum which has moved from this site at the end of 2012. Constructed in 1933, the building was used as the former clubhouse of the Shanghai Race Club and has a prominent clock tower (see below) which houses a restaurant/bar, Kathleen's 5.


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Top row left: Grand theatre by László Hudec (1933); 2nd & 3rd row left: The Paramount Theatre (1932); 3rd row middle: Park Hotel by László Hudec (1934); 3rd row & bottom row right: the former Shanghai art museum; bottom row left: Shanghai Sports club hotel /former foreign YMCA building (1928)


In the former French Concession, there are two beautiful art deco entertainment buildings, Cathay cinema (870 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Maoming Lu) and The Paramont. The Cathay opened in 1932 and was designed by Czech architect C.H. Gonda and it was the largest theatre in its day with 978 seats. The Paramont (218 Yuyuan Road, near Wanhangdu Lu) was designed by architect S. J. Young and was completed in 1933. This was the largest and most notorious ballroom in Shanghai before it was taken over by the Communists army in 1949. The ballroom was rescued from demolition by a Taiwanese businessman in 2001 and was renovated and reopened as a music and dance venue.

Nearby there is another well-known art deco building, Changde apartment, also known as the Eddington House (195 Changde Rd). The building was built in 1936 and it is especially known for its former famous resident, Eileen Chang, a Shanghainese female writer ( her work includes "Lust, Caution") who lived here for many years. There is even a cafe, L's Book Café Wine that sells books by Chang and some on the history of Shanghai in a nostalgic setting.


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Changde Apartments (1936) on Changde Lu & L's Book cafe wine interior


Art deco elements can also be seen at the restored Ferguson Lane (376 Wukang Rd) and at houses/ buildings nearby. The area is full of art deco gems that is best appreciated on foot.


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Top left: Ferguson Lane; the rest: houses in the former French Concession


In the northeast Hongkou area, the art deco style 1933 Shanghai (10 Shajing Rd, near Wusong Rd) is a must for all architecture lovers (see my earlier post here). The historical area used to be home to many Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 40s, and now it still has many historical sights and interesting architecture including the Shikumen-style buildings that are disappearing quickly in recent years.

Shanghai is often regarded as the Art deco capital of the east, but like many Asian cities, historical buildings are under threat by property developers, I can only wish that the government and locals will help to protect these beautiful buildings from the past.


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Main: a building in Hongkou; 2nd row left & right: 1933 Shanghai


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Shanghai, Modernist & Art Deco and was tagged with Colonial architecture, Shanghai, art deco architecture

2 Responses to Shanghai's Art deco architecture

  • Jim Hix says:

    I am looking for information on a Spanish architect named Santiago LLado. Lived in Shanghai 1920-1949, then after leaving China in 1949, went to Japan for a short time before ending up in Australia supposably worked on 1956 Melbourne Olympic Village. He died in Australia 1967(?).

    Any information would be appreciated.


    Posted on March 1, 2015 at 7:40 pm

  • Hi Jim, unfortunately, I don't know where you can find info on this architect. I believe that a lot of information was lost due to war and the Cultural revolution. Perhaps you will need to contact historians on Shanghai to find out more.

    Posted on March 1, 2015 at 10:27 pm