Imposing Art Deco buildings of The Bund, Shanghai

A tour of Art Deco Shanghai

Shanghai is a city of many layers: a glimpse into Imperial China can be found within the walls of Yu Garden; red- and grey-brick buildings from the 19th century still line the streets just behind the Bund; and mansions of many flavours remain in the western part of the former French Concession. Mandarin Oriental is in Pudong, set amongst the futuristic skyscrapers, that reflect the modern face of the city. But the faded glamour of Shanghai in the 1930s – when it was the world’s fifth largest city and Asia’s most vibrant modern metropolis – is best embodied in the buildings found on the other side of the river, that were designed in one particular style: Art Deco. Several thousand examples are believed to still stand – making Shanghai the city with the highest number of Art Deco buildings in the world. Founder of Historic Shanghai, Wm Patrick Cranley gives us a tour

Imposing Art Deco buildings of The Bund, Shanghai in the morning sunlight

Around the Bund

No trip to Shanghai is complete without a visit to the Bund, and no trip to the Bund is complete without a moment of admiration for the Bank of China building at No 23 Zhongshan East Road 1 (the modern-day, official name for the Bund). This restrained beauty is a wonderful example of Chinese Art Deco design: lattice-style windows, Chinese-style roof tiles rendered in stone, and even two stylised lions guarding the entrance. Completed in the mid 1930s and designed by a team of British and Chinese architects, it continues to function as a bank. If you can visit during opening hours, enter the main banking hall and enjoy the soaring vaulted ceiling.

Cross bustling Nanjing Road heading south and take a right on Jiujiang Road. Past the next intersection, you’ll find the former Continental Bank building at No 111. This recently renovated 1932 structure also sports some traditional Chinese motifs, but the entrance to the former Young Brothers Bank at the corner with Jiangxi Road outdoes it for Chinese inspiration.

Take a left turn onto Jiangxi Road and pass the former Trinity Church, and former Shanghai Municipal Council chambers. At the intersection with Fuzhou Road, you’ll come across a trio of Art Deco beauties, including Hamilton House (1933), where names of some of the residents who lived there at the time of the 1949 revolution are displayed in glass framed in brass.

The pale yellow geometric curved lines of the Gascogne Appartments in the former French Concession

The former French Concession

The most talented and prolific design firm active in the French Concession in the 1930s was Leonard, Veysseyre & Kruze. One of their masterworks was the Willow Court Apartments, at 34 Fuxing West Road. At twelve storeys, it was one of the city’s tallest residential buildings at the time, and a great example of middle-era Art-Deco design: symmetrical, linear and streamlined. Only a short walk away from here is the former Magy Apartments, at 24 Fuxing West Road, where Alexandre Leonard and his Russian songstress wife Anna lived in the penthouse from 1936 to 1941.

Down Huaihai Road you’ll encounter the former Empire Apartments, an enormous streamlined edifice that dominated the corner with Changshu Road (then Route Sayzoong). Carry on down the road and you’ll come to the Gascogne Apartments inside Lane 1202. Another Leonard, Veysseyre & Kruze masterpiece, it remains one of the best-loved examples of Art Deco design in Shanghai.

The front of the Majestic Theatre with the busy Bubbling Well Road in the foreground and telegraph wires overhead

Bubbling Well Road

One of old Shanghai’s most talented architects, Robert Fan (Fan Wenzhao) was educated at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture and then returned to China to create some of its most beautiful and enduring Art Deco buildings, including the marvellous 1941 Majestic Theatre at 66 Jiangning Road. A six-year renovation was completed in 2016 and the theatre shines with many original details.

The top of the yellow stone Bank of China building with it green spire and red flags

Walk north on Jiangning Road and turn left onto Fengxian Road. Soon you’ll see entrances on both sides of the street into several blocks of the Majestic Apartments at Nos 147 and 148. The lobbies and staircases are resplendent examples of Art Deco design rendered in terrazzo, iron and wood.

Continue on Jiangning Road to the junction with Shimen Road and turn right. At the corner with Nanjing West Road, you’ll find the eclectic Denis Apartments, designed by Eurasian architect Eric Cumine and completed in 1928, and at No 801 the Yates Apartments, completed in 1936 to house the staff of the Bank of China. It was designed by Hong Kong-born, British-trained architect Luke Him Sau.

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