Friday, November 12, 2010

Shanghai - Skyscrapers, pagodas and shingles

Jin Mao Tower
Jin Mao Atrium (Grand Hyatt)
 I haven't been posting regularly for one simple reason - I've been in Shanghai, China for work.  In the past 15 years I've seen Shanghai grow into a space age modern city from a decaying city of the 30s, surrounded by farmland and run down buildings.  This city has a population of 22 million people, he largest city in the world and the growth is phenomenal.  What I love about their architecture - it draws deeply on Chinese design aesthetic.  As one of the great trading posts of the East it was a hot bed of ideas in design and architecture, both past and present.

For instance the Jin Mao Tower (above) is the headquarters for the company I work for as well as housing the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where I stay.  Shaped like a pagoda, this building is majestic yet gives a gentle nod in the direction of Chinese roof shingles.

I adore the old villas on the Puxi side of the river in the French Concession.  Such a beautiful melding of East and Western architecture and design.

Decor in a modern Shanghai apartment - note the Chinese fretwork
What I love most of all about Shanghai is driving along the tree lined streets of the old concessions and seeing all of the fantastic fretwork in gates & grills.  The designer Spencer Dodington has photographed and sketched many of these grille designs and has now designed a range of accessories for the uber chic Chinese retailer Shanghai Tang.  I wanted to highlight a few favourite patterns of mine.

Huaihai 2

This design is a somewhat large grille built into the rear door of a ground floor flat in a Shanghai 1930s apartment block which is still standing. Around 80 Art Deco buildings like these were built during the late 1920s and 1930s, as real estate prices rose in the heart of the city. They represented the height of luxury, complete with space for servants and doormen, and fitted out with the latest Art Deco furniture and appliances. The symmetry of this design, as well as its  construction including curves and straight lines, are typical of traditional Chinese window screen design. However its scale and tight curved elements are pure Art Deco. Its height and simplicity allow light to flood through the door into the interior of the flat.


This grille was found on the front entrance of a  lane house, the most common type of housing in pre-World War 2 Shanghai. Located in Shanghai’s former International Settlement just off the present-day Beijing Xi Lu, this residence would have been built for a professional-class Chinese family. The lane was constructed in 1941, and as such is one of the last examples of Concession-Era Shanghai residential architecture. In the spring of 2003 this entire lane, containing  this residence and its grille, was unfortunately raised to make way for a group of up-scale tower blocks. More than two years later this construction project has yet to begin.


The rows of lane houses that include grilles like this are located in the quietest part of Shanghai’s former French Concession. As such, they and other houses in the neighborhood have become highly desirable residences. The dwellings are typical for the 1930s: three-storey stucco terraces that owe their architecture heritage equally to European and Chinese styles. They would have originally housed Shanghai’s Chinese middle-class families. Containing both linear and curved elements of traditional Chinese window screen design, but showing a different scale because of being executed in riveted iron and not wood, this grille is typically Shanghainese of the 1930s. The symmetry of the design delights the eye, which is drawn to the centre rectangle panel that may have originally been a space for a name or house number. These houses and those of the surrounding streets are home to many of today’s Chinese power elite. Thus high-rise developments and road enlargements that have punctured much of Shanghai’s urban landscape will not likely  come to this area. It will remain a green oasis of plane trees snuggled between  busy shopping and commercial centers.

Some fabulous and really favourite examples.

Villa garden

The Bund in old Shanghai

The new Shanghai on the Pudong side of the river

Typical villa in the French concession

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