Shanghai was a booming city between the 1920’s-1930’s and along came with it a ‘golden decade’ of architectural builds and urban development. One of the most influential people of this time was a Hungarian-Slovak architect named László Hudec, who arrived in Shanghai in 1918 after fleeing his home country during World War I.
Throughout his 29-year stay in Shanghai, Hudec worked on over 100 buildings, with The Park Hotel being one of his most iconic - a landmark structure both back in the day and in today’s times – and has been given National Heritage status. Many of his other works, 25 in fact, have also earned their prestige as ‘Shanghai Excellent Historical Buildings’.
Perhaps what is most interesting about Hudec is that he joined the army, was then captured by the Russians, sent to a prison camp in Siberia and whilst in transition, jumped from a moving train to escape, crossed the border into China and then onto the “Paris of the East” that is Shanghai with nothing but an injured leg. Despite this however, Hudec was able to build a new life for himself, eventually setting up his own practice in 1925 and becoming a world-renowned architect, who to this day is still referred to frequently across various forums. In 2010, a documentary named ‘The Man Who Changed Shanghai’ chronicling Hudec’s life was shown in none other than his own creation - the Grand Theatre.
Here’s a look at some of his key works - the uses and styles of which vary considerably.
1. Lafayette Cinema – 323 Middle Fuxing Road
Perhaps not one of his more well-known works, the former Lafayette cinema designed by Hudec is the inspiration behind KTGA’s Vintage Winter Fest, taking place between 12-14 December. It opened to the public in 1933 and is now known as the Lafayette Art & Design Centre, a space for holding events and exhibitions.
Although its intended use was as a cinema, it also became a popular choice to hold conferences and conventions, such as the Youth Day gathering on 4th May 1946 which drew in thousands of people from across Shanghai and also the convention which marked the tenth anniversary of LuXun’s death, the greatest figure in Chinese literature in the 20th Century.
FACT: Did you know Middle Fuxing Road was once called Route Lafayette?
2. Park Hotel – 170 West Nanjing Road
One of Hudec’s most renowned architectural works is the Park Hotel, where it was once the tallest building in the Far East. It has been officially named as the Zero Centre Point of Shanghai by The Shanghai Bureau of Land Administration following a complete survey of the city’s coordinates in 1950. It uses the hotel’s central flagpole which flies on top of the building as the marker point.
Here is Hudec’s notorious Park Hotel in all its glory, which dominated Shanghai’s skyline for almost half a century.
FACT: Did you know the Park Hotel was originally named the ‘Burkill Building’ and its original use was intended as apartments?
3. Grand Theatre - 216 West Nanjing Road
Just a stone’s throw away from the Park Hotel is another of Hudec’s iconic works – the Grand Theatre. This building was probably one of his more challenging, if not difficult, works of his time down to the oddly shaped space within the cinema – long, narrow and asymmetrical. This Art Deco building, when completed in June of 1933, was considered at the time to be the largest cinema in the Far East, seating around 2,000 people.
FACT: Did you know West Nanjing Road used to be called Bubbling Well Road?
4. Moore Memorial Church – 316 Middle Xizang Road
Also known as the Mu-En Church, this is the largest Congregation of Southern Methodist Church in China and at one point, had more followers than it could possibly accommodate for. Work began on a bigger church in 1929 on the grounds of what used to be the McTyeire School for Girls.
FACT: Did you know the church was renamed to The Moore Memorial Church following a generous donation from Mr. J. M. Moore in memory of his daughter?
5. Zhejiang Cinema – 123 Middle Zhejiang Road
This opened up in 1929 as the Chekiang Theatre and is one of Hudec’s lesser-known works. The red brick building stands out against its neighbours of traditional Shikumen buildings and is in a little need of modernization. Today, it attracts an audience of mainly senior citizens.
FACT: Did you know that the Zhejiang Cinema was part of plans to be demolished in order to build a new, modern, cultural square in 2012 but was widely objected by local residents
6. American Club - 209 Fuzhou Road
One of Hudec’s earlier masterpieces, the American Club was completed in 1924 and was one of three prestigious clubs for expatriates living in Shanghai – the other two being the Shanghai Club and the French Club. Hudec designed this building (which is currently redundant) in an American-Georgian style, a design that was hugely popular with U.S. clubs at the time. The former ‘Slam Club’, as well as boasting fifty bedrooms, a roof garden and a banquet room, also featured advanced facilities (at the time), such as pool tables, a bowling green and of course, not forgetting, a Turkish bath! How luxurious for the 1920’s/1930’s gentleman!
FACT: Although it was a male members-only club, it held once-yearly ‘Ladies Night’ to be sampled by the ladies of Shanghai.
7. Union Building of the Joint Savings Society – 261 Middle Sichuan Road
This grand building takes on a British Georgian style and although it is simple in design, the contrast of Hudec’s use of white marble with dark brown bricks makes it a stunning, if not striking, piece of architecture. In Hudec’s quest to find the right balance between materials and colours and architectural design, he spent many sleepless nights trying to perfect this building. However, they were not spent in vain, as the “Far Eastern Review” newspaper claimed it to be “one of the most unique buildings in the business section of the town” (Shanghai Hudec Architecture).
FACT: Did you know The Joint Savings Society was a joint venture between four of China’s biggest banks – the South Seas, Continental, Yien Yieh and the Kincheng?
8. Normandie Apartments – 1836 -1858 Middle Huaihai Road
The former Wukang Building (also known as the I.S.S Apartments) is an 8-story building that was completed in 1924. The triangular, iron-shaped structure sadly became known as “The Diving Board” as many people committed suicide by jumping the building, being one of only a handful of high rises in Shanghai at the time.
FACT: The famous actress Shangguan Yunzhu jumped to her death in 1968 from her 7th floor apartment..
9. & 10. Christian Literature Society Building – 128 Huqiu Road & China Baptist Publication Building – 209 Yuanmingyuan Road
The Christian Literature Society Building sits back to back with the China Baptist Publication Building and together, they are known as the True Light Buildings. Completed in 1932, the buildings were linked and were similar in layout. The U-shaped construction housed Hudec’s office on the whole of the eighth floor from 1932 until 1947.
The Christian Literature Society was thought to be one of the first to introduce Western publications to China such as Marx’s ‘Capital’, whilst the China Baptist Publication Society published the highly renowned and religious ‘True Light’ periodical, giving the twin buildings its name.
Early plans show that the sharp concrete points protruding out from above the building’s columns were initially designed as wreathes/flower petals and according to Professor Poncellini, it is thought the reason they changed was reflective of Hudec’s personal troubles and turmoil at the time.
FACT: Did You Know Hudec’s 85-yr old daughter Alessa would often wait in front of the True Light Buildings for her father
Hudec’s success was down to a number of factors - his European architectural roots, his adaptable nature when working with clients, his creative ability to capture the essence of that particular time (e.g. the American Club) and also what is a prime example of being in the right place at the right time.
He paved the way for a new style of architecture, which impacted heavily on Shanghai’s skyline and buildings. Today, he leaves his legacy behind, one of numerous architectural delights left dotted around the city of Shanghai which is still to this day adored and admired by many.
FACT: Shanghai commemorated Hudec’s work in 2008, with the ‘Year of Hudec’