If you’ve ever wandered around the Bund in Shanghai or the French Concession, you might have noticed some very ornate buildings, tall and grand and streamlined with everything molded into a single structure and vaulting towards the sky with the utmost grace. These lovely buildings are products of the Art Deco architecture movement. Short for Arts Decoratifs, Art Deco came on the scene just before World War I and exploded in popularity in the 1920s. The style is a mix of many design elements, notably using geometric shapes, motifs from ancient civilizations, as well as other architectual styles like Constructivism, Futurism and Modernism.
With Shanghai becoming China’s international city in the early 1920s, home to Americans, British and French – countries that had earned concessions in the city – Art Deco buildings, being in vogue, began to pop up across the city. But it wasn’t just foreign architects who were leaving their mark on the city, but Chinese architects, fresh from time studying abroad, came to Shanghai ready to leave their own mark. Their efforts resulted in Chinese Deco, a new style of architecture blending Art Deco with Chinese elements, especially upturned eaves on the tops of buildings, entrances borrowing design inspiration from temple gates, and interiors taking their cue from motifs found in palaces and places of importance.
We’ve drawn up a list of 7 of the most prominent Art Deco and Chinese Deco buildings in Shanghai today. Use this list next time you’re in the big city to the North to get a feel for China’s more modern past.
1. Fairmont Peace Hotel
The Peace Hotel was built in 1929 by British architecture firm Palmer & Turner and combines Art Deco with inspiration from Ancient Egypt. While it is somewhat plain in its exterior, the interiors truly shine with a wonderfully bright atrium with a yellow stained glass skylight that paints the gemetric patterns and motifs on the walls and mozaic floors in a shade of yellow; the Chinese Deco Dragon Phoenix Room restaurant; as well as a 1930s-inspired bar and jazz lounge that hosts regular shows.
Address: 20 Nanjing East Road, Waitan, Huangpu District | 黄埔区外滩南京东路20号
Bar Hours: 5:30 PM-2:00 AM; live music starts 7:00 PM
Restaurant Hours: 11:30 AM-2:30 PM; 5:30-10:00 PM
2. Former Shanghai City Hall
Located in Yangpu District, a bit away from the city center, the Former Shanghai City Hall is not only a prime example of extreme Chinese Deco, but Ming Revival, a style of architecture initiated by the Nationalist Government around the 1930s. The building was part of the Greater Shanghai Plan, a government effort to move the city center outside of the foreign concessions, and, although unfinished, consists of the city hall, former Municipal Museum, former Municipal Library and an outdoor stadium.
Address: 399 Changhai Road, Yangpu District | 扬浦区长海路399号
3. Bank of China Building
Located next to the Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund, the Bank of China Tower is a more laid back example of Chinese Deco, with the eaves on the top of the tower slightly curved as a nod to traditional Chinese architecture. Designed by Chinese architect Luke Sim Hau in 1929, its rumored that the reason the building has a stunted look is because Victor Sassoon insisted no other buildings on the Bund could be as tall as his Peace Hotel.
Address: 23 Zhongshan East 1st Road, Waitan, Huangpu District | 黄埔区外滩中山东1路23号
4. Park Hotel Shanghai
Formerly the Shanghai Joint Savings Society Building, the Park Hotel was built in 1934, designed by Hungarian-Slovakian architect László Hudec . The hotel was built as a competitor to the Cathay Hotel, and was well-known for its high-quality service that rivaled some New York hotels during the era. Although the interior was changed in the 1950s by the government, it was redesigned in the 1980s and into the 2000s, returning it to its former glory.
Address: 170 Nanjing West Road, Huangpu District | 黄埔区南京西路170号
5. Rockbund Art Museum
One of Shanghai’s premier contemporary art museums, the Rockbund Art Museum is located in the building used by the Royal Asiatic Society until 1952. The building, which also has elements of Chinese Deco in its entrance, houses regular art exhibitions and shows.
Address: 20 Huqiu Road, Huangpu District | 黄埔区虎丘路20号
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 AM-6:00 PM
1933 is a former slaughterhouse and wet market built in an international settlement controlled by the British. Today, the building hides within its ornately decorated exterior a maze of bepoke shops, stores, art galleries and restaurants (including the amazing Red Square Russian Restaurant).
Address: 611 Liyang Road, Hongkou District | 虹口区溧阳路611号
7. Cathay Cinema
Designed by Czech architect C.H. Gonda and opened in 1932, the Cathay Theatre is one of Shanghai’s last remaining Art Deco movie theaters. While the interior, which originally had a main auditorium boasting 1080 seats, it has since been modernized and split into a series of theaters. Still, the splendor of the exterior remains and is beautiful at night.
Address: 870 Huaihai Middle Road, Huangpu District | 黄埔区淮海中路870号
Hours: 9:00 AM-11:00 PM