Hungarian photographer gets a fresh look at Hudec

Nicky Almasy captures some of Laszlo Hudec's creations from the 1920s and 1930s in Shanghai in a photo book.
Nicky Almasy

Nicky Almasy's picture of the backside of the Park Hotel shows how the staircases cross each other to form a perfect shape.

Nearly a century after Hungarian-Slovak architect László Hudec stamped his identity on Shanghai, another Hungarian, this time a photographer, collected his impressions of the master builder in a book.    

Hudec was 25 years old when he arrived in Shanghai in 1918 to escape World War I. For the next three decades, he went about giving a shape to the city with at least 50 buildings, many of which are now recognized as “excellent historical buildings of Shanghai” by the local government.

Hungarian photographer Nicky Almasy has released a book of pictures that capture the magic of Hudec’s creations. Issued recently by the Consulate General of Hungary in Shanghai, the book includes not only hundreds of pictures of Hudec's buildings, but also explains the master’s works in Chinese, Hungarian and English.

“This is one of the most important projects in my life,” says Almasy. “While working on it, the more I learned about Hudec, the more similarity I found between him and myself.”

Almasy says he was amazed that Hudec could design so many buildings in just 30 years and believes that the architect must be obsessed with his work.

“This is the same with me,” he says. “My art comes from my obsession.”

Ti Gong

Nicky Almasy has released a book of pictures that capture Laszlo Hudec's creations in Shanghai.

Ti Gong

Almasy is not the first photographer to capture Hudec’s buildings in Shanghai — after all, some of his masterpieces have long been landmarks of the city such as Park Hotel Shanghai, the Grand Theater and the Moore Memorial Church — but he still managed to find new angles and show a different side of the structures.

A picture of the backside of the Park Hotel shows how the staircases cross each other to form a perfect shape. On first glance, many people may not even realize that it is a picture of the landmark Hotel.

There are many areas that other photographers ignored or missed, and Almasy is glad that he was the first one to spot it.

The American Club, for instance, is one of them. The building on Fuzhou Road was built in the 1920s. It served as an entertainment venue for Americans in Shanghai until 1949, but has not been in use for nearly two decades.

“Everything in the building was covered with dust,” says Almasy. “We found old computers from the 1990s and other stuff, which was very special to me.”

Getting access to all the buildings was one of the biggest challenges Almasy had to tackle. The guards of the former American Club, for instance, were not happy to let him in. Besides, as many of Hudec buildings are now residential apartments, he had to go into private homes to capture the interior details.

“Some residents were not willing to let me in, and some security guards tried to drive me away,” he says. 

But there were exceptions. Almasy remembers that when he told an old lady that the building she lived in was designed by Hudec, she was amazed and said, “Now I feel honored.”

Nicky Almasy

Liu Jisheng's former residence on Julu Road is now the office building of Shanghai Writers' Association.

Nicky Almasy

One of Nicky Almasy's photos shows the European-style fountain in Liu Jisheng's former residence.

Some of Hudec’s buildings are still in good use today. The Liu Jisheng’s former residence on Julu Road is now the office building of Shanghai Writers’ Association; the Country Hospital is now part of the Huadong Hospital; and the former McGregor Hall is now part of the Shanghai No. 3 Girls High School.

Other constructions, however, are not in good hands. The former Christian Literature Society Building on Huqiu Road is an empty shell while the former Margaret Williamson Hospital — now the Obstetrics & Gynecology Hospital of Fudan University — has been completely redeveloped to meet the modern needs of medical care.

“I know that Chinese young people are very creative and I hope they can make good use of the old buildings and make them shine again,” says Almasy.

The Hudec project, however, is not Almasy’s first encounter with Shanghai. In fact, the photographer lived in the city for a decade until he moved to Malaysia last year. While in Shanghai, he took hundreds of pictures covering different aspect of the city.

He was also invited by the city government to take pictures of Shanghai Tower, the third-tallest building in the world. For five years, Almasy witnessed the entire process of how the skyscraper was built from the ground to the top.

What concerns Almasy more, however, is the “old” part of the city. He was heartbroken to see some old buildings gone in the tide of the mass development. The result was an album titled, “Old Shanghai — The Vanishing City.”

The album states that the “old Shanghai, the metropolis built during the city's first heyday in the early 20th century, is quickly vanishing as the reborn city takes shape.” It features pictures of old houses, markets and lifestyle that have been or will be replaced by the new.

“Maybe many Chinese people love new things, but as a foreigner, I’m always fond of the old,” he says. “Those are what I think the essence of the city.”

Nicky Almasy

Nicky Almasy's take on Hudec's Green House

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