Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape

Li Qian Lu Feiran
For more than a century, some of the world's greatest architects have made Shanghai their home. They've given the city innovative structures which span history, art and style.
Li Qian Lu Feiran
Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape

A view of Lujiazui from the backstreets of the Bund

Editor's note:

Shanghai is a young metropolis compared with the likes of Beijing, London and Paris. But over the past century, it has been capturing the world's attention.

The city provided fertile ground for budding architects such as Laszlo Hudec (1893-1958) and Alexandre Leonard (1890-1946) to build their careers, as well as attracting the likes of renowned architects Jean Nouvel and Tadao Ando, who blazed new trails.

Whether it's residences, entertainment, finance or urban renewal, their work is scattered across Shanghai. Now, the city will again be the center of architectural grandeur it on track to complete the construction of a world-class "City of Design" by 2030.

During the World Design Cities Conference being held in Shanghai, renowned French architect and Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel said Shanghai is outstanding especially in the field of design, architecture and art.

British designer Thomas Heatherwick said: "I know that Shanghai has been growing as an economic and innovation hub, and it's always been innovative."

Internationally-acclaimed Italian architect Aldo Cibic agrees. He believed Shanghai has the best sense of experimentation, with increasing possibilities to explore.

From historical legacies to vanguard buildings, follow Shanghai Daily to discover the city's fascinating architecture.

Normandie Apartments

Architect: Laszlo Hudec | Address: 1850 Huaihai Rd M.

Hungarian-Slovak architect Laszlo Hudec shaped Shanghai's golden age with his designs of more than 100 buildings during his 29-year stay between 1918 and 1947.

Their styles are very mixed – Eclectic neo-classicism, Art Deco and Modern – just to name a few. The Normandie Apartments is an excellent example.

Built in 1924, it is an eight-story French Renaissance-style apartment building coated with artificial stones and red brick, adorned by details such as classical pediments above window lintels and vase-style railings on the balconies.

But what really makes it a standout is its triangle shape – a tribute to Hudec's ready wit to fit the triangle lot. Specifically, it is located at the intersection of five streets and forms an acute angle of 30 degrees.

Today, it looks like a huge warship docking on Wukang Road and is often compared to the famous Flatiron Building in New York. Perhaps it is thanks to its peculiar shape that the building is listed as one of the "99 Shanghai Symbols."

Small facts: The building is said to be named by its French developer after Normandie (Normandy in English), a region of northern France, rather than the Battle of Normandy during World War II.

Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape
Ti Gong

Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai

Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai

Architect: Alexandre Leonard | Address: 85 Maoming Rd S.

The Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai, or to be more specific its older section, is the city's quiet nod to its former French Concession area.

The white building, facing a large lawn, was built around 1925 in the French renaissance style with Art Deco influences. It was used as the Cercle Sportif Francais, literally French Sports Club.

It was equipped with a bowling alley, billiards room and tennis courts, among a variety of sports facilities. Notably, it was said to have the largest warm water pool in the city. It also had an incomparable ballroom hailed as the best in the Far East. It featured sprung floors and the longest-spanning glass ceiling in the city.

The hip and trendy project brought the young Alexandre Leonard huge success.

Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape
Li Qian / SHINE

Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai is located in the heart of Shanghai.

Compared with his contemporary and rival Hudec, Leonard is less well known today. But his work hasn't gone unacknowledged.

The French architect came to Shanghai in 1920, two years after Hudec's arrival, burning with a fierce ambition to leave an indelible mark on Shanghai's skyline.

In 1924, he created his own company with Paul Veysseyre. The third partner, Arthur Kruze, joined them in 1934, which determined the company's name as Leonard Veysseyre & Kruze.

On July 14, 1934, "Le Journal de Shanghai" published a supplement in celebration of the company's 10-year anniversary with two pages and a number of photos.

The firm has left a swath of more than 100 stylish buildings in the city, such as the typical Art Deco Midget Apartments, Baroque-style Bearn Apartments, and the Modern-style Gascogne Apartments.

Small facts: Leonard disappeared from Shanghai in 1946. He never came back after he left his home at the Amyron Apartments on March 13. It wasn't until May 25 that his death was made known to the public. The French Consulate-General in Shanghai was said to have received his farewell letter which is kept in the basement of the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. But the letter is only allowed to be revealed 100 years after his death, which will be in 2046.

Museum of Art Pudong (MAP)

Architect: Jean Nouvel | Address: 2777 Binjiang Ave

The museum looks standard and balanced, or to say "reserved" and "introverted". But it's not dwarfed by towering skyscrapers in the bustling Lujiazui area.

From simple geometric designs to restrained decor, the marble-and-glass rectangle along the Huangpu River is a reminder that art matters. There's also something to be said about tactfully blending into your surroundings.

Jean Nouvel himself said: 'I'm playing a game with the Huangpu River and surrounding spaces."

The design was meant to blur the distinction between the structure and the environment.

"I hope the museum can naturally, seamlessly, integrate into the surroundings, like a serene sculpture rather than an individual building," he said.

Hence, a 53-meter-long bridge stretches from the second floor and links the museum to the waterfront platform, creating an integrated space. Facing the river are two "glass halls," one with a height of six meters, the other at 12 meters.

One side is paved with glass, allowing people to enjoy beautiful views of the Bund across the river, and the other side has high-reflective LEDs, mirroring the Bund view. The design echoes with the nearby river, and creates a subtle blend of light, art and image.

Small facts: Two new exhibitions will soon come to MAP. 'Design for Fun" is set to begin September 28, and "The Dynamic Eye: Op and Kinetic Art from the Tate Collection" will open on September 30. Masterpieces by Jesus Rafael Soto, Victor Vasarley, Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and more will be displayed. Currently on exhibition is "Xu Bing: Found in Translation."

Zhangjiang Science Hall

Architect: Christian de Portzamparc | Address: 1393 Haike Rd

The newly-opened venue draws and enthralls both tech and art fans with its design, offering a subtle blend of technological charm with an artistic atmosphere.

The steel-framed structure adopts a hollow-carved design, with more than 30,000 triangle porcelain plates in ten changing colors from blackish-green to light-grey paving the facade. The effect creates a unique "world of light and shadow".

During the day, cracks of light filter through the irregularly-shaped glass plates, giving visitors the feeling of walking under a draped canopy of trees. As the venue is illuminated at night, the lights shine through the glass plates and gleam on the nearby Chuanyang River.

Yes, natural elements like sunlight, air and water are keywords for the design. Notably, on the rooftop there's a garden planted with roses and grapes.

It's an innovative landmark showcasing new technological achievements, while holding international summits and temporary exhibitions. Recently opened on September 2, there is clearly much to look forward to.

Small facts: The hall took on a metaverse feel during the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) 2022 that ended earlier this month. At the site, visitors were encouraged to take a metaverse tour around the hall, relying on AI technology to draw their ideal spouse and even create their own virtual avatars, their digital representative in the metaverse.

MIFA 1862

Architect: Kengo Kuma | Address: 1777 Binjiang Ave

Developed on the site of the former Shanghai Shipyard, a once industrial icon in the city, MIFA 1862 in the Binjiang Greenery Area near Lujiazui, is now a financial center that encompass a museum, a theater and a shopping center.

Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the renovation of MIFA 1862 fully preserved its factory features, such as bollards, crane runways and docks. It's an ideal fusion of past and present.

However, perhaps due to its distance from convenient public transport, MIFA 1862 has remained somewhat of a secret since its opening in 2018. But with Metro Line 14 being put into operation at the end of last year, the area is seeing a welcome influx of visitors.

Small facts: It was one of the cradles of China's modern industry. In 1978, it witnessed the launch of China's first exported 10,000-ton ship "Shaoxing."

Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape

When you see the iconic curves, you know it's Zaha Hadid.


Architect: Zaha Hadid | Address: 968 Jinzhong Rd

Like all of Zaha Hadid's (1950-2016) structures, Sky SOHO provides a strong visual impact. Set near the Hongqiao transport hub, the twelve buildings in the complex all feature her iconic curves and are connected by 16 overhead corridors, forming a net-shaped space.

The post-modern industrial park is not only home to the headquarters of more than 800 companies, but is also a popular filming location because of its unique appearance.

Sky SOHO is the only legacy the late British-Iraqi architect left in Shanghai. With the other two SOHO complexes in Beijing, "the Queen of Curves" brought her best to the country.

Small facts: Viewed from above, it looks like four high-speed trains, which echoes with the Hongqiao Railway Station which is about a 30-minute drive.

Tian An 1000 Trees

Architect: Thomas Heatherwick | Address: 600 Moganshan Rd

A reminder of the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Tian An 1000 Trees was designed by British designer and architect Thomas Heatherwick. It emerges like a pair of forest-capped mountains from the waterfront of Suzhou Creek.

The mixed-use development contains shops, cafes, restaurants, new public spaces and promenades, and integrates an existing park and heritage structure.

The development resembles a green mountain in the metropolis. It's as if green shoots sprout up through the building to bloom on the skyline. The planters contain a bio-diverse mixture of shrubs, hanging plants and deciduous, evergreen, fruit and flowering trees, so that like a mountain slope, its appearance will change with the seasons.

Small facts: Thomas Heatherwick was the architect behind the United Kingdom Pavilion at World Expo Shanghai in 2010 and the London 2012 Olympic Cauldron. Though it looks quite like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the design is said to come from China's Yellow Mountain.

Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape

Shanghai Poly Grand Theater

Shanghai Poly Grand Theater

Architect: Tadao Ando | Address: 159 Baiyin Rd

A minimalist box built of concrete and glass, the Shanghai Poly Grand Theater in Jiading District looks much more exciting than it sounds, thanks to the magical use of shadow and light from Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

The main structure of the theater is surrounded by a transparent curtain wall that forms a double-skin facade system. When the sunlight shines through, an almost holy atmosphere is formed in the interior of the theater by the light and shadow.

If one is fascinated by Ando's "Church of the Light" in Japan, he will surely fall in love with the lakeside theater.

Small facts: It is said that Ando hailed the theater as the best embodiment of his work in China.

Shanghai's iconic architecture showcased as 'City of Design' takes shape

Right next to the iconic Peace Hotel pyramid roof, the Bank of China Building is probably the only true "Chinese Art-Deco" building in Shanghai.

Bank of China Building

Architect: Lu Qianshou | Address: 74 Dianchi Rd

The Bank of China Building on the Bund is of typical Art Deco design at first glance, but if you squint you'll see a very Chinese-style roof on the top – pyramid roof, glazed glass tiles and all.

It is the work of architect Lu Qianshou (1904-92). He graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in the United Kingdom not long before he began the project.

Now the tower is the last remaining structure on the Bund, which contains Chinese architectural features. The unique style is also called "Chinese Art Deco," which is very rare even in China.

Small facts: It was initially designed as a 101-meter-high building, which exceeded the Sassoon House (today's north tower of the Fairmont Peace Hotel) at the height of 77 meters. Victor Sassoon, owner of the Sassoon House, meddled in the affairs, and the then Municipal Council was forced to reject the approval of the design. So, finally, it was built at 73.6 meters, including the height of flagpoles.

Special Reports