Embankment Building: a structure of aesthetics and history
The Embankment Building, or Hebin Dalou (河滨大楼), stands along the northern bank of Suzhou Creek at its confluence with the Huangpu River.
The architectural and historical significance of the building qualifies it for inclusion in the second batch of Shanghai's city-level heritage architecture in 1994.
The eight-story structure was once Shanghai's largest apartment building as well as the city's first waterfront residence. It was dubbed the "No. 1 apartment building in the Far East." Elevators, central heating and a heated indoor swimming pool were among the building's top features at the time.
The building, which was built in 1932, was owned by E.D. Sassoon & Co, a Jewish business group best known for the famous Peace Hotel on the Bund.
The S-curve not only facilitates the building with ideal sunlight and ventilation but also identifies the property owner, as S is the first letter of Sassoon.
The building's lobbies and entrances are paved with yellow-and-black mosaics. The EB pattern on the floor stands for the building's English name: Embankment Building. There are also rows of vintage letter boxes, which are no longer common in modern apartment buildings.
In 1978, the local government added three floors to the building to meet the growing housing demand.
Change of resident profile
Initially, the majority of the tenants were foreigners. The building also hosted the offices of famous businesses and organizations, such as the China office of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio.
During World War II, it served as the first haven for Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis in Europe.
Among the refugees were Sonja's parents, who arrived in Shanghai in 1939. Sonja was born in the same year. She returned to the place of her childhood in May this year.
"You can meet people from all over the world here, and Shanghai's charm of diversity remains," she remarked. "Through the blend of historical buildings and modern skyscrapers, you can see that the city has greatly preserved its rich cultural heritage amidst its development."
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the apartments were mostly assigned to government officials, doctors, teachers and painters.
"From 1949 to the 1990s, neighbors freely shared meals at each other's home and felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked at night," said Wang Yining, a local resident in his 30s.
The building now houses not only long-term tenants but also a varied range of people from various backgrounds.
Among them are young white-collar workers who are fascinated by historical structures.
"I work in information technology and have been here for two to three years," said Wang. "As a Shanghai native, I'm happy to stay here. The building enjoys a great location, and there's a cultural connection that makes me want to stay in a historic building."
The building also houses art and design studios that host exhibitions on a regular basis, and some flats serve as hotels.
There are also foreign residents living here. Benjamin Joithe, from Germany, is one of them.
"The location of the Embankment Building reminds me of my home in Hamburg," he said. "Hamburg, like Shanghai, is a port city located at a river confluence."
Odet Abadia, a documentary filmmaker from Spain who is interested in Chinese history, is another long-term resident.
The coexistence of old and new, locals and internationals, makes the Embankment Building a lively place.
Charm of the building
People strolling along Suzhou Creek are drawn to the Embankment Building.
"I walked along Suzhou Creek and was mesmerized by it. I took a lot of photos of it," Ren Hangyu, a passer-by, remarked.
"I used to live in an old apartment before. There were traditional longtang (alleyways), but they have been demolished in recent years due to urban development, which makes me sad. Fortunately, the Embankment Building has been well-preserved."
Models use the building as a backdrop to pose for photos. Street artists set up easels at the base of the building, capturing pedestrians and passing cars on their canvas.
Many popular movies and TV series were filmed in the building. The long, shadowy corridors are often seen in TV shows like "The First Half of My Life" and "Nothing But Thirty."
With its charm and attractiveness, the Embankment Building has become a beloved cultural icon in Shanghai.
The government initiated a renovation plan in 2020 to restore the structure to its original glamor while improving the facilities inside.
"The building's exterior walls were restored to their former appearance, using the same raw materials as the original," said Zhao Kai, chairman of the Embankment Building's owners committee.
The neighborhood subdistrict established the Embankment Café and Embankment Study as common areas for residents to unwind and read.
"The study still has many of the original, older items, such as the door and faucet," Zhao said. "The views of the Suzhou River and the Lujiazui skyline are quite enjoyable when sitting on the balcony."
"The building is now more attractive as a result of the makeover. However, some tourists keep disturbing the residents. I'm hoping the management takes some measures," Wang remarked.
"The residents have benefited from the public space, and I also look forward to more neighborhood gatherings in the future."
Flora de Newart
The Embankment Building is home to the charming Flora de Newart florist. The shop's elegant green facade, which is at the building's corner and supported by Art Deco architecture, offers a welcoming atmosphere reminiscent of the Café de Flora in Paris.
The shop has been in business for over 30 years, offering a wide selection of flowers at both moderate and high prices to meet the diverse demands of its customers.
"The flower shop is sophisticated, and the owners have excellent taste. I frequently come here to buy flowers," said JJ, a resident who lives nearby.
Additionally, it supplied flowers for the Shanghai International Film Festival. Moreover, the shop was entrusted with floral arrangements for numerous film and TV productions filmed at the Embankment Building.
In collaboration with Interflora, a global flower delivery network, it stands out as the earliest florist in Shanghai capable of delivering flower orders to more than 100 countries and regions worldwide.
There is a captivating installation outside the flower store: a large cluster of hydrangea bushes in various hues flows from a pink automobile, tempting passers-by to stop and take photos.
If you go:
Address: 340 Beisuzhou Road, Hongkou District
How to get there: Tiantong Road Station, Metro Line 12