Singapore design week 2014

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National design centre, the hub of Singapore design week 2014


The official hub of the Singapore design week took place at The National design Centre. This was where several design exhibitions took place like the President’s Design Award 2013 Exhibition, Furniture Design Award (FDA) 2014, Singapore Good Design Mark (SG Mark) Exhibition and Design Incubation Centre: Design Futures etc.

I think it is fair to say that Singapore is not especially known for its design and creative industry. Both Singapore and Hong Kong may be the financial giants and the wealthiest in Asia (often seen as competitors), their design and creative industries have been largely overlooked by both locals and outsiders until recent years. Finally, the governments/ local design organisations of both places are taking design more seriously and are investing more into the industries and design education, which is encouraging and more than welcome.


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Top left: Franceca Lanzavecchia’s Bilik; top right: Agnieszka Klimowicz’s Stool; 2nd row left: Clement Zheng’s Torus Lamp; 2nd row right: Hans Tan’s Spring Tray; Bottom left: Clement Zheng, Jessica Toh and Gloria Ngiam‘s 3D printed Dress Code; Bottom right: Clement Zheng’s 3D printed Fusilli bracelet


Back at the design centre, work by the Furniture design award winners from from around the world were displayed and I was very intrigued by Francesca Lanzavecchia‘s ‘Bilik’. The designer employed the traditional South East Asian rattan weaving technique to create a beautiful but functional room divider with various sized pockets. Meanwhile, Singaporean designer Clement Zheng demonstrated the endless possibilities of digital technology in his ‘Torus lamp’, a pendant lamp digitally fabricated from sheet materials. Clement also worked on two other 3-D printing projects in the Design Futures exhibition: ‘Dress code’ and ‘Fusilli’, a wrist accessory generated from a simple algorithm during an exploration of mathematical oscillations and their three-dimensional paths.

Outside of the awards section, Industry+ launched it s debut collection featuring a new wave of contemporary designers working in Singapore today. The curated collection feature experimental production techniques with artisanal craftsmanship. I particularly like Hans Tan’s ‘Spring Tray’, a fruit ‘bowl’ composed of 3D printed springs, varied in thickness according to the profile of a bowl.


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Kapok’s pop up shop at the National design centre


It was a bit of a surprise to see Hong Kong’s cool independent lifestyle/design/fashion shop, Kapok‘s pop-up shop at the centre during the design week. Since its launch in 2006, Kapok has been expanding gradually and now the this pop up shop has gained a permanent space at the design centre selling established and up-and-coming designer brands from around the world.


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Pick a bench, pick a place exhibition at the Urban Redevelopment Authority – Top middle: Aesop Unbreakable by Donovan Soon; Top right: Lumber by Hans Tan; Bottom right: The Coil by LOOK Architects


At the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre, an exhibition provided a chance for the public to see the 24 benches designed by the local designers for the Pick a bench, pick a place project. The benches are located in 24 locations and when the voting is over, 15 public spaces with the most votes will have up to four unique benches installed. The project aims to involve the community to celebrate and enliven public spaces through good design. Singapore is best known for its urban planning, and this project shows their vision and commitment in creating a better environment for their citizens. I wonder when will the Hong Kong government understand this concept?


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30 LifeStories: Remembering parks and Design larger than life exhibitions at Dhoby Ghaut Green – Top left: Log by Rodney Loh, NextofKin Creatives; Top right and main: Spectrum by Claudio Colucci; 3rd row left: Never knew his name by Anthony Chin; 3rd row right: Log horn bench by Woon Tai Woon; 4th row left: Hive by Chua Aik Boon; 4th row right: Flock by Asylum; Bottom row left: Doodle by Woo Mun Seng; Bottom row right: Intimate Dreamscapes by Commune


Out of all the exhibitions I attended, my favourite at the design week was 30 LifeStories: Remembering parks curated by SingaPlural at Dhoby Ghaut Green. 30 Singaporean designers and artists have been invited to specially design furniture made from tree logs which were removed from the parks due to damage by inclement weather. The project enabled them to recapture memories of times spent in parks and gardens, and the results were playful, meaningful and captivating! On site there was also another SingaPlural-curated exhibition, Design Larger than life and one of its main installation was the colourful Spectrum by Claudio Colucci, which certainly attracted a lot of attention.

I especially like the fact that these installations were placed in the middle of a busy shopping district near the shopping malls. Many passenbys were curious about the installations, and it was very interesting to read about the stories that inspired the creations. Designs are made for people and should be accessible to everyone, so I hope we will be seeing more designs catered to the public in the future.



International furniture fair Singapore 2014

I was not aware of the International furniture fair Singapore (part of the Singapore design week) until I arrived in Singapore, and so I did not register beforehand. I visited the show on its opening day and a few hours before my flight with my suitcase (since the exhibition centre is situated next to the airport), and it turned out that many others had the same idea! The queue for the storage and registration took more than 1/2 an hour, but thankfully, things went more smoothly once inside.

The fair was about 4 times bigger than Maison et Objet and with more Asian companies participating, but I spent the most time wandering the hall curated by Singaplural which featured many up-and-coming designers and young design brands from Asia.


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Top left: the long queue for registration; Top right: The Green Pavilion: Main & bottom row: Designer’s field


One booth that caught my eye was Designer’s Field, a Thai/Danish company that designs, sources and produces home interior and furniture products based in Bangkok. Inspired by the delicate Asian style and Scandinavian simplicity, their products are minimalist, modern, functional, and well-made too.


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Another brand inspired by the Japanese/ Scandinavian simplicity is Hinika (see above), a new Singaporean brand of outdoor and indoor furniture launched last year by Austrian/ Singaporean industrial designer, Jarrod Lim. The wooden furniture collection is well-crafted, understated and highly functional.


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Top left & 2nd row: Super&Co/Supermama from Singapore; 3nd row left & bottom row: SWBK from Korea


I always enjoy talking to designers about their work and here I met Priscilla Potts, an associate designer at Super&Co/ Supermama, a Sinagporean brand founded by industrial designer, Edwin Low. Although their products are designed locally, they have collaborated with several traditional Japanese crafts and textiles manufacturers to produce various lines. Singapore Icons porcelain collection is a collaborative project that won them the President Design Award 2013. Designed by 5 design studios in Singapore, the collection was crafted by Japanese porcelain company KIHARA INC.

Like Desinere (see my earlier entry), the brand also collaborated with Japanese metal casting company, Nousaku to produce Familiar objects, a set of pencil paper weight made from solid brass, bronze or copper. Their new line is a range of textiles printed and produced by a traditional fabric company, MARUJU LTD. based in Nagoya, Japan.

S W B K is design firm in Korea, co-founded by Sukwoo Lee and Bongkyu Song in 2008. The firm’s products are often inspired by nature and made from natural or recycled materials using traditional craftsmanship. This philosophy can be seen in their new stationery line, Matter and Matter.


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 ‘Design as it is’ curated by Eisuke Tachikawa from Nosigner


Nosigner is one of my favourite Japanese design firms; a few years ago, I attended a talk given by their chief desigber Eisuke Tachikawa and was very impressed by his design philosophy and attitude. Hence I was very happy to see him curating ‘Design as it is’ for Ambassadors of Design Japan, which showcased beautiful objects designed by him and other Japanese designers.

‘Design as it is’ was about design that do not create forms/shapes, and it examined the relationship between design and its environment. This is probably what good design is about: design that is in harmony with its surroundings without looking like it has been ‘designed’. Yet in this day and age, although we are surrounded by designed objects around us everywhere, how many can claim to be in harmony with its environment? Sadly, not a lot.

Maison et objet Asia 2014

I did not expect to take so long to write about Shanghai (I envy bloggers who publish daily entries), hence this blog entry on Maison et Objet Asia is much delayed…

Less than a week after my trip to Shanghai, I was off to Singapore to attend the first Maison et Objet show in Asia and Singapore design week. For those who have been to the biannual shows in Paris would know how tiring it is to wander through halls after halls of designer products and furniture. By scale, this Asian edition was much smaller, hence, it didn’t take too long to wander around the 14,000 sq ft of space. 265 brands from 24 countries were featured here and about 30% of them were from Asia.


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Top left: Alur Lamp by Ong Cen Kuang; 2nd row: Schema by Kalikasan Crafts; 2nd row left, middle & bottom left: Kenneth Cobonpue & his Trame chair; Bottom right: Vases at Serax


One surprise from the show was to see a Filipino section festuring several well-established and young designer brands from The Philippines. Filipino design is probably not as well-known outside of Asia, but its strong craft heritage is one of its strengths that is helping it to become more recognised internationally. And one of the best representative is Kenneth Cobonpue, who was awarded Designer of Year at the show. Cobonpue is known for using nature as his inspiration, he focuses on natural material and uses local craftsmanship to create furniture and products that suit contemporary living. Judging from the long queue of fans wanting to be photographed with the designer, it’s hard not to consider him as a design celebrity!

Schema by Kalikasan Crafts is another Filipino brand that is expanding internationally. The company hired young Thai designer, Anon Pairo to design their new lighting collection inspired by industrial loft. Many of their designs are made from metal wires that have been mold into various patterns through traditional weaving techniques, and they are all handmade by local artisans.

Another interesting lighting and home accessories brand is Ong Cen Kuang from Bali established in 2008. Their handmade lighting collections focus on the combination of tactile materials, infusion of self develop technique and traditional origami.


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Thai showcase – Top left: Pana objects; top rigt: Pim Sudhikam; 2nd row right: The pavilon; Bottom left: Ceramic ware from Chiang Mai; 2nd row left: Tom Dixon; 2nd row middle: Ango lighting from Thailand; Bottom right: apaiser bathtub


I have always been a fan of Thai designs, yet I have often had issues negotiating with Thai companies… Big companies only want to deal with bulk orders, while small design studios struggle with pricing, and so we are only carrying two brands (Zequenz and Goodjob) from Thailand at the moment. At the Thai showcase pavilion, I spotted a young company that I have previously contacted before… Pana objects, which makes wonderful wooden stationery and objects. Another designer that caught my eye was Pim Sudhikam‘s simple yet distinctive (often with blue underglaze) ceramics. Outside of the pavilion, Ango is an award-winning lighting brand that merges nature with technology, and most of the materials used are natural and sustainable.


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Rising Asian talents: Top right & 2nd row left: Mike Mak from Hong Kong; 2nd row middle: Denny R. Priyatna from Thailand; 3rd row: Yu Fen Lo from Taiwan; Bottom: Melvin Ong from Singapore; 2nd row right: Wewood from Portugal 


One of the most exciting part of these design or trade shows is the discovery of new talents or products. And at this show, six promising designers from the region were awarded as ‘Rising Asian Talents’ and were given the opportunity to showcase their designs. I spoke to Mike Mak from Hong Kong (whom I have contacted before regarding his rather fun Eyeclock) and he explained to me about his display which featured flibre-glass designs inspired by ancient/traditional Chinese characters or Chinese poems: a fruit holder inspired by the word ‘field’, a ladder inspired by the word ‘moon’ but my favourite is the vases that depict the life cycle of flowers through the presence/ absence of the flowers.

Then I met the young designer from Singapore, Melvin Ong, who used to study and live in London. Melvin is the designer behind Desinere, and I love his Japanese/origami-inspired designs. I then found out that he has collaborated with the well-respected Japanese metal casting craft manufacturer, Nousaku to create a beautiful set of bronze and brass Fouetté facetted paperweight spintops. It is always encouraging to see more young designers collaborating with traditional craftsmen to create new and fresh designs.

Pinyen creative from Taiwan is another company that I have previous spoken to when they exhibited at Tent London 2 years ago. Yu-Fen Lo is the designer behind the brand and their designs are often inspired by nature with functionality and sustainability in mind.

The other three designers were: Denny R. Priyatna from Indonesia, Lilianna Manaham from the Philippines and Sittivhai Ngamhongtong from Thailand.


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Top left: Tom Dixon’s talk; top right: Vincent Gregoire from Nelly Rodi giving a talk on trend forecasting; Bottom: Y’A PAS LE FEU AU LAC


Last but not least, seminars given by designers, architects and industry insiders are often highlights of the trade events. The key speaker at this show was Tom Dixon (originally it was advertised as Oki Sato from Nendo) and it attracted so many people that it was not even possible to get into the seating area ( as I mentioned earlier, the celebrity culture in the design world is more evident than ever). Yet I was more interested in talks on Asia’s new e-commerce and trend forecasting given by Vincent Gregoire from Nelly Rodi.

There was a lot of information on past and future, and here is a brief summary of some of the key points from his talk:

The decade from 2010 focuses more on the ‘slow’ and back to basics lifestyle, so we have seen slow cooking, fashion and an emphasis on moral values. Developed countries are also moving from consumption to collaboration in businesses and other aspects.

From 2020, it is predicted that ‘fast’ period will return, emphasising on flexibility, multipasses and multimedium.

The four major design trends of 2015 are categorised into 4 categories:

1. Promised land by pioneers ( nomadic, rustic, self-prduction, nomadic pop-up, functional asethetics, down to earth colours)

2. Sacred fire by Conquistadors (passionate, stimulating, energy, truth, whistle blower, feel good, New bling, playful, fire reference colours like gold and ash)

3. Deep dive by Atlanteans ( aquatic, experimental, Baroque, mermaids, organic, jelly, surrealistic, seaweed tones)

4. Air cosmos by Nextplorers (futuristic, experimental, new frontiers, Dyson-think tank, Gravity, Daft punk, Star Wars, astrology, whites, black and yellow)

If you can make sense of the above, then congratulations!

Although I was slightly disappointed with the scale and the numbers of Asian brands that took part, I was glad that the event coincided with the Singapore design week and International furniture fair ( see my next entries) where I managed to spot many new Asian talents. I hope that there will be more Asian participants at the show next year as I believe that Asian designs have yet to reach its full potential in the global market.


Architectural wonders of old Shanghai

My last entry on Shanghai continues with the theme of architecture and the fascinating stories and people behind them…


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The former residence of Liu Jisheng designed by László Hudec


Out of all the amazing buildings that I visited during my trip in Shanghai, my favourite was the Shanghai Writers Association/The former residence of Liu Jisheng in the former French Concession designed and built by László Hudec (675 Julu Lu) in 1926-7. I only learned of this building while I was having coffee at La Mer cafe, which is situated at the front of the building. The friendly cafe owner told me that the cafe used to be the garage of the villa, and she encouraged me to explore the building after my coffee. I probably would not have done so if it wasn’t for her because I didn’t want to be arrested for trespassing!

Interestingly, I did not encounter anyone during my ‘exploration’, there was no other visitor nor guards on site… Walking alone in the garden and inside the villa, I became slightly melancholic and began to imagine its glorious past. Aside from the ground floor, the floors upstairs are semi-abandoned, yet from the splendid chandeliers and stained glass windows, one could imagine how the place looked when it was occupied. It must have been a fabulous setting for dinner parties! But the ‘soul’ of the villa is its garden/the Psyche founatin… during my stay in Shanghai, I did not see the sun until this (last) day, and it made the garden look even more stunning.

It was only after my visit that I learned of the ‘love story’ behind this villa and garden, which is also considered to be the most romantic building ever built by László Hudec.


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Liu Jisheng‘s former residence on Julu Lu


Liu Jisheng was a coal magnate in Shanghai in the 1920s, and he bought this plot of land as a gift to his wife, Rose on her 40th birthday. She then appointed the star architect of the time, László Hudec to design the Italian Renaissance style villa and its Greek-style garden. Hudec was inspired by the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, and the layout of the villa resembles British artist, Frederic Leighton‘s “The Bath of Psyche”.

The couple left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1948 and they stayed together until Liu‘s death in 1962. She died two years later and they were buried side by side in Montreal, Canada. The garden’s statue of Psyche survived the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution thanks to its gardener who hid it away in the greenhouse. The gardener continued to work here until his death and now his son has taken over his job as the guardian of the garden.

I love this story, but even without knowing the story, it is hard not to fall in love with this villa and garden. I believe that architecture has its own ‘soul’, and this place is definitely very special, if you go in with an open heart, you will ‘feel’ the love, poignancy and its glorious past.


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 Moller Villa Hotel


The former Moller villa is a grand castle-like villa and garden not far from the the former residence of Liu Jisheng. The villa has been bought by the Heng Shan group and has been renovated and turned into Heng Shan Moller Villa Hotel (30 South Shanxi Road) in 2001. The Scandinavian-style (with Chinese architectural elements) villa was designed and built by the renowned Allied Architects for Eric Moller, a Swedish shipping magnate and horse-racing fanatic in1936.

Although there was a rumour about the design of this fairytale-like villa being based on a sketch by Moller‘s youngest and favourite daughter, it was denied by her during an interview. Like most other privately-owned mansions in the city, the villa was taken over by the Communist army in 1949 and Moller left Shanghai in 1950, but died in a plane crash a few years later.

The Villa also has an impressive garden covering an area of about 2,000 square meters. Being the chair of the Shanghai Horse Racing Club, Moller erected a bronze statue of his beloved horse Blonic Hill on the lawn of the garden which still can be seen today.


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Top: Mansion hotel; 3rd row: Russian Orthodox Mission Cathedral; Bottom row: Elasu building on Shanxi South Road


There are several heritage hotels in the area and one of them is Mansion hotel (82 Xin Le Road). The original villa was a club house given to Du Yue-Sheng (also known as “Big-Eared Du”, China’s most powerful triad boss) by his chief financial controller, Jin Ting Sun. Designed by the French architect Lafayette in 1932, the villa became a famous landmark as the gangsters’ headquarters and where lavish parties took place. Many of the original furniture and historical artifacts can still be seen at the hotel today. Du’s former residence in the area has also been turned into a hotel called Donghu Hotel on Donghu Lu.

Opposite the Mansion hotel is a blue-domed building that looks rather out of place… it is the Russian Orthodox Mission Cathedral,built in 1937 for the Russian community in Shanghai at the time. Religious services here ceased in 1962 and the building was used as a warehouse (bizarre). While much of the cathedral’s stained glass was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the Committee of Cultural Heritage restored the building in 1988 and soon after that, it was turned into a bar/nightclub known as The Dome (even more bizarre). Now the cathedral is a museum/art gallery, and it hosted its first service in 51 years last May.


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Shanghai museum of arts and crafts


In my previous entry, I wrote about the Shanghai Museum of arts and crafts (79 Fenyang Lu, near Taiyuan Lu), and here is a bit more about its architecture and history. Built in 1905 for the French Concession’s Chamber of Industry director, this three-story late French Renaissance mansion is one of the most gorgeous mansions in Shanghai. The mansion became the residence of Chen Yi, Shanghai’s first mayor after 1949, and eventually turned into Shanghai Arts and Crafts Research Centre in 1960. Now visitors can still admire the mansion’s marble staircases, stained-glass windows, dark wooden paneling, ceiling beams, original fireplaces and a lovely lawn.


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Shanghai’s Children Palace/ former Kadoorie family’s mansion


I stumbled upon the China Welfare Institute’s Children’s Palace (64 Yan’an Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu) by accident… I saw the colonial style mansion from across the street and was immediately drawn to it. I had no idea if it was open to public or not but since the door was opened, I went inside. I then found out that this ‘palace’ provides after-school programs for children in music, art, science, sports, and computers, which was set up by Soong Ching-ling (Madame Sun Yat-sen) in 1953. I was rather gobsmacked by the scale and grandness of this palace, the marble ballroom was especially magnificent, it would seem normal to see this in the U.K. or Europe but in Shanghai… I was astounded. At the time of my visit, there was an exhibition on the history of Chinese illustrations in several rooms, and although the exhibition was very interesting, I was rather distracted by the backdrop/ interior of the mansion.

It all made sense when I found out that this opulent mansion used to belong to one of Asia’s wealthiest Jewish family, the Kadoories. Built in the 1920s by British architect, Graham Brown for Sir Elly Kadoorie, this mansion took 4 years to complete and was known as the ‘Marble Hall’. Covering an area of 1,500 square meters, the two-storey mansion has more than 20 rooms, and white Italian marble can be seen everywhere. During the war, some members from the family were put into detention camp while some were placed under house arrest here. After the invasion of the Japanese, it served as a recreation centre for British and American soldiers until it eventually became the Children’s Palace. The Kadoorie family left Shanghai for Hong Kong where their family business continued to flourish until today.


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Top row & 2nd row left: the former residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen; 2nd row middle, right & bottom right: Former Residence of Zhou Enlai; Bottom left: the quiet and calm Xiangshan Rd


One of the popular tourist attractions in Shanghai is the former residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen (7 Xiangshan Rd, near Sinan Rd) in the French Concession. Dr Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Republic of China, and he lived here with his wife, Soong Ching Ling from 1918 until his death in 1925, and Soong continued to live here until 1937 when the Japanese army occupied Shanghai. Eight years later, when the Japanese were defeated, Soong offered to provide her home as a memorial site to commemorate of her husband. The European style house now displays most of the original furnishings, historical artifacts, documents and photos. The house also has a back garden and the overall ambience in and outside of the house is low-key and calm, which is very different from the bustling city life that is normally seen elsewhere in the city.

About 5 minutes from this house is another former residence (73 Sinan Road) of a well-known Chinese politician, Zhou Enlai. Zhou was the Chinese Prime Minister in the 1960s and 70s and he lived briefly here in 1946 to 1947. The house was used more as an office than residence, and it was quite basic and modest in style.


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The newly renovated, Sinan Mansions


Yet contrary to the subtlety seen at these two former residences, the Sinan Mansions ( situated in between them) reveal a new and different China: it’s all about luxury. The 51 Western-style houses built around the 1920s have been renovated and turned into luxury condos, accompanied by a string of high-end restaurants, cafes, bars ( including a Johnnie Walker house) and a luxury hotel, Hotel Massenet.

To be honest, I am not entirely convinced about this ‘new’ development, the place looks more like Xintiandi (i.e. Disneyland) to me. The facade of the buildings look too ‘polished’ and the ambience does not feel at all authentic. Interestingly, the entire street and many of the eateries were almost empty when I was there, it seems that this new playground for the wealthy Shanghainese is yet to be hottest spot in town.


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Duolun Cultural Street: 2nd & 3rd row right: former residence of H.H.Kung; 5th row middle: Old film cafe; Bottom left: a long mural featuring famous Chinese writers and intellects from the 1920s-30s; right: former residence of Bai Chongxi


In the historical Hongkou district, there is a famous road called Duolun Road (previously Darroch Road, named after a British missionary), originally built in 1911 as a residential road. The private residences were initially built by Chinese industrialists but later attracted many famous left-wing writers and even politicians. In 1998, the local government started a regeneration project to conserve and restore the historic buildings and turn them into museums, galleries, cafes or craft shops. And as a result, the 550 metres long road was also turned into a pedestrian street.

There are many interesting architecture on this road, and one stood out particularly due to its white Islamic-style facade. No.250 was built in 1924 and it was former residence of H. H. Kung, who was the richest man in China in the early 20th century, and the husband of Soong Ai-ling, one of the Soong sisters.

No. 210 was the former residence of Bai Chongxi (a General of Republic of China and a prominent Chinese Nationalist Muslim leader), and No.123 is the nostalgic Old film cafe that pays tribute to Shanghai’s silver screen and occasionally shows reels from the ’20s and ’30s.


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Duolun Cultural Street: Top right, 2nd row & 3rd row middle: Xi Shi Zhong lou/Bell Tower; 3rd row left & 4th row left: Fitch Memorial Church; 5th row left: a bronze statue of Uchiyama; 5th row middle: a bookstore selling vintage Chinese classics; 5th row right & bottom row right: Duolun Museum of Modern Art


Another prominent building on this street is the 18.5m-tall Xi Shi Zhong lou/Bell Tower, named after a well-known book title by famous writer, Lu Xun. And not far from this is the Fitch Memorial Church (or Hongde Tang), named after George Field Fitch. Built in 1928, this unique East meets West style architecture is the only one of its sort to survive in Shanghai.

Outside of the Neishan bookstore stands a bronze statue of Uchiyama Kanzo (a good friend of Lu Xun), the owner of Uchiyama bookstore established in 1917. The bookstore published many works that espoused revolutionary ideals. It moved to the nearby crossing of Shanyin Road and Sichuan Road North in 1929, but was finally closed by the Kuomintang in 1945.

One popular and newer addition to this road is the Duolun Museum of Modern Art (no.27), a first state-owned non-profit institution that is dedicated to Chinese contemporary art. Covering more than 14400 square feet, this 7-storey building is worth a visit if you are in the area but not a ‘must-see’ sight.


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Top left & 2nd left: Lu Xun’s former residence; Top row right, 3rd row: Lun Xun museum; 2nd row middle: the famous ‘love’ postbox on Tian’ai Road; 2d row right: the former site of Uchiyama bookstore; bottom row left: another former residence of Lu Xun


Although Lu Xun never joined the Communist party, he was a left-wing writer, and his ‘presence’ can be seen everywhere in this area where he once lived and worked. Not only there is a park dedicated to him (now being renovated) which contains his tomb and the Lu Xun museum. His former residence ( Building 9, Lane 132, Shanyin Lu, near Sichuan Bei Lu)  is also open to the public via guided tours. This three-story red-brick townhouse was where he lived from 1933 until his death in October 1936.

The museum is worth visiting even if you are not familiar with the author’s work as there are many historical documents, artifacts and photos of the unsettling period in China during his life time. Lu Xun was also the leading figure in the Modern Woodcut Movement in China, and he used to organise practical workshop in woodcuts, taught by Uchiyama Kakichi, the younger brother of the bookstore owner Kanzo. I love the wood-block prints used on most of his book covers, which can be seen at the museum.

N.B. There is also a famous green post box situated at the supposedly most ‘romantic’ road in Shanghai, Tian’ai Road ( the Chinese translation is “sweet love”). Every letter sent from this post box will be marked with a special mark, bearing the affection from the letter sender to the recipient, hence it gets filled up weeks before Valentine’s day each year!


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Interesting architectural details can be seen everywhere in Shanghai


Shanghai’s Art deco architecture

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Cathay Theatre/cinema (1932)


Even though highrises have been built over the past two decades in this mega city, Shanghai is still full of fascinating historical architecture notably art deco ones. The Bund is probably the best place to appreciate its glorious past… when I visited Shanghai 12 years ago, I asked my friend to take me to the famous Art Deco style Peace Hotel ( now renamed as Fairmont Peace Hotel) one evening but I was disappointed with its rather shabby and dated interior. On this trip, I paid the hotel another visit after its 3-year renovation by a joint effort between the Fairmont group, Jin Jiang International Group and design and architectural team Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) and Allied Architects International. And I was very glad to see that the hotel has been restored to its former glory (see below), it is absolutely stunning and should not to be missed.

The North Building was formerly known as the Sassoon House, it was designed by P & T Architects Limited (Palmer and Turner) and commissioned by Sir Victor Sassoon, an Anglo-Jewish tycoon. The 10-storey building was completed in 1929, and six of its floors used to house Cathay Hotel, which was known as the “Number One mansion in the Far East” before the Communist government took over in 1949. The hotel reopened as Peace hotel in 1956, and it is especially renowned for its legendary Old Jazz Band.

The Peninsula hotel nearby also has an art deco flavour to it, though it is a brand new building that was only built in 2009. Another interesting building is no.27, The House of Roosevelt, formerly the Jardine Matheson Building, which was designed by Stewardson & Spence and completed in 1922. Now the building houses the Rolex Flagship Store, the largest wine cellar in China, two restaurants, a rooftop bar and a private club.


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Top, 2nd & 3rd row left: Fairmont Peace Hotel (1929); 3rd row right & bottom row left: The House of Roosevelt (1922); Bottom row middle & right: Peninsula Hotel (2009)


One of the most famous architects of the 1930s in Shanghai was the Austro-Hungarian, László Hudec (1893-1958) who built over 100 buildings spanning 29 years (1918-1947). Two of his famous art deco work can still be seen on West Nanjing Lu: The Grand Theatre (1931-1933, now The Grand cinema) and the Park hotel (1931-1934), which reminds me very much of the highrise in New York built around the same period (see below). In fact, this 22-storey hotel was once the tallest building in Asia from 1934 to1958. The building next to it is the former YMCA building (1928), which has an interesting facade and was renovated in 2009 and turned into Sports Club hotel.

In the nearby People’s Park, there is also another art deco style building, the former Shanghai Art Museum which has moved from this site at the end of 2012. Constructed in 1933, the building was used as the former clubhouse of the Shanghai Race Club and has a prominent clock tower (see below) which houses a restaurant/bar, Kathleen’s 5.


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Top row left: Grand theatre by László Hudec (1933); 2nd & 3rd row left: The Paramount Theatre (1932); 3rd row middle: Park Hotel by László Hudec (1934); 3rd row & bottom row right: the former Shanghai art museum; bottom row left: Shanghai Sports club hotel /former foreign YMCA building (1928)


In the former French Concession, there are two beautiful art deco entertainment buildings, Cathay cinema (870 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Maoming Lu) and The Paramont. The Cathay opened in 1932 and was designed by Czech architect C.H. Gonda and it was the largest theatre in its day with 978 seats. The Paramont (218 Yuyuan Road, near Wanhangdu Lu) was designed by architect S. J. Young and was completed in 1933. This was the largest and most notorious ballroom in Shanghai before it was taken over by the Communists army in 1949. The ballroom was rescued from demolition by a Taiwanese businessman in 2001 and was renovated and reopened as a music and dance venue.

Nearby there is another well-known art deco building, Changde apartment, also known as the Eddington House (195 Changde Rd). The building was built in 1936 and it is especially known for its former famous resident, Eileen Chang, a Shanghainese female writer ( her work includes “Lust, Caution“) who lived here for many years. There is even a cafe, L’s Book Café Wine that sells books by Chang and some on the history of Shanghai in a nostalgic setting.


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Changde Apartments (1936) on Changde Lu & L’s Book cafe wine interior


Art deco elements can also be seen at the restored Ferguson Lane (376 Wukang Rd) and at houses/ buildings nearby. The area is full of art deco gems that is best appreciated on foot.


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Top left: Ferguson Lane; the rest: houses in the former French Concession


In the northeast Hongkou area, the art deco style 1933 Shanghai (10 Shajing Rd, near Wusong Rd) is a must for all architecture lovers (see my earlier post here). The historical area used to be home to many Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 40s, and now it still has many historical sights and interesting architecture including the Shikumen-style buildings that are disappearing quickly in recent years.

Shanghai is often regarded as the Art deco capital of the east, but like many Asian cities, historical buildings are under threat by property developers, I can only wish that the government and locals will help to protect these beautiful buildings from the past.


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Main: a building in Hongkou; 2nd row left & right: 1933 Shanghai