THE Green House was loved so much by its owner D.V. Woo that he and his concubine lived there even after most of his relatives emigrated abroad after 1949.
Woo once said, “If I die, I will die in the Green House.”
And he did. In August 1966, at the start of the “cultural revolution” (1966-76), Woo and his mistress committed suicide in the house by taking sleeping pills and turning on the gas.
Woo had lived in the house for 28 years.
After Woo’s servants were relocated, the house was used as office space by the Little Red Guards News under the Shanghai Education Bureau, the headquarters of Shanghai Wen Gong Wu Wei (Wen Gong Wu Wei is a word used during the “cultural revolution” that literally means “attack with the pen and defend with the sword”) and Shanghai Tricycle Union.
In 1979, the building became the Shanghai Urban Planning & Design Research Institute’s home, which has used it until today.
Some old employees of the institute described the house as the “headquarters” of Shanghai urban planning. Most of the city’s urban plans were drafted in it, including the 1992 plan to develop the Pudong New Area.
“It was very crowded, but the architectural details in public areas were well preserved, including Italian travertine and the hollow flower decorations on the first floor,” famous architect Tang Yu’en from Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design Group recalls of her 1980s visit to the building.
She is also the chief architect who was tasked with renovating the Green House in 2011 and previously worked on the renovation projects of both Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund and the Fairmont Peace Hotel.
In 1988, the institute moved to its new office building south of the Green House. Owing to a budget shortfall, a Taiwan company was granted use of it after paying for repairs. The company redecorated the Green House and used it as a restaurant/bar for several years.
However, when the institute took back the house in 2008, it was damaged due to overuse and lack of conservation. Some original decorations, such as the mosaic flooring, were missing.
“I have participated in the conservation of many old Shanghai buildings,” Tang says. “I am always impressed by the advances and style of 1930s Shanghai. At that time the most fashionable things in the world were all reflected in those buildings. People always loved to try new things, such as rare materials like hollow bricks and cork boards in the Green House.”
Using old photos, Tang says she knew some of the rooms, including the bar and Chinese ancestral hall, had mosaic flooring. But she couldn’t identify the materials based on the photos.
Fortunately after the removal of the additional cushion layer during the restoration, the original floor was revealed. Remaining traces proved the materials to be lino — a “new” abrasion-resistant flooring material and tough texture used in Europe, which had been published in the advertisements of The Builder magazine in 1936.
“There were very few surviving examples of lino flooring in Shanghai. It’s a seamless, durable material that gave a comfortable feeling when stepping on it. It also looks grand, which is why it was later widely used in office buildings and airports, very modern,” Tang explains.
She says the “eco-design” also impressed her as it “matches the modern low-carbon and energy-saving concept.”
“Two-inch insulation boards were pasted on the roof and beneath the terrace of each floor,” she says. “There is an air layer and air grates under the roof, which provides good insulation.”
Tang adds they kept the original corkboards and added green plants on the roof. They also added new steel doors and double-glazed windows to match Hudec’s original energy-saving efforts.
The worn green tiles on the façade are of course a key part of the home’s appearance and Tang says they took great care to preserve them. The tiles were originally custom made by Taishan Brick & Tile Co Ld for D.V. Woo. The company also made brown tiles for the Park Hotel.
“The color had faded to various degrees due to weathering,” Tang says. “So we custom-made some new glazed tiles in four similar colors to make the renovated façade appear natural.”
The house was opened to the public for the first time on Cultural Heritage Day in June 2014. About 10,000 visitors turned up and they kept the home open for an additional hour to ensure everyone had a chance to see Hudec’s creation.
It is said Hudec once promised Woo that “this house will not look outdated in the next 50 to 100 years.” He most certainly kept his promise.