The Midget Apartments on Wukang Road reflect the Art Deco trend that swept across the city in the late 1920 and into the '30s.
Wukang Road is mostly known for it lovely villas, but there are some other notable buildings that stand out, including the Midget Apartments.
Jiang Jiang, deputy director of Xuhui District Housing Security and Building
Administration Bureau, says he was
amazed when he was researching the
building at 115 Wukang Road.
“The architect was incredibly smart,"
Jiang says. "The stairwell is particularly
amazing because he only had a rather
odd, hexagon-shaped base to work with,
but he made the best use of the space.”
Made of grey cement and yellow
terrazzo, the stairwell looks especially cool from the top floor when looking
The five-story building was designed
by Leonard, Veysseyre & Kruze, a prolific
French firm in the city that had a big
impact on the look of the former French
Tongji University Professor Qian
Zonghao is the co-author of the book
“Shanghai Wukang Road.” He considers
the Midget Apartments and the visitor's
center at 393 Wukang Road as “the two
most Art Deco buildings along Wukang
Although the French firm designed
other "stronger" Art Deco buildings in
the city, the Midget Apartments certainly
catch the eye when walking along
The edifice is treated in a simple way,
decorated with geological relief and
architectural details shaped like stairs on
the corner of the second floor.
“The cloud-shaped architrave on the
northern eaves added a delicate style to
this grey-toned, cement stucco apartment
building,” Qian’s book notes.
Chinese walking tour guides often
describe the building as a “gigantic grey
elephant with white teeth.”
As one of Shanghai’s earlier Art Deco
practitioners, the French firm also
designed a series of other Art Deco
apartments, including the Willow Court
Apartments on nearby Fuxing Road.
Apartments offer a peek into the lives of expatriates
According to the 1930s and 1940s
“Shanghai Directory,” most residents
in the Midget Apartments were
expatriates who worked for big Western
In 1941, residents included R. F.
Pirard, who worked for Sterns Ld.
China Agency, which sold lubricating
oils and greases. V. B. Russakoff,
another resident, was employed by
petroleum company Texaco. R. Berg
was a staff member of engineering
company Telge & Schroeter.
All three companies were located on
or near the Bund. It was typical at the
time for Shanghai expatriates to work
in that area while living in the quieter
western district of the former French
Even Arthur Kruze, one of the
architectural firm’s three partners,
was a resident, living in a flat on the
Leonard, Veysseyre & Kruze may be unfamiliar to many, but the firm
designed numerous buildings around
the city like the classic Cercle Sportif
Francais (the annex of the Okura
Garden Hotel) and the Bearn Apartments (Shanghai Women Goods Store) on Huaihai Road.
Tongji University researcher Chen Feng has mapped out the lives of
the company's three partners in his
master's degree thesis.
Alexandre Leonard had studied in
the famous L’Ecole des Beau-Arts de
Paris while Paul Veysseyre had learned
from G. Chedanne. Both of them were
wounded in battle during World War I. They met in Shanghai in 1922 and
founded this architectural firm.
The youngest partner Kruze, who
had been director of L’Ecole des
Beaux Arts de L’Indochine, moved to
Shanghai in 1933 and joined the firm
the next year.
On July 14, 1934, the French
newspaper, Le Journal de Shanghai,
published a supplement showing
more than 60 buildings designed by
the firm along with the firm’s group
photo and a map of the former French
“The firm’s significance in modern
Shanghai architectural design is hard
to ignore," Chen says. "They achieved
great success by demonstrating a
new style and perfectly realizing it in
architecture. Largely owing to their
work, the former French Concession
had kept up with global architectural
After studying the firm's buildings
designed from 1922 to 1936, Chen has
classifies the works into four periods
— garden residences from 1922 to
1924, Western classic architecture from
1925 to 1928, Art Deco buildings from
1929 to 1932 and modern works from
1933 to 1936. The Midget Apartment
was built in 1931 and is a typical Art
According to professor Zheng Shiling’s book “The Evolution of Shanghai Architecture in Modern Times,”
Shanghai was dominated by Western
classic styles before modern styles
such as Art Deco made an impact in
"When most foreign architects still
swung between classic and modern
styles, French architects embraced the
new trend,” Zheng notes.
Professor Qian says the city’s Art
Deco architecture transmitted via two
“The elegant and luxurious
‘authentic Arts Decoratifs from Paris’
was introduced by French architects,
such as the interior decoration of
Cercle Sportif Francais,” he says.
“The decorative architraves on the
walls and patterns on the columns in the vestibule, sculpture atop the
column and glistening colorful glass
ceiling of the dancing hall, all made
you feel the elegance of Paris,” Qian
says. “The ‘American Modern Art Deco’
was brought over by Chinese and
Western architects from New York and
Old French Concession gave wealthy folks a fancy playground
Wukang Road is in the former new
French Concession, or the western
district of the concession. The French
Municipal Council gained this vast
area by expanding its concession
westward as far as today’s Huashan
Road in 1914.
The French Concession was created in 1849 on a narrow strip of
land sandwiched between the British
settlement and Shanghai old town.
The concession was expanded in
1900 and for the last time in 1914,
when its area totaled more than 1,000
“The breakthrough point for
Shanghai’s modern urban development was the first decade of the 20th
century. This period marked the
beginning of massive industrialization, a booming population and rapid
expansion of urban space. The new
French concession thrived from in
this period,” says Tongji university
associate professor Liu gang, who did
his PhD research on the area.
According to the book “Shanghai
Wukang Road,” the eastern district of the French concession with
Jinling Road as its axis had become
commercialized by around 1915. A
high-density road network and alleyway houses had also taken shape
in the area.
On the contrary, the concession’s
western district still looked like
countryside, crisscrossed with farms,
villages, graveyards and small rivers.
It was planned as a high-end
residential zone to accommodate the
city’s growing population of wealthy
individuals. By the 1920s and 30s,
the city witnessed the fastest urban
development in its history.
under this background and owing
to high construction standards and
strict management by the French
Municipal Council, the new district,
including the neighborhood of Rue
de Ferguson (today’s Wukang Road)
quickly grew to be an idyllic, convenient community with garden villas
and apartment buildings.
Experts praised it as “the only well-planned, high-quality residential area
in old Shanghai.”
“Buildings along Wukang Road
were mostly low-density, independent residences, which was rather
different from the high-density,
mixed-used buildings, such as shikumen, in the city’s earlier settlements
and concessions,” Liu says.
“In the 19th century, the urban
space was divided by Chinese and
foreigners. But after 1900, social
groups began to define urban spaces.
“In shikumen, poor people had to
live in high density homes because it
was cheaper,” Liu continues. “Residents usually exchanged services
with each other to keep their costs
down. But in the new district, wealthy
people were enjoying more space and
privacy. They did not rely on their
neighbors for a living. With these
different urban spaces, and the rich,
the poor, the foreigners, the Chinese,
men and women all mingling together, Shanghai was a very interesting