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Art Deco contrast on opulent Bund
By Michelle Qiao

The last historical building constructed on the Bund, No. 14 completed in 1948, is considered a typical example of Art Deco in white concrete with powerful vertical lines, a simple facade, and black marble door frames. The interior is opulent, colorful and very Deco.

The eight-story structure used to be the China Bank of Communications Building and today houses the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council.

To my view, however, No. 14 is probably the least appealing among the 23 waterfront buildings on the Bund. In the middle of a row of exquisite buildings, it has never been a centerpiece.

Juxtaposed with buildings with marble walls and grand columns, the simple, plain facade of No. 14 wins little attention from those who prefer more ornate structures with architectural flourishes. But it embodies Deco.

A recent visit to the only 1940s building on the Bund gives a fresh impression, especially of the interior.

The land for No. 14 and No. 15 was first rented by British opium trader Lancelot Dent in 1844 and then taken over by Deutsch-Asiatische Bank, formed by more than a dozen German banking corporations in 1890.

In 1902 German architect Heinrich Becker renovated the facade and added a sloping roof to make it more practical and attractive. Becker also designed No. 15, which I consider to be gorgeous. It will be discussed in the next column.

In 1917 near the end of World War II, China's state-owned Bank of Communications took over the property.

The Bank of Communications first opened an office on Tianjin Road, then operated temporarily in the Customs House at No. 13 before moving to No. 14, according to He Chenggang, a banking history researcher from Bank of Communications.

No. 14 at first was only a Shanghai branch, but in 1928 the bank moved its headquarters to Shanghai from Beijing to be closer to the newly established Kuomintang government in Nanjing. The bank had financed the construction of more than 50 railways in China and was one of the first Chinese banks to expand overseas, with offices in Hanoi in Vietnam and Rangoon in Burma (now Myanmar).

The old four-story building was far too small to accommodate the headquarters of the gigantic Chinese bank.

Famous Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda designed the new Art Deco building in 1937, but construction was postponed until the end of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945). Gonda also designed the famous Sun-Sun Co Ltd on Nanjing Road and the Cathay Theater on Huaihai Road.

At the end of the war, Allied Architects, a famous Chinese firm founded by three Chinese architects, revised the original design. Construction was completed in October 1948.

It's a typical Art Deco building with a lot of vertical lines, says Qian Zonghao, a professor of architectural history at Tongji University. The facade is symmetrical with its top shaped like a small tower. The external walls are covered by white cement. Black marble is used extensively on street-level facade.

The interior of No. 14 in parts is evocative of the works of famous architect L.E. Hudec, who had a Hundarian background. Hudec designed the Park Hotel and other Shanghai buildings.

The entrance hall is imposing, with many architectural details. It contains two curving staircases with artistic copper railings.

The grand hall on the second floor is even more spectacular. Nearly 20 tall, square columns give a feeling of a Greek temple with a modern touch. The flooring is patterned in yellow, green, white and pink terrazzo. The coffered ceiling is decorated with colorful glass.

Other parts of the building, both floors and walls, are lavishly adorned with yellow and black terrazzo in geometric patterns favored in Art Deco works. "The Art Deco vogue spread to Shanghai soon after it was born in France in 1925," says Professor Chang Qing, dean of the architecture school of Tongji University. "It had a particularly great impact on Shanghai. Around a quarter of the historic buildings on the Bund contain Art Deco features. Even the top of the Jin Mao Tower in Pudong's Lujiazui area is influenced by Art Deco."

But the Bank of Communications did not use the building for long. Shanghai Trade Union Council began using the Art Deco building from 1951 until today. It has links with workers' unions in 26 countries and regions.

Shanghai's building boom in the 1920s and 1930s cooled down in the 1940s when China was torn by conflict and political turmoil. That may be one reason why the building is simpler than others.

No. 14 is not a building you would love at first sight. But behind its simple exterior are quite a few inspiring architectural details. It is also well preserved. Most important, it was the last stroke on our painting of the historical Bund. When it was completed in 1948, the Bund we see today had finally taken shape.

Yesterday: Bank of Communications Building

Present: Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council

Built: 1948

Architect: C. H. Gonda

Style: Art Deco

Tips: The building is not open to the public but visitors can admire the entrance hall and artistic staircases.

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