Home > iDEAL Focus > Features > No. 16 - Another temple to money
No. 16 - Another temple to money
By Michelle Qiao

The Bund is a huge mirror reflecting the Shanghai incarnations of world-famous buildings. While No. 15 (November 21, Shanghai Daily) was likely inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles, next door, No. 16 on the Bund, resembles an ancient Greek temple with four two-story columns on the waterfront facade. The building today has four stories, with the facade in gray marble.

The site belonged to Shaw Bros & Co in the 1860s. HSBC owned the site since 1886 and added two floors to the previous two-story veranda building for lease. The tenants included the famous architectural firm Morrison & Gratton, German trade company Telge & Schroeter and the North China Insurance Co. The Bank of Taiwan had leased the building before they bought it from HSBC in the 1920s.

According to "The Banking History of the Bund" (2010) published by Huangpu District, the Bank of Taiwan was established in 1899 as Taiwan's central bank by the Japanese authority, which occupied Taiwan at that time. The bank had played an important role in issuing official currency and supporting Japanese companies during the Japanese occupation of China.

The Bank of Taiwan opened a Shanghai branch in the veranda building on April 10 in 1911 and built the grand new building in 1924 that covered 973 square meters.

In 1927 when the new building was completed, the bank published an advertisement in the English newspaper Far Eastern Review, stating that the Taipei-based bank operated branches and agencies across Japan, China, Java, India, London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. Moreover, they had "correspondents at all the chief commercial cities of the world."

The new office designed by Lester, Johnson and Morriss was worthy of an announcement.

Tongji University architectural history professor Qian Zonghao describes No. 16 as "simplified Greek temple style." The building is partially enclosed by grand orders, including four columns on the fa?ade and six pilasters in composite style on the southern side. The second and the fourth floors are topped by simple-cut architraves. Above the third floor is an overhanging cornice.

He emphasizes an interesting architectural detail, the capitals of the four two-story columns.

"The designer had used key pattern to replace the usual spiral volute on the capitals of Ionic orders," Qian says. He has identified the same pattern on the capitals of columns in the Jardine, Matheson & Co Building at No. 27 (1922) and the HSBC Building at No. 12 (1923).

The three buildings were designed by different firms but built in the same period. "That implies the pattern did not reflect individual taste, but an architectural vogue at the time."

Qian adds that the interlaced vertical and horizontal lines in geometric fret patterns were used by Egyptians to decorate the ceilings of mausoleums and by Greeks to decorate pottery. Ancient Chinese also used decorative fret patterns extensively.

"So I assume western architects had used the pattern as a symbol of Oriental art, which resembled the square-shaped dou gong (wooden bracket set) commonly seen on traditional Chinese buildings," Qian says. The widely popular China Pavilion was also designed in dou gong style.

The Bank of Taiwan was taken over by the Chinese government after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945.

According to Huangpu District archives, the building was used by the Farmers Bank of China for several years and since 1955 was used as the office of the state-owned Shanghai Crafts Import and Export Co. The China Merchants Bank took over the building as its branch on the Bund in 1998 and operates there today.

The ground floor is still a busy banking hall today. It retains the original, highly ornamented coffered ceiling. The staircase leads to the upper floors for wealthy clients and the original mosaic flooring as well as the chocolate-hued tiles that adorn half the walls are well preserved.

After the building was completed in 1927, architects Lester, Johnson & Morriss moved their office into the building, just as Palmer & Turner moved their office into their first Shanghai project, the Union Building (today's Three on the Bund). The firm's founder, legendary British tycoon Henry Lester, had died one year before the move. Heirless, he bequeathed most of his assets to philanthropy in China and Britain. He was buried in Jing'an Park.

The year 1927 was also eventful for Bund reconstructions. Far Eastern Review published a story titled "Shanghai's New Billion-Dollar Skyline" in June 1927, stating "The Bund is undergoing yet another quick transformation at the present moment."

It listed several newly or nearly completed buildings, including the new Customs House at No. 13, Sassoon House at No. 20, the NKK Building at No. 5 and the Bank of Taiwan at No. 16.

"Building in Shanghai, in fact, is progressing at an amazing rate, considering the general business depression. One can scarcely travel a block in the business or residential sections of Shanghai without seeing construction work on office buildings, apartment houses or shops ... At the current rate of progress, it will not be long before Shanghai can boast a billion-dollar shop-front," the report predicted.

And history has proved the prediction.

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164