No. 18 strikes balance between history and commercial use
By Michelle Qiao
No. 18 on the Bund, once a majestic bank, is now a vibrant, high-end lifestyle space that both preserves original architectural gems and embraces contemporary function. Michelle Qiao reports.
Balancing historic preservation with new commercial functions has always been an issue with the architecture along the Bund.
No. 18 on the Bund, now widely known as Bund 18, received a UNESCO Heritage Award in 2006 for its efforts to achieve that delicate balance, so that it would be a functioning work of architecture, not a museum.
The five-story, granite-faced Neo-Grec structure was completed in 1923 as the office of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. Founded in London in 1853 and opening a Shanghai branch only four years later, it was among the earliest foreign banks in China.
The English-language Far Eastern Review reported in July 1922 that the 1,755-square-meter, steel-frame structure would be "of heavy, dignified, classic design, Neo-Grec in style with little ornament."
The publication noted a pair of bronze gates made in England, a square vestibule with four Brecchia marble columns, one in each corner, a floor of Roman marble mosaic, and a plaster ceiling.
Like Three on the Bund, which reopened for luxury, commercial use in 2004, No. 18 was designed by architect G. L. Wilson from Palmer & Turner. It too reopened in 2004 with a collection of luxury venues.
Today in a standard Bund 18 tour, guides point out "gems" of the building, such as the gates, marble columns, mosaic floor and other features.
Because of its award-winning renovation, these features survived to be appreciated in a new, high-end retail center.
Filippo Gabbiani of Kokaistudios, chief architect of the renovation, says Bund 18 is remarkable because of the large number of original features that have been preserved.
Gabbiani, who grew up in a Venetian family of traditional glass makers, was commissioned in 2002 to renovate the building for mixed retail use. His team spent the first three months surveying the architecture and then worked two more years, virtually 24 hours a day, to complete the project. It opened in November 2004.
"We found original finishes on the lobby, the original columns, marble, floorings and decorations hidden under layers and layers, which had been boxed up during the 'cultural revolution' (1966-1976) for preservation, like many Bund buildings. Even the security people working inside didn't know these things existed," Gabbiani recalls.
"It was a magnificent building and had been a masterpiece in the way it was built because it took only 14 months to build with the technology of its time. It's impressive how the technology at the beginning of the last century was already so efficient," he adds.
The renovation tapped the expertise of Professor Guiseppe Tonini from Venice, an expert in stone, metal and marble restoration. The effects of corrosion and carbonization had taken their toll on the granite exterior.
Tonini developed a plan that required much of the exterior to be carefully cleaned by hand using traditional methods developed for Venetian buildings. It took 30 workers two months to clean the exterior.
Other highlights were cleaned and restored, including the exquisite bronze gates, the columns of Brecchia marble with beautiful rose-veined patterns, wooden balustrades of the main staircase, and the Roman mosaic flooring of the black, white and gray marble in geometric patterns.
If restoring the past is difficult, redeveloping the building on the basis of preservation for viable commercial use is more challenging.
The ground floor was originally a large open gallery with high ceilings for the banking hall. But a suffocating mezzanine had been added in renovation in the 1980s to increase the usable space. In the recent renovation, the central area was reopened for a bright, breathtaking effect, though the mezzanine on both sides was maintained, connected with the ground floor by way of two symmetrical stone staircases.
"A 7-meter-high lobby for a bank? I was not going to use it in an efficient way," Gabbiani says of the half-mezzanine plan. "Some people copy all the original decorations inside and they bring it back without tearing anything down. The result is a dead building. It smells old and it's like a dead museum. Italians want to bring life back to the buildings. We succeeded because we bring life back to the building."
There was considerable debate over the restoration and the model of Three on the Bund, which had completely changed the interior. At No. 18, much of the original has been preserved.
"No. 3 is a different project. They didn't have the original windows, which were changed in the 1960s. So they approached the project in a different way," Gabbiani says. "We dialogue with the originality of the building and they instead go to the contrast. They opened up a huge lot in the building and made this incredible vault inside, full space. We cleaned the facade, cleaned all the metals and maintained the same windows. We use a contemporary way to make it and they use a post-modern way. And the result is different."
In an earlier interview, Lyndon Neri who co-designed the Three on the Bund project with Michael Graves, said the conception was to "insert new architecture into what was an empty space in the original design that had only haphazardly been filled in over the passing years."
According to the Huangpu District Archives, No. 18 was renamed Chun Jiang Building, or Spring River Building, in 1955 after the Chartered Bank moved to Yuanmingyuan Road because of declining business. State-owned companies, including Chinese-Polish Joint Stock Shipping Co moved in.
Today Bund 18 is a chic lifestyle center filled with restaurants, bars, luxury shops and an art gallery, whose function is similar to that of Three on the Bund. The high hall is dotted with odd-shaped contemporary artworks; huge scarlet glass chandeliers made by the Gabbiani family hangs from the ceiling. The ambience is more open and inviting, compared with that of No. 3, which is dark-toned, luxurious and very private in feeling.
Both styles are appreciated. Both buildings were designed by the same architect early last century and reopened for high-end use in 2004.
"It's a good thing to have two so different things on the Bund because debate always brings artistic care of the buildings," Gabbiani says.
And it's also variety that has made our Bund so beautiful and so much talked about.