No. 28 on the Bund is going to reopen in June after a two-year renovation that has preserved elements from different periods of this 91-year-old building.
When architect Zou Xun was transferred from the renovation team of No. 27 to that of No. 28, he was initially disappointed because No. 28 is less imposing compared with No. 27 which had housed Jardine Matheson, the "King of Foreign Hongs." But he was encouraged as his team discovered refined details in this more modest building.
No. 28 was built in 1922 by British shipping company Glen Line Ltd, which was originally set up in 1867 to support trade between Glasgow, Liverpool and Chile with a single sailing vessel. In the 1970s, the company used steam ships in the China tea trade.
Glen Line Ltd was formed in 1910 and amalgamated with the Shire Line in 1920, after which the Glen and Shire lines announced in the North China Daily News that their vessels would arrive in Shanghai from the UK and European ports. Glen Line was later taken over by Blue Funnel Line.
The 90-feet-high (27-meter-high) edifice is a work of Palmer & Turner work, which had designed nine of the 23 waterfront heritage buildings. It is designed in free Renaissance style with clear-cut lines.
"A breakthrough in No. 28 was the use of indirect lighting," says Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao. "According to archives, the electric lamps had been concealed in large bronze bowls suspended from the ceiling and the pleasingly gentle light had been obtained by reflection."
It was also the special lighting that impressed architect Zou.
"The sixth floor has huge windows adorned by stained glass in small pieces. The walls were thick so the light cast through the small pieces of stained glass gave a touching feel of history," recalls Zou of his first exploration in 2011. He is senior architect of Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design Group, which renovated both No. 27 and No. 28.
In 1951, the Shanghai People's Radio Station moved into No. 28 and its broadcasts were an important part of city life for many years.
During the era radio was a major entertainment medium, and many programs were produced and broadcast from No. 28 to millions of Shanghai families.
When the radio station moved to Hongqiao Road in 1996, the building was used as the offices for the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film & TV. Its latest renovation houses a new organization, the Shanghai Clearing House of the Central Bank of China.
Architect Zou believes similar functions of past and present help preserve a heritage building such as No. 20, the Cathay Hotel that became the Fairmont Peace Hotel. Fortunately, No. 28 has always been an office building.
After the renovation, the ground floor will comprise two halls - the southern hall for staff entrance and the grand eastern hall for cocktails and balls. The former gate on the Bund, which had not been used during the past half century, will be reopened for special events. Zou's team has designed an elegant British entrance hall with a copper revolving door. Under the gate he had unearthed original plinths of two Ionic columns and two pilasters.
Offices will occupy the first to fifth floors. Most rooms on the sixth floor will be preserved as VIP rooms. The same floor will also house a kitchen, a restaurant and a gym for employees. An inner yard, which had been used for haircuts and massage in the days of the state-owned radio station, will be turned into a breathtaking garden.
Back to 1922, No. 28 was also a comfortable modern office. The Far Eastern Review reported offices of the Glen Line Eastern Agencies occupied the ground floor while the rest were leased out. As one of the city's largest single office buildings at the time, it covered 8,000 square feet. The building is fireproof and heated throughout by low-pressure hot water. Modern plumbing and sanitary facilities were installed, so that each office had at least one lavatory.
In addition to the stained glass windows, Zou also fell in love with the ceramic tiles that graced the walls along the staircase.
"The creamy white tiles had subtle crack patterns that perfectly match the emerald belt line tiles in geological patterns, it's very Art Deco," says architect Zou, displaying two original tiles in his office.
On the back of the tiles "made in England" was stamped. Thanks to an old gatekeeper, many of the tiles that had been forgotten behind wooden wainscot had been saved.
Elements from the 1950s and 1960s are also evident.
The facade of No. 28 is composed of a hybrid of the original 1920s "Shanghai Plaster," a kind of pebble wash, and newer treatment during a 1950s renovation. Shanghai plaster creates the effect of natural stone texture by using small pieces of granite.
"Shanghai plaster is not only beautiful in a solemn way, but also stable, durable, waterproof and very economic," says Dai Shibing, director of the Architecture Conservation Laboratory of the Tongji University.
"Widely used in the city from the 1900s to the 1930s, Shanghai plaster shows 'wisdom of Shanghai'." It is used on other Bund buildings.
On the fa?ade of No. 28, the 1920s plaster gives a warmer tone than the 1950s plaster, which used more cement. Zou's team has applied a coherent method to mediate their differences.
"So they look the same from afar, but show the traces of different periods from a close look, very interesting," Zou says.
Even the 1980s traces are maintained. Most 1980s renovation on the Bund were of poor quality, but No. 28 was exceptional. The sixth and seventh floors are linked by a beautiful staircase with wooden handrails and metal-and-wood railings.
"It looked great along with the yellow terrazzo floor, with a strong flavor of the 1980s," says Zou, who preserved the staircase, but relocated it.
The most puzzling discovery occurred in No. 28's most magnificent Room 601.
The walls of this former master office are paneled in teak wood that is ornately carved, creating an effect of richness.
The teak walls are inlaid with four square frames that contain a crescent, a hexagram, grapes and tiny crosses respectively. Above the fireplace, another carving appears to be the coat of arms of an ancient European family.
The architect has not deciphered the symbols yet. Like other Bund buildings, mysteries from the last century are still lingering in places like Room 601, in the seemingly modest, but meticulously detailed No. 28.
Yesterday: The Glen Line Building
Today: Shanghai Clearing House of the Central Bank of China
Address: 28 Zhongshan Rd E1
Built: In 1922
Architectural style: Free Renaissance
Architect: Palmer & Turner
Tips: Note the nuances in the various types of "Shanghai Plaster" on the facade.