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SOUL OF THE BUND

静汀Justin Ting 2015-09-23 10:01

The McBain Building

The McBain Building is number one on the Bund not only for its address: No.1 Zhongshan East 1st Road, but also for the fact that it held the mantle of grandest building in Shanghai for a long time. After the opening of Shanghai as a port city, this site was occupied by the British Hogg brothers who made their wealth from trading in herbal remedies. At the time of its building, adjacent Yan’an Road was still an ancient canal called the Yangjing Bang which marked the divide between the British Concession to the north and the French Concession in the south. It wasn’t until 1914 that authorities from the two concessions cooperated to ll in the canal and turn it into the major arterial road that connects the Bund to Hongqiao district.


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Around 1899 the Hogg brothers sold the property to British merchant George McBain, who in 1913 decided to demolish the original houseonthesitetomakewayforacommercialof cebuildingthatwas completed in 1916. McBain rented out the building to the Royal Dutch Shell’s Asiatic Petroleum division. Due to Asiatic Petroleum’s ubiquity in the Chinese market, people came to know No.1 on the Bund as the Asiatic Petroleum building. In fact, some old Shanghainese still call it that to this day despite various new tenants moving in since Royal Dutch Shell’s withdrawal in 1960s.

Designed by Moorhead & Hales, the building’s exterior is a surprisingly harmonious mishmash of styles including classical, neoclassical, and baroque with Ionic columns supporting the main entrance. The floor plan of the building looks like the Chinese character "回" with a courtyard in the middle. The outer sides of the building were designed as spacious of ces while the inner sides form the corridors. With windows a soaring 2 metres high, the of ce rooms are airy and bright. Corridors were all surfaced with white ceramic tiles and floors paved with intricate mosaics. Initially the building was seven storeys tall, an extra storey was added in 1939.


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In 1989, the building was listed as a protected cultural heritage in Shanghai but now remains mysteriously empty.


The Union Building

No.3 on the Bund has had many names and a dramatic history. First called the Union Building, it belonged to Dodwell & Co. Ltd when it was built in 1860 as a wood and brick three-storey house. Dodwell & Co. Ltd was co-founded by British businessmen Adamson and Bell who mainly focused on import/export and insurance. As their business grew and ourished, the simple house no longer met their needs and was starting to look increasingly dowdy next to its prominent neighbours. As Dodwell & Co. Ltd could not afford to renovate the house on its own, they liaised with many other companies to complete a new building in 1916. Upon its completion, the participant companies occupied the oor spaces proportional to their contributions to the construction, earning the name of the “Union Building”. Elegant and symmetrical, the overall design of the building is largely neoclassical with Baroque details.


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By 1937, in the turmoil of the years before World War II, the Battle of Shanghai between the Chinese army and the invading Japanese army began. Being unable to indemnify unpredictable war damages, the insurance companies that occupied the Union Building had almost all their assets frozen and the building itself was purchased by The Union Bank only to leave after the Communist takeover. From 1953 the building was used by the Shanghai Civil Architecture and Design Institute. Rumour has it that during this period the top oor of was used as apartments. If true, then these apartments would have had some spectacular views but it is dif cult to verify its validity.


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In 1997, through the Bund building exchange scheme, Singapore Giti Private Investment Co. purchased the right to use this building and in 2004, the high-end dining and “Three on the Bund” was born. Now one of the best known lifestyle destinations on the Bund, Three on the Bund is a mixed-use complex of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. It has attracted top-calibre chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichte and Mauro Colagreco.


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Former HSBC Building

No.12 on the Bund is a true masterpiece of architecture and the most prominent building on the entire strip. To understand its story, one must start with the history of HSBC which is intimately intertwined with that of Shanghai. In 1865, HSBC opened its branch on the ground floor of the Central Hotel (now Peace Hotel) but by 1874, HSBC’s business had far outgrown its space. The bank then purchased the three-storey Foreign Club at No.12 on the Bund just before a nancial crisis broke out in London which hit hard many other British-owned banks, yet somehow HSBC managed to remain not only unphased but actually saw its business bloom. In view of the strategic importance of the Shanghai branch, HSBC built the grand building in 1921-1923 that stands as testament to its success. HSBC even hiredfengshui masters to select the time and direction of the rst excavation to secure good fortune in the future. No expense was spared inside or out; the interior were decorated with marble and monel and tted with air conditioning. Fittingly, it was called “the most luxurious building from the Suez Canal to the Bering Strait” and held pride of place as the second largest bank building in the world at the time.


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While a British financial crisis couldn’t dampen HSBC’s business, it was certainly affected by the Japanese invasion into China and eventually HSBC left the country in 1955. Later in that year, the Shanghai Municipal Government moved into the building. In 1990, when the Municipal Government began moving civic institutions out of the Bund, HSBC attempted to buy back the building but negotiations failed due to price. Another bank however, the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, obtained the lease to the building and has been there since.

During subsequent renovations in 1997 eight spectacular mosaic murals depicting the cities in which HSBC had branches, as well as beautiful frescos depicting the twelve signs of the Zodiac were uncovered near the ceiling of the octagonal entrance hall. It is believed that they had been covered up with stucco by an enterprising architect to avoid damage.


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Customs House

The most historically significant building on the Bund is unquestionably the Customs House at No.13. In 1845, the Qing Dynasty set up a Jianghai Northern Customs House built as a wooden house in the traditional Chinese Yamen bureaucratic style. It was the rst customs house in China but it was not to last long. The house was burned down during the Small Sword Society uprising in 1853 and a rebuilt customs house was burnt down once more in 1860 by the Taiping Revolution Army. A subsequent Gothic-style rebuild was again demolished in 1925.

The Customs House that we see now with its iconic clock-tower, designed by Palmer and Turner Architects, was built in 1927 just two years after the completion of the grand HSBC building. Despite sharing the same architects as many of the other famous Bund buildings, the Customs House has a markedly different style from the plethora of Neoclassical buildings for which the Bund was known. While it is redolent of classical tradition, with its Doric columns, it is the unique, rectangular, rising clock tower that gives the building its imposing sense of height, depth, and command, while also pre guring Shanghai’s architectural transition towards Art Deco.


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The main entrance has four Doric columns decorated with gold leaf, giving the Customs House a sacred solemn feeling. At the centre of the main hall is an octagonal dome that is lavishly decorated with mosaic murals on all sides. The most recognisable aspect of the building however is the three storey clock tower whose chimes ring out the clear melody of “East is Red” every daylight hour. The clock mechanism was built in England before being shipped to Shanghai in 1927. Both the clock and bell mechanisms were built to the design of the Big Ben clock at the Palace of Westminster in London... in fact it even used to play the Westminster Quarters chime before being replaced with “East is Red”. Unlike many of the other Bund buildings, No.13 on the Bund has maintained its original purpose and is still a Customs House to this day.


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