This past weekend has proven to be overly active that Monday’s malaise at the office desk seemed like a welcome break.
As part of an art collaboration with a cafe/gallery space in Singapore where I will be exhibiting a series on Kyrgyzstan, I agreed to feature a few cafes around Shanghai that shared the creativity and spirit of SPRMRKT (yes, no vowels, they are that trendy).
I took the opportunity to catch up with visiting friends from Beijing and Washington DC in a couple of trendy cafes around the former French Concession (I highly recommend Ginger by the Park on Xingguo Lu). Parched from a torrent of conversation, I later strolled alone through the plane tree-lined boulevards and took in old colonial architecture. The peace and quiet of some parts (Hunan Lu and Xingguo Lu) contrasted strongly with the raucous expat pockets (Dongping Lu and Yueyang Lu) that stank of spilled ale and blared rugby commentary from pubs.
The walk reminded me of how little time I spent photographing around the former French Concession. I was more used to the chaos and half-rubbled homes of old neighborhoods around the Bund and downtown Shanghai.
As the sun dipped, I ducked into a small compound at the north end of Wukang Lu (武康路), formerly known as Route Ferguson which was named after the American missionary John Calvin Ferguson. The houses were Spanish-styled and designed by Dong Dayou (or Doon Dayu 董大酉) who had helped build Shanghai’s first city hall in 1931 (or Shanghai Government Administrative Center) under the Nanjing Kuomintang government.
Dong studied at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University, and upon returning to Shanghai in 1928, designed many residential and government buildings that combined stylistic flairs of East and West. Dong was perhaps most famous for being one of the leading architects of “The Greater Shanghai Blueprint”, an urban policy plan that was unfortunately never completely fulfilled.
Having lived in California before, I prefer Spanish facades which are aesthetically more accessible and playful yet elegant without the stuffiness of French intricacies. Nevertheless, the above featured facade stood out boldly even though it was tucked away in a corner. (It isn’t Spanish hence I didn’t title this post “Dong Dayou’s Spanish façade”.)
So next time you have some time before dinner, take that 1.2 km (0.7 mile) stroll along the length of Wukang Lu, bookended by the Hudec-designed Normandie Apartments (intersecting with Huaihai Lu) and Dong Dayou’s Spanish compound (by Huashan Lu). If you’re lucky to find this façade, enjoy.