China's Old Dwellings book (2000)

Lovers of Chinese archtecture will rejoice at having this free digitized version of the great Ronald G. Knapp's China's Old Dwellings. I love owning paper copies of his books too; they open a bright and inviting window on understanding what the Chinese buildings and cities communicate.

Image: Historical Photographs of China.

The Building News and Engineering Journal (1906)

“This villa, erected on the outskirts of Shanghai [right at the foothills of Donghu Road 东湖路] for Mr. Dabelstein, has been built of local bricks and Loochow granite. The whole building is raised 4 feet above the ground, as is usual here [in the Shanghai mountains], as a protection against the all-penetating damp. The roof is constructed of Oregon pine and covered with a green-glazed patent locked tile made by a German firm at Tsingtaw [Qingdao]. These tiles stand the severe rain remarkably well, and give at the same time a local splash of colur to the building. The internal joinery and paneling to the main rooms is in teak, that of the staircase and hall being elaborately carved. Venetian shutters are fixed throughout and Ningpo varnished [a curious term!]. There are extensive stables to the rear of the building where the servants quarters etc. are also placed [logically]. Each bedroom is provided with a separate bath and a dressing room. Mr Wong Fah Kee, of Shanghai, is the contractor, and the architects and Messrs. Smedley, Denham and Rose.”

The ever-wonderful Cornell University has this handy list of all the issues of The Building News and Engineering Journal for the years 1859–1922. This magazine sometimes published articles and images of Shanghai buildings (if the access is restricted to the United States, set your VPN accordingly.) For instance, the December 14, 1906, issue has this beautiful architectural drawing and a description of the Dabelstein residence, which later housed multiple interesting enterprises. Strangely, the illustration is missing in the university copy, but I saved it from Ebay. (Wait a minute – why did the missing page go on sale? Hmmm... Ever since watching the Putin's Palace investigation, I'm seeing connections where there are none.)

Click here to see this location on the map.

Austro-Hungarian Architect Networks in Tianjin and Shanghai (1918–1952)

Here is an interesting new article on the Austro-Hungarian architects in China, whose author Eduard Kögel is a Berlin-based architect and should be credited for uncovering and popularizing the work of Rudolf Hamburger in Shanghai. The present study focuses on two professional biographies – those of Tianjin-based Rolf Geyling and Shanghai’s Laszlo Hudec. Other Austro-Hungarian architects are introduced briefly – Josef Alois Hammerschmidt, Felix Skoff and Hugo Sandor. Oddly, Charles Henry Gonda receives no mention, even though he worked on projects in both cities and authored at least two buildings in Tianjin and more than twenty in Shanghai. John Komor and Bela Matrai are also not included, but their biographies were only pieced together for the first time last year. Overall, the chance to read about the architect Rolf Geyling in English is the main point of interest, because all the books about him are in German.

A follow-up research, if it materializes, would explore to a greater depth the "network" aspect of the Austro-Hungarian careers in China. It is well-known that many, if not most, Central and Eastern European architects, engineers and artists were friends and collaborators, and that included the ex-Russian Empire citizens. They fraternized, formed various societies and supported each other professionally by hiring each other and sharing experience. This is evident in the employee lists of Shanghai’s largest foreign firms, or in the rosters of engineers and designers involved in large projects that appeared in the local press. In one specific instance, the patronage and tutorship of L. E. Hudec helped the Russian builder, Boris Krivoss (who had Czech roots) to move from reconstruction projects to creating his own designs...

Image: C. H. Gonda's bank building in Tianjin, built in 1923. Wikipedia.

“Quick, take my picture in front of this store”

This photo captioned simply "Street scene, Shanghai, China, ca. 1900" is rather funny: everyone in the street and inside the picturesque colonial goods store is noticeably amused at the sight of an American missionary woman wearing a Manchu outfit, who is trying to be captured on camera while strolling on Nanking Road.

Image: Yale.

Embroidery as architectural illustration

This blog has turned too much toward Constantinople, but it is the closest city to Shanghai that I know, so... Anyway, embroidered architectural drawings are very cool! This is Leyla Aslan’s "illustrative embroidery" piece depicting Vlora Han, an Art Nouveau office building designed by the Italian architect Raimondo d'Aronco, whose turn-of-the-century creations grace the central streets in the Pera (Beyoglu) district of Istanbul. The taut contrasty stitches superbly emphasize the geometry of the building, while clusters of voluminous knots represent the plaster ornamentation quite well.

Image: Leyla Aslan: Illustrative Embroidery.

More of her works are on Instagram. She even did the whole city!