Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva

Edison Calatroni and Ernyi S. Hsieh, Shanghai architects

Image: Shanghai Architecture Wandering 走跳上海建築.

Image: F Thomas on Flickr.

This Italian-Chinese duo designed some very extravagant and beautiful apartment houses in Shanghai. It is time to know these architects better and appreciate their style!

Edison Calatroni (7 March 1898 – ?) was an engineer and architect from Cremona, Italy. He practiced occult sciences, gave public lectures on theosophy and hosted visiting spiritual gurus. He also actively supported Mussolini from the dictator's early days. In the 1930s, Calatroni patented several contraptions related to industrial refrigeration.

Ernyi Shengtsu Hsieh, or Xue Shengzu 薛绳祖 (17 May 1896 – ?) was from Hangzhou, China. After studying at Shanghai's St. John's University, he went to New York in 1914 and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, becoming a civil engineer. In 1919, Hsieh joined the delegation of overseas students traveling to France to promote literacy among the tens of thousands of Chinese migrant laborers there.

Hsieh and Calatroni, both certified civil engineers, initially practiced solo. In 1927, they joined forces and formed Calatroni, Hsieh and Co. 开宜工程公司, "Architects, Engineers, Land and Estate Agents," with an office at 14 Kiukiang Road. In the 1930s, the well-known Russian architect W. A. Fedoroff joined the firm; his Vladivostok legacy exceeds 200 buildings, but the Shanghai stage of his career is yet the subject of enquiry. The Calatroni, Hsieh & Co. existed for twenty years, and some of its projects are still found in the streets of Shanghai. After 1949, the studio closed, but Xue Shengzu continued to design, teach and publish in Communist China. The fate of Calatroni is yet unknown, but he spent some time in Spain, France and USA.

Below are some of the best-known works by this studio.

Sun Court 太阳公寓

651, 655 Weihai Road // 威海路651号,665弄

Sun Court was initially built as a three-story apartment house for the young real estate tycoon Sun Chunsheng 孙春生. Sun also owned the narrow and flat building Sun Apartments next door and Sun Avenue lane compound nearby.

Back in 1928, Weihaiwei (now Weihai) Road was still a quiet road with little traffic. Its western end did not go all the way to busy Avenue Foch (now Yan'an Road) but stopped at the wall of the vast Hardoon Estate. Apartment houses, not yet abundant in Shanghai, were still considered a novel form of living. The Sun Court, which opened for occupation in September, had 31 apartment, some of which occupied two floors, "appealing to those who strongly dislike having living rooms and bedrooms on the same level."

"Each of the flats, however large or small, is completely separate and all have a good through draught. Built-in cupboards are a great saving of space, the closets being well ventilated and the built-in dressers and other fittings in the kitchen help to keep things clean, there being no floor underneath to give trouble, besides adding to the available space." There was hardwood flooring in living areas and mosaic floors everywhere else. There were extra rooms for live-in servants and extra bathrooms. Householders enjoyed built-in cupboards, pantry and storage, garbage chutes, as well as garages on the ground floor. The living rooms in some of the larger flats had the double ceiling height, with winding staircases leading to small balconies. Steam heating helped keep all these spaces comfortable.

"The building has been erected in the form of the hollow rectangle, and the space inside is being turned into a sheltered little court for the use of the tenants and their children. Grass will be laid down and a fountain set up in the centre. A roof garden has also been arranged, and as only oil fuel is used in the buldings, smoke and smuts will not spoil a space which may be used for gentle exercise and which also has a fine view of Shanghai in all directions." That so few historic photographs of this building exist must be due to back light making it hard to get a good exposure.

All the residents in the building were westerners, of whom many were local entertainment stars – for instance, the cabaret choreographer Henry Nathan, his partner Carol Bateman and the opera soloist M. Krylova. After 1949, all of them were out, but in spite of the subsequent overcrowding and the subdivision of apartments, Sun Court continued to be a comfortable place, as confirmed by its long-time residents, who are now in retirement. In this video, Xiong Luxia 熊鲁霞, who has resided here since 1956, recalls the fountain in the center of the garden, the vegetable patches that took over the lawns when food became scarce, and the deep groundwater well used for cooling watermelons on hot summer days. In 1977, two extra floors were added to the building, to house the administrative personnel of the Shanghai Tractor Company. The tall palm trees in the courtyard are over ninety years old by now, and looking good!

[Click to see old and new photos of Sun Court]
Rental ad from 1929:

Extending Weihaiwei Road to meet Avenue Foch, in 1935:

A rare image with the building, taken in the late 1940s, from Vivian C. Murray's family achive:

Plan on a floor in Sun Court:

View from above in the 1990s:

Modern view of the courtyard:

Jubilee Court 新康公寓

1360 Rue Lafayette // 1360 Middle Fuxing Road // 复兴中路1360弄

Continue to Part Two: Jubilee Court.

Tags: 1920s, 1928, architects, architecture, calatroni, fuxing road, italians, neta, rue lafayette, shanghai, weihai road

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