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February 13, 2010

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Hidden Art Deco masterpieces

THE huge former China Aviation Association building looks like a massive gray aircraft - round Art Deco with touches of Chinese elements - landed in a park.

The spectacular building, built in 1936 and known as the "airplane building," is one of several historic buildings preserved along Changhai Road by the Yangpu District government. The "airplane" is parked on the grounds of Changhai Hospital.

The other restored municipal buildings are Shanghai's former City Hall in Qing Dynasty-style (1644-1911), the former Shanghai Library, the former Shanghai Museum in East-meets-West style. The main architects of the cluster of buildings were Dong Dayou, who had studied in America, and Henry Killam Murphy from the United States.

The conservation and renovation work focuses on Changhai Road, which contains important structures in the 1930s "Plan of Great Shanghai."

The buildings, which have other functions, can still be viewed.

The conservation area at first was noisy and crowded with heavy traffic and many vendors as it is near some universities and hospitals.

Planners decided to strike a balance between conservation and modern development. Historical buildings, roads, street views, parks and other cultural spots have been preserved.

At the same time, buildings have been renovated, roads broadened, traffic signs replaced, illegal structures eliminated and a unified sign design is required of businesses. Green space has been added.

The Plan of Great Shanghai in the 1930s involved a network of roads, housing (including public housing for the poor), green spaces and streams, an integration of the railway and a modernization of the port. It called for a town hall, a museum, a library, an art gallery, an auditorium, a hospital and a medical school. Most of these buildings are now located in the district.

The former Shanghai Library, currently Shanghai Tongji High School, is located at 174 Changhai Road. Built in 1936, it was one of the first buildings in the 1930s plan. Also built in 1936, the former Shanghai Museum is now a building in Changhai Hospital. It covers 1,900 square meters and is decorated with paintings and murals. It had seven halls and at one time exhibited more than 20,000 cultural relics and documents, some of them damaged in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). Both buildings were designed like drum towers and glazed with colored tiles.

Together with the former Shanghai Stadium, currently the Jiangwan Stadium, the three buildings were considered superb examples of architecture in the Far East at the time.

The former City Hall is now an office of the Shanghai University of Sport. Established in 1933, it looked somewhat like a Qing Dynasty palace.

The four-story building covers 9,000 square meters. It featured fine stone carving, green glazed tiles and arch windows. The plaza in front of the building can accommodate 100,0000 people.

In terms of design, although it borrowed the layout of the Athens City Hall, its Chinese architecture distinguished it from other buildings in foreign settlements of the time.

The building is a Shanghai Cultural Relics Protection Site.

The "airplane building," built in 1936, was used to promote Chinese aviation and technology. It has round gray cement Deco contours and Chinese elements such as rings of Chinese stairs and railings above the "cockpit."

The forward area was a 1,000-seat hall, while its three-story awing area was used for offices. The two-story tail section contained exhibition halls.

The building was damaged severely during Battle of Shanghai beginning on August 13, 1937. It was not until 1993 that it was renovated by an overseas Chinese from Thailand who spent 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million) on the project.

Further preservation and development of the "airplane building" will be supported by the local government.

The renovated street is expected to draw millions of visitors who are touring World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.


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