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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Anglo-gothic gem

As the World Expo Shanghai draws near, the rush is on to preserve the city's architectural heritage. Once horribly "modernized" and renovated, the old Shanghai University of Science and Technology in Yangpu District is being restored. Nancy Zhang reports on the preservation of this Anglo-Gothic architectural gem.

Strolling through this campus of red brick walls, tall bay windows and old world spires, you may be forgiven for thinking you're on a campus in America or England.

But this scene can be found right here in Shanghai at the Yangpu campus of the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST).

Far from the city center on Jungong Road in northeastern Shanghai's Yangpu District, this small but perfectly formed campus is home to the most complete set of historical educational buildings in the city. This architectural gem covers 300 acres and includes expanses along the Huangpu River.

A major restoration effort is under way and a cluster of eight villas - an International Exchange Village - will be unveiled for World Expo 2010 Shanghai next May.

Over the years, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, the buildings were damaged, renovated and modernized. New was good, old was meaningless. Triangular steeples were flattened and squared off to provide more space and old red-and-gray bricks were painted over in bright colors.

All in all, it was a travesty of historic preservation. Funding today is insufficient to restore the old towers and do more than external refurbishing and simple interior work. International donations are welcomed.

Often overlooked by guidebooks and history enthusiasts, architectural gems are scattered around city universities and high schools. They bear the distinctive style of turn-of-the-century missionary establishments.

The buildings of the USST were part of the old University of Shanghai, founded in 1906 at the height of the Christian-run tertiary education in China by northern and southern American Baptists.

It was built in the classic Anglo-gothic style with red brick walls and tall triangular roofs, like spires.

Set on the banks of the Huangpu River, it acquired generous stretches of green lawn in the 1920s for sports and recreation.

Today the campus is tightly packed with new buildings.

From 1952, missionary higher education was reorganized in China and the original University of Shanghai became the Hujiang campus of today's USST. Another campus on Fuxing Road includes the buildings of the old Deutsche Medizinschule.

Other modern universities, such as Jiao Tong and Fudan universities, incorporated buildings from other old universities pre-1952.

The USST is comprised of 35 old buildings, 30 of which are listed as protected at municipal level, including several teaching halls, student dormitories, a music conservatory and a science building. They are used as faculty offices and student dorms.

"The old buildings are extremely important to the school - they have become the university's signature," says Chen Bing, vice principal of the USST. "They immediately speak to our long history and leave a deep impression on visitors and students alike."

But only recently did the buildings become the focus of preservationists' attention.

Zhang Deming, a retired teacher, lived and worked on the campus for 45 years.

Entering as a freshman undergraduate in 1964, Zhang witnessed many changes in the buildings.

For the centenary of the school in 2006, history enthusiast Zhang undertook three years of research and published the school's official book on its architecture.

Poring over more than 1,000 documents at the Shanghai archives, libraries and urban planning archives, Zhang finds that the 30 notable buildings represent only around half the number of old buildings standing in 1949. Rapid modernization and the need for space rapidly filled the spacious grounds with new buildings, while many old ones were dismantled or destroyed.

The worst times were the 1960s and 1970s when, to squeeze more space out of the buildings, their tall, sloped roofs were rebuilt to be flat and square. Four big halls were reconstructed this way, including a 1920s women's dormitory, Evanston Hall, and the Science Hall.

This remodeling left them looking strangely modern in the upper stories, but with period windows and detailing below. The lower levels are still well preserved.

"I always thought the college was very small, but very beautiful. Back then functionality was more important than aesthetics or preservation," Zhang recalls. "The educational traditions from the old University of Shanghai were completely broken. Only recently have we come to feel that history is something to be proud of."

Even today the buildings are painted over in bright colors so that they look new, and new buildings are built in the old style so it's hard to distinguish between old and new.

Since they are registered for protection, they will not be damaged again.

However, blueprints have been lost and information about original designs is limited, making protection and restoration a challenge.

"The buildings are all named after a historical figure, as a memorial to their contributions to the school," says Zhang. "We could trace the histories of these figures but, very regrettably, there were few architectural plans of the buildings, only photos. Rebuilding and restoration efforts therefore have to rely on trying to approximate these photos."

The aim, as with other city restoration, is to complete major construction so that it can be appreciated when Shanghai World Expo opens on May 1.

Since 2006, a set of eight Western villas, former faculty residences, has been restored and will be reborn as the International Cultural Exchange Village.

"As a science and technology school, we have always had long-standing international partnership programs," says vice principal Chen. One of the city's first international TCM programs was established between USST and 10 higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, he notes.

"The new 'international village' will strengthen our ties with the international consulates in Shanghai, especially the German, American and English," says Chen. "We also aim to give our students a wide, international outlook and supplement their scientific studies with cultural background."

Old residents in the villas have already being relocated, and the buildings are now empty and dilapidated, awaiting renovations to start this month.

Each will house cultural exhibitions from a different country, including France, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Another villa outside the campus walls was the residence of Herman C.E. Liu, the first and most-loved Chinese principal of the old University of Shanghai from 1928. He was assassinated by Japanese invaders in 1938. His villa will be restored and turned into a memorial.

According to Chen, the campus grounds will be restored as much as possible to the original layout, with the cultural village as the center. A filled-in stream, which once flowed near the villas, will be turned into a plaza for student recreation.

The school is footing the 1 million yuan (US$146,400) bill for renovating each villa, but officials hope international partners will contribute.

"Our current budget will only cover the very minimum external restorations and simple internal work," says Chen.

Lack of funding also plagues other restoration plans, such as distant dreams of restoring the tall triangular roofs that resembled spires and steeples.

Franklin-Ray Hall

The University of Shanghai was a pioneer in coeducation and opened its doors to women in 1920. Women's dormitories and a women's gymnasium were built for the new students.

The women's dorm pictured here was built in 1948. It was luxurious for its time with two people in a room, and metal box spring mattresses imported from America.

In those days only the rich could afford higher education and during holidays chauffeur-driven cars would line the driveways outside the dorms to pick up the daughters of the wealthy.

Today this is a faculty residence.

Herman C.E. Liu Memorial Library

When the USST's first Chinese principal, Herman C.E. Liu, took charge, his first task was to build a new and bigger library. Completed in late 1928, this library is a memorial to Liu, but it is now used for storage.

Liu mobilized the students, faculty and employees to raise construction funds. When it came to moving the books, he organized a line of students from the old library to the new, and books were handed down the line. Liu, who was assassinated by the Japanese invaders in 1938, is commemorated with a bust of his image in front of the library.

Music Hall

Originally the Academy Assembly Hall, this building was completed in 1935. Later it was used by the music department, and is now an office building.

It has been well preserved though expanded over the years. The original shape of the roof and its winding external staircase are still visible.

Faculty Residence Villa

This is one of the eight villas to be a part of the International Cultural Exchange Village. They were built in the early 1920s as faculty residences.

Renovation will begin this month. The original red and gray bricks were not painted over in bright colors and can still be appreciated.


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