The story appears on

Page B1

November 24, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Opulent hospital built by mystery donor

Buildings are often built from dreams. For one expatriate living in Shanghai in the 1920s, the dream was to build a luxurious expats' hospital with central air-conditioning and a bathroom in each ward.

A British businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, donated funds to build the Country Hospital in 1926. Today it is the No. 1 Building in Huadong Hospital for senior officials.

I visited the building in Jing'an District on a cool, sunny November morning. I passed through a bustling group of nurses and entered a huge garden dotted with century-old pines, magnolia trees and several nearly century-old male patients peacefully sitting in wheelchairs.

It was a perfect setting to appreciate the Italian Renaissance building colored a light gold by the weak morning sunlight. It is another work by legendary architect L.E. Hudec, designer of the Park Hotel.

"The British businessman asked Hudec to design a high-end hospital for Shanghai expatriates," says architectural history expert Hua Xiahong from Shanghai Tongji University. "He insisted on the highest standards and the best facilities, and there was no budget limit - a perfect project for an architect. The benefactor also asked Hudec to keep his identity a secret, or the contract would be canceled."

Covering 2,300 square meters, the five-story steel-concrete building is perched near Yan'an Road inside the former French concession but very close to what was the International Settlement.

As one of Hudec's early works, the building is in classical style, different from his later modern works, such as the art-deco Park Hotel, once the tallest building in the East.

According to the book "Hudec's Architecture in Shanghai," the hospital's southern facade features a tripartite vertical composition with balanced east and west wings.

The ground floor consists of double-columned arched windows and a continuous arcade, the second to fourth floors are treated with a unified approach. The fifth floor and the parapet are designed as three imposing pediments and make a powerful impression on visitors.

From the outside, it is a perfect classical building - no surprise there. Hudec never lets me down as I explore his creations in Shanghai. He delighted me yet again, as soon as I entered the building.

In no way does it look like a hospital's ground floor - it looks more like a stylish hotel lobby, quiet and elegant. Hudec made extensive use of imported black, white and gray marble in classical columns, large staircases and flooring.

The patterned wooden ceiling makes an interesting textural contrast with the smooth marble as the sunlight pours into the lovely lobby from a row of large French windows.

"Hudec made a bright and open lobby for the hospital, which totally changed the usual cold, dim decor of a hospital," says expert Hua, noting it was widely reported by the media at the time for its scale and advanced facilities.

The old Shanghai Sunday Times newspaper wrote: "The rural, restful early Italian Renaissance effect reminds visitors of the courtyard and rooms of a villa in Tuscany." It was also the only hospital outside US territory to be discussed in the hospital section of the American journal Architectural Forum in December 1928.

According to a study by Italian architect Luca Poncellini, Hudec chose the Italian Renaissance style because the mysterious benefactor had spent much of his life in Italy. The grand lobby makes extravagant use of space but provides an uplifting environment for both patients and visitors.

"Bathroom and air-conditioning in every room were also rare and luxurious at the time," Hua explains. "The sponsor wanted the patient to feel like home in the hospital. Fortunately there was air-conditioning, because the temperature of the operating room in Shanghai could reach 42 degrees Celsius in summer."

Of course, one would like to know the identity of the "anonymous" sponsor. The philanthropist is said, from the research of Italian architect Poncellini, to have observed with satisfaction that he enjoyed "standing in the front row of the opening ceremony with no one knowing that I built the hospital."

Yes, I know the man's name.

But all I will say is that his life mirrored that of another heirless wealthy Briton, Henry Lester, who made fortune in Shanghai and was the contributor to the art deco-style Lester Institute of Technology (Shanghai Daily, October 13, 2010).

By building this dream hospital, which is still used as a hospital, our mysterious sponsor returned part of his wealth to the city where he made his fortune. So, more than 80 years later, maybe we should continue to keep his name confidential, to respect his original wish and respect history.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend