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June 22, 2019

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The story of a dye merchant’s lavish Green House

IN 1936 Hungarian-Slovak architect Laszlo Hudec — who had a huge influence shaping Shanghai in the early 20th century — designed a dream house for Chinese tycoon Wu Tongwen around the corner of Hardoon Road (today’s Tongren Road) and Avenue Road (today’s Beijing Road W.).

It was a modern-style villa widely known as the Green House, which was regarded as one of the largest and most luxurious residences in the Far East.

The name comes from the green-colored glazed tiles on the facade and surrounding walls of the residence.

Wu chose the color green because he made his fortune selling green dye to the military and regarded this as his lucky color.

In 1927, he married the youngest daughter of Suzhou tycoon Pei Runsheng, who gave the plot to him as a dowry.

The gift was meaningful because the two roads’ Chinese names, Hardoon and Avenue, sound Wu’s Chinese given name, “Tongwen.”

The address number, 333 Tongren Road, precisely represented the size of the plot of 3.33 mu (around 2,221 square meters).

In 1935 Wu was barely 30 but he enjoyed an affluent life with a wife, a mistress and a bunch of children.

But that was a difficult job for Hudec since the new home would house such a big family and the plot was irregular and not very large. Besides, Hudec had to mix all the intentional space together to suit the family’s East-meets-West lifestyle.

His solution for housing such a big, influential family was a four-floor modern residence showcasing the essence of an organic architecture. The building has acute angles and a concise layout, which merges perfectly with the base. The main body faces the road on the north, which connects with the curved surrounding walls on the corner.

He also divided the building into two parts by function. The Western-style social space included a bar, a billiard room, a dining hall and the main bedrooms facing an open garden. The Chinese-style sitting hall, the ancestral room and servants’ room on the northern side are in a more closed style.

The southern facade is stylish. The cylinder-shaped sun parlor is four stories high, in contrast with the large balcony full of smooth curves that diminish as the floors rise. The cast iron patterns on the staircase and balcony are in Art Deco style.


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