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June 17, 2014

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Classical pioneer restored to former glory

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RESTORATION work has been completed on the former Russo-Chinese Bank, the earliest surviving Western classical building on the Bund.

Dating back almost 110 years, the building has been restored to its original look using authentic materials, said Shen Sanxin, a restoration architect with the administration of cultural relics.

Most recently, it was home to the China Foreign Exchange Trading Center, and still bears that name on its facade.

Located at No. 15 the Bund, the structure designed by German architects Becker & Baedecker has an important place in Shanghai’s history, said Shen.

“It was the city’s first building that was on a par with classic historic buildings in the West in terms of design, materials and construction skills,” said Shen.

The four-story building, covering 5,018 square meters, was built for the Russo-Chinese Bank — the only joint-venture bank between the Qing Dynasty’s (1644-1911) royal government and foreign capital.

Restoration work began in 2008 when the China Foreign Exchange Trading Center moved to Zhangjiang area in the Pudong New Area.

It will now be used for business exhibitions and conferences.

Restorations were not easy as there was only one copy of the original basic blueprints, and they only depicted the shape of the building and drainage to Jiujiang Road, says Lin Yun, chief architect on the project.

Lin drew up a plan to preserve the original facade, the courtyard, the staircase and decoration in major rooms — including carved wooden ceilings, frescoes and tiles.

“To repair the broken enameled tiles on the facade, we recreated tiles in three different hues of creamy white to make the subtle differences between the originals and the new ones less visible,” Lin said.

The facade features two Ionic columns, four pilasters and two pairs of Tuscan order columns.

Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao says the architects may have been inspired by the Petite Trianon, a small palace in the garden of the Versailles Palace.

The entrance hall features columns and a W-shaped white marble staircase leading to the third floor, which had a stained-glass ceiling. The ceilings are more than 5 meters high.

In 1899 the Russo-Chinese Bank commissioned Becker & Baedecker to build its new Shanghai branch. Work took place between 1901 and 1905 with architect Richard Seel heavily involved.

“At that time there were no classic-style stone buildings on the Bund. Experienced architects had laughed at the ‘fancy idea,’” said Lin.


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