Skip to Main Content

Shanghai in the Spotlight: Architecture & buildings

This guide is a part of the Global Resources Center's exhibit on Shanghai and World Expo 2010. It aims to provide both print and electronic resources on Shanghai, covering Shanghai's history, economy, social life, culture and architecture.

Architecture and Buildings

Shanghai has a diverse array of buildings spanning various architectural styles, including the distinctly Western, the traditional Chinese and unique amalgamations of the two.  The Bund, a popular tourist destination located on the western bank of the Huangpu River, is home to a wide variety of early 20th century architecture such as the neoclassical HSBC Building, the art deco Sassoon House, which is the north building of the Peace Hotel, and a number of former foreign concessions. The construction boom of the 1920s and 30s as well as the presence of Western architects such as Hungarian László Hudec left Shanghai as one of the premier cities in the world for Art Deco buildings including: the Park Hotel, the Grand Theater, the Peace Hotel, the Broadway Mansions and the Capitol Theatre.

Across the Huangpu River from the Bund lies the Pudong district, a New Open Economic Development Zone that has become the hub for China’s financial sector. Pudong is home to a number of super-tall skyscrapers such as the Jin Mao Building, the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Oriental Pearl Tower. Other well-known locations in Pudong include the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the newly constructed One Lujiazui. Upon completion, the upcoming Shanghai Tower will be the second tallest building in the world, second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

As a final example of Western influence, Shanghai is also home to several excellent examples of Soviet neoclassical architecture. Most of these buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 60s following the influx of Soviet experts after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Shanghai International Exhibition Centre is one of the foremost examples of this.

In spite of constant development, redevelopment and expansion, Shanghai retains some examples of its traditional architecture as well. Among these are the uniquely Shanghainese shikumen (石库门), literally “stone gate,” two or three-story townhouses with a doorframe of stone or brick and large wooden planks as doors, which are fixed with a bronze ring. The door opens into a courtyard, and further back is the living room or parlour. Other living and working spaces are located further back and on the second or third floors. The buildings combined Western elements with eastern Chinese traditional designs. These dwellings first appeared in the 1860s, spurred by the influx of refugees from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces fleeing the turmoil of the Taiping Rebellion. Shikumen came to symbolize urban life in Shanghai, and at their peak numbered over 9000, comprising more than 60% of the total housing space in the city. Though they have been mostly phased out, shikumen can still be found in Shanghai.

Traditional Chinese architecture can also be seen in Shanghai. In the center of old city lies Chenghuang Miao or City God Temple, which includes both the temple complex itself as well as the traditional commercial district surrounding it. The area was completely restored in 2005 and 2006, and the temple, closed during the Cultural Revolution, was reopened for worship and reconsecrated by in 2006. Located near the temple is Yuyuan or Yu Garden, a lavish traditional garden and one of the finest Chinese gardens in the region.



Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Global Resources Center GRC
Global Resources Center
Gelman Library
2130 H Street, NW
Suite 708
Washington, DC 20052
GW Libraries • 2130 H Street NW • Washington DC