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Simple home of genius architect
9/12/2004 7:26

Shanghai Daily news

Prolific Hungarian architect Ladislaus Hudec designed a multitude of impressive hotels, banks, cinemas, churches and hospitals in Shanghai in the early part of the 20th century. But he also managed to find the time to design one building that was reserved for his own use.
Imagine the structure a genius architect might design for himself as his signature office and residence. Would it be as grand as the Park Hotel on Nanjing Road, as chic as the Green House on Tongren Road or would it be in the Renaissance style of tycoon Liu Jisheng's mansion on Julu Road? It must have been really hard for Hudec to crystallize his various styles into the design of just one building where he intended to work, to meet with clients and devise and revise blueprints.
The one-story house he finally built still stands tranquilly on the lawn of the Shanghai Theater Academy on Huashan Road. Handsome students in the acting classes are on out the lawn practicing slapping each other's faces again and again.
The house is not grand or chic at all and certainly has no Renaissance-style traces. It looks simple, modern, comfortable and quite functional.
The house has seven rooms, a toilet and a spacious loft. One of the rooms has a fireplace with exquisite wooden decorations which is perhaps where Hudec met with clients. Period leather sofas grace this slightly luxurious room but the items of furniture are not original - they are antiques from other old houses owned by the academy.
Another room with a much shabbier fireplace might have been a bedroom used by one of Hudec's assistants. The house became a warehouse for the academy after 1956 but last year it was renovated with the addition of a glass house built near the entrance.
Two teachers at the academy, Fan Hesheng and Yu Zhong, devoted the whole of last summer to preserving and restoring Hudec's old house.
"There were rusted copper handles that had been thrown away by workers and some of them had even been used as props," says Yu. "I collected them and cleaned them and they turned out to be stunningly beautiful. I also found a crystal handle with delicate copper fittings and I put it back where it once belonged."
"It's a pity that the gypsum ceiling and its patterns were all painted white during the renovation," says Yu. "It used to have beautiful colors. The grapes were purple and hued with golden embellishments."
Two original wooden closets are still functional and their patterns coincide with those on the ceiling. Hudec must have been a man who paid attention to the smallest detail.
"There used to be a large movable wooden board which was used to lift large blueprints to the loft," says Fan.
Fan loves the building so much that he scolds staff members who have switched the lighting in one of the rooms from a gentle yellow to a pale white.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1893, Hudec graduated in 1914 from the Royal University in Budapest. In 1916 he was elected to the Royal Institute of Hungarian Architects. However, World War I was raging and also in 1916, Hudec was taken prisoner by the Russians and sent to Khabarovsk in Siberia.
In 1918 he managed to escape and make his way to Shanghai where he joined the firm of R.A. Curry, an American architect. While there he designed the American Club, the McTyeire School, the International Savings Society's head office and several apartments.
In 1925 he opened his own office and his amazing prolific career started.
His works include: the Country Hospital, the Paulun Hospital, the Margaret Williamson Hospital, the Moore Memorial Church, the German Church, the Engineering Building at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the 22-storey Park Hotel on Nanjing Road (then the tallest building in Shanghai), the Grand Cinema, the Shanghai Leather Factory, the Union Brewery, the China Baptist Publication Society building and the Christian Literature Society building.
He also designed many private homes and buildings, including Hubertus Court apartments which he owned. Hudec left Shanghai in 1947, lived in Switzerland for a couple of years and spent his later years in California where he died in 1958.
"Hudec's innovative and elegant style added a real flair to Shanghai's architecture," says Liu Gang, an architectural expert at Tongji University. "His works such as the Green House on Tongren Road and the Grand Cinema could have competed with the most trendy buildings in the world of the time. During that era Shanghai was under the influence of the Modern Architecture Movement, gradually switching from neo-classical to modern. At that time no other city in East Asia had so many modern and trendy buildings.
"However, this building, his office, is not his best modern-style architectural work."
Well, maybe it is not the best example of Hudec's work but it was the nest where some of the city's greatest architectural gems were hatched.