The Wukang Mansion or Wukang Building, located at No. 435, Wukang Road, Shanghai, is like a giant vessel ready to sail. Its original name is “Normandie Apartment”, in honor of the landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in World War Ⅱ. But for residents in Shanghai then, “Shipping Building” was its real name, for they made the association easily from its ship-like appearance.
Even with skyscrapers standing around it, the Wukang Mansion is still compelling. More than compelling, it is awesome as well. The feeling comes from its huge body, or you may well say it is from the years passing by it, or from its location at the intersection of five roads with Wukang Road to the left and Middle Huaihai Road to the right, which gives it a majestic look. It is rare to find five roads converging at one intersection in Shanghai. Besides Middle Huaihai Road, a comparatively wide road, none of the other four roads – Wukang Road, Xingguo Road, Yuqing Road and Tianping Road – are broad. They are lying there narrow and quiet.
Viewed from above, the building looks triangular; while from the ground level, it gives people an impression of a narrow slice of pie.
The part on the side of the Wukang Road is comparatively more fun. It was jagged into three parts, and the two recessed parts form two triangular inner yards, like the yards of Shikumen, where you can see outside stairways winding upwards.
Observed from the Middle Huaihai Road street level, the walls of the first and second floor present the effect of mock sandstone with cement and sand pasted on. On the third floor, narrow balconies connecting to each other form the waistline of the building. The walls from the third to the seventh floors are covered with red bricks. Windows on the third floor are decorated with pediments. All rooms facing the street have a delicate iron-railed balcony, revealing Classic French-style.
Its most remarkable feature, the gallery, is on the side of Huaihai Road. The first floor is occupied by stores which recede backward, leaving space for arcades. The row of arcades forms a half-open colonnade, which is not rare in Shanghai. Yet, Wukang Mansion is among the first to have this layout.
The front door is on Huaihai Road and most of the rooms face southward, while the corridors face northward. The building is frame structured, and the inner space can be divided at will. Though with the same wooden floor, the layouts of each household are different. The corridors here are quite long, and the way to the staircases zigzagging. With the dim light reflected from the water-grindstone floor, the corridor is like a labyrinth.
At the end of 2008, Wukang Mansion underwent a thorough renovation, and the façade was repaired with the same materials as it was built with originally. The lobby, outer gallery and inner gallery were also key parts of the renovation.
Story about the Wukang Mansion
In 1912, several French residents in Shanghai and a wealthy Chinese businessman named Zhang Hong jointly established a savings society which had no restrictions on nationality of the shareholders and savers. Therefore, it was named International Savings Society, and became the first commercial savings institute in China.
In 1924, the institute invested in the building, and it was designed by a Hungarian architect Hudec. Upon the completion of the building, it was named “I.S.S (the abbreviation of International Savings Society) Apartment”. The building was among the first high-class apartment buildings built in 1920s in Shanghai. Before 1942, almost all of the suites were rented by foreign-funded companies as accommodations for senior managers. The names of 63 households in the Nomandie were recorded, and most of them were Europeans and Americans and very few senior Chinese staff members. During their stay in the building, they maintained their living habits and standards as much as possible as in their home countries. They even arrived in China with their chefs and chauffeurs as well.
In 1942, the building was renamed as “Nomandie Apartment”. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many film stars became new residents of the building, which was regarded somewhat as China’s Hollywood in Shanghai locals’ minds at that time. In 1953, Nomandie Apartment was renamed as “Wukang Mansion” according to the road on which it was located and the name has remained to this day.
After visiting the Wukang Mansion, you can take a walk along the Wukang Road, which is part of one of the best-preserved and most European-styled blocks in Shanghai. Although it is not a long road, it provides a lot to see. Enjoying a history of about 100 years, Wukang Road is Shanghai’s first road which will never be broadened. Not only can the road not be broadened, but also the height of the buildings along the road cannot be altered. Everything will be preserved strictly as it is. There are a great variety of excellent modern buildings on both sides of the road – English country style, classical style, neo-classical style and Mediterranean Garden Villas, etc., all worthy of a closer appreciation.
Strolling in this block, besides the small galleries and stores, you are also recommended to have a look at Ferguson Lane or Wukang Ting (No. 376 Wukang Road). This is a quiet, small place and quite relaxing. The flower stores, fashion stores, cafes and small restaurants are all permeated with the Continental flavor, in great harmony with the tranquil and leisure atmosphere of Wukang Road.