How Shanghai became the capital of the Art Deco movement


John Bessler. Excerpt from “Charming Prints: Create Absolutely Beautiful Interiors with Prints & Patterns”, by Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke.

You might be totally surprised to hear this, but Shanghai Art Deco is a design movement that originated in … Shanghai. We’re kidding, the name is pretty self-explanatory. But you probably didn’t know that China has its own Art Deco movement, which is extremely visible throughout the city today. While the futuristic skyscrapers of Lujiazui Financial District might be the first thing you think of when you imagine Shanghai, the city has an eclectic architectural history that has resulted in one of the most impressive Art Deco building enclaves in the world. world.

the fairmont peace hotel shanghai, an art deco icon
The Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai, an Art Deco icon.


What is Art Deco?

Before getting into the intricacies of Chinese decor, we must examine the roots of Art Deco in general. The movement arose out of Art Nouveau at the start of the 20th century, generally as a reaction against the traditionalism of design and art in favor of technological modernity. Its name, Art Deco, refers to the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, the 1925 fair where the official style made its debut.

While the style was popular in Europe, it really flourished in the United States, where wealth was booming and cities were developing at a rapid rate – some of the country’s most famous buildings, like the Empire State. Building in New York, showcase the ornamental style, whose signature features include geometric patterns, streamlined linearity, and luxury materials.

the atrium of the fairmont peace hotel shanghai
The atrium of the Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai.


How did Art Deco come to Shanghai?

At the end of the Qing Dynasty, from the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century, Shanghai transformed from a fishing village to a large port city that facilitated world trade. During this time, design inspiration flowed largely from east to west, with Europeans becoming fascinated with Chinese style from imported goods. (Ultimately, this is what drove the popularity of Chinoiserie in Western high society).

Eventually trade wars broke out – the first Opium War between the Chinese and the British ended in a British victory and the conversion of Shanghai into a “treaty port”, meaning it was largely controlled. by Western powers including the UK, US, France and Germany. As such, large enclaves of Westerners have sprung up across the city.

From the 19th to the 20th century, Shanghai became a global metropolis. Between the 1920s and 1940s, the peak years of the Republic of China, which was established after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, Shanghai flourished, which prepared the city for the introduction of the lavish Art Deco style. . Chinese architects who studied abroad and Western designers who settled in Shanghai introduced the movement to China, where it took on its own identity and became one of the most popular styles incorporated in architecture. and the design of the city.

shanghai art deco inspired apartment in manhattan
After making several trips to Shanghai, Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke of Madcap Cottage designed this Shanghai Art Deco-inspired apartment in Manhattan, as featured in their book Charming Prints: Create absolutely gorgeous interiors with prints and patterns.


What is the difference between Shanghai Art Deco and Western Art Deco?

“In America, Art Deco really celebrated the machine. If you look at something like the Chrysler Building, you know they took things like hubcaps and turned them into architectural designs, ”says Jason Oliver Nixon, co-founder of Madcap Cottage. “If you go to Shanghai, you get a reinterpreted Art Deco that introduced traditional Chinese motifs and motifs.” The designers have also incorporated sumptuous Chinese materials like lacquer, ivory, local woods and silks into their Art Deco designs. “It was a little more sensual,” Nixon says.

In terms of architecture, while Shanghai’s Art Deco buildings included the symmetry, geometry and scale of Western Art Deco, they retained some traditional elements, such as the pagoda-shaped roofs, an enduring symbol. of the meeting of East and West from which they grew up. .

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