From the beginning of the Opium War in 1840 to 1949, China's architecture was in a period of transition and intersection of Chinese and the Western, and the replacement of old and new. This was a period of dramatic change in the history of Chinese architecture. In modern China's rural areas, small and medium-sized towns, and ethnic minority areas, loess, wood, brick and stone were still used as constructing materials, with the wooden framework as the main structural form. Mainly in some large cities modern building technology was adopted.
Structure and Technology
The main structures of Chinese modern architecture can be roughly divided into three basic forms: brick-wood mixed structure, masonry reinforced concrete mixed structure, steel and reinforced concrete frame structure.
The first is a mixed brick (stone) wood structure consisting of masonry bearing walls, of which the materials were still traditional bricks, stones and wood. When the structure was introduced into China from the middle of the 19th century, it was widely promoted, having become the main structural form of small and medium-sized buildings. At the beginning of the 20th century, a mixed structure of steel reinforced concrete was gradually established, which the office building of the Harbin Middle East Railway Administration built in 1902 and the office of the Admiralty of Qingdao built in 1905 both adopted. Later, the structures were commonly used in multi-story buildings. Taking the Shanghai Telephone Company Building built in 1908 and the Shanghai Tianxiang Foreign Bank Building built in 1916 as the starting point, multi-story buildings began the innovation.
Harbin Middle East Railway Administration
From 1920s to 1930s, the story of steel frame structures increased. The Shanghai International Hotel built from 1931 to 1934 had a steel frame structure of 24 floors and a height of 86 meters, which was the highest building in modern China. The introduction and development of the new structure and modern mechanics had broken through the traditional pattern inherited by the ancient Chinese architectural engineering. Chinese architects and engineers mastered structural design methods for scientific analysis and quantitative calculations, which was a major advancement in Chinese building technology at that time.
China's modern construction workers were good at using simple-processing equipment and indigenous methods to overcome complex technical problems. Owing to the limitation in the number of the construction team that mastered modern techniques, high-quality buildings were almost concentrated in large cities. In the rural areas, towns, small and medium-sized cities, and the urban of large cities still adopted traditional residential forms.
Around 1900s, a style of independent house appeared which were basically replicas of the prestigious high-end residences in the West at the time and located primely in the city. The premises were spacious with large green areas, mostly in one or two-story brick (stone) wood structures; there were living rooms, bedrooms, restaurants, bathrooms, study rooms and billiard rooms, with sophisticated equipments and luxurious decoration similar to the appearance of French or Britain architecture. In the house built by modern industrialist Zhang Jian in Nantong, the characteristics of this kind can be seen. Most of the architectural forms and equipment adopted Western practices, but the layout and decoration preserved traditional Chinese characteristics.
After the 1920s, the independent residential form gradually shifted from a luxury high-end residence to a comfortable garden type. With an increase in the number, a series of garden residential areas were formed in cities such as Shanghai and Nanjing.
The joint-family and multi-family dwellings included three types of residential houses, traditional Shanghai Lanes, residential courtyards and high-rise apartments, most of which were built by real estate developers and then rented or sold separately.
Traditional Shanghai Lanes
They first appeared in Shanghai in the 1960s which was a dense living system imported from Europe and later successively formed as residential areas in the vicinity of the concession, docks and commercial centers in a series of coastal cities. Shanghai Lanes, of a compact layout, were divided into according to the needs of residents of different classes.
The Residential Courtyard
Varying in size and mostly in brick-wood structures, with high density and low living comfortability, they were quite common in Qingdao, Shenyang and Harbin.
As the result of high population density and high land prices in large cities, these buildings were usually reaching as high as ten stories or more, most of which were set in convenient locations and made up of standard units. Adopting advanced structures such as steel frames and reinforced concrete frames, they were equipped with elevators, heating and gas, with the appearance of a simple skyscraper form.
By the 1930s, China already had various modern industrial buildings, which could be roughly divided into three types:
The structure was always adopted by the folk handicraft workshops, even remained by a number of factories in the early days of the rise of modern Chinese industry, such as the Shanghai Jiangnan Manufacturing Bureau established in 1865, and the Tianjin Machinery Bureau, which was established in 1867 as the Army Weapon Center. Later, the old wooden frame structure was knocked out in the newly-built large and medium-sized factories.
Shanghai Jiangnan Manufacturing Bureau Tianjin Machinery Bureau
Brick-Wood Mixed-Structure Factory
Bearing by brick walls and pillars, the type was the most common forms adopted by factories in the second half of the 19th century, such as the Fuzhou Boat Administration Bureau built in 1866 and the Nantong Dasheng Mill built in 1898. In the 20th century, the form was still continued in small and medium-sized factories.
Nantong Dasheng Mill Fuzhou Boat Administration Bureau
Steel Structures and Reinforced Concrete Structure Plants
Steel structures began to appear in China in the 1860s and had been widely used in industrial buildings such as machine factories and textile plants since the 1920s. The Qingdao Sifang Locomotive Repair Plant built in 1904 was an early example of a large steel structure workshop. At the beginning of the 20th century, reinforced concrete structures were first adopted in textile plants. In 1920s, the main workshops and warehouses of textile plants, cigarette factories, food factories, and pharmaceutical factories all developed to multi-layers form, among which the five-story factory buildings were most common.
Various types of public buildings in modern times began to appear in China in the second half of the 19th century and almost complete by the 1930s.
Administrative Buildings and Halls
The administrative buildings and halls built before the 1920s were mainly office buildings such as foreign embassies and consulates, the Ministry of Industry, and the Admiralty Offices. These buildings were basically modeled on similar buildings in the capitalist countries with similar layout and styling, such as the buildings of Qingdao Admiralty Office and Jiangsu Provincial Consultative Bureau. In the late 1920s, the KMT government built a series of official buildings and halls in Nanjing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, such as the Shanghai Municipal Government Building, the Ministry of Communications Building, the Nanjing National Assembly Hall, and the Guangzhou Zhongshan Memorial Hall.
KMT government Guangzhou Zhongshan Memorial Hall
Financial and Transportation Architecture
These buildings included banks, exchanges, post offices, train stations, bus stations, and shipping stations.
Banks are financial institutions that control the lifeblood of the social economy. To show strong capital and win trust from customers, many banks were pursuing high-rise architectural masses, solid majestic appearance and grand interiors. The Shanghai HSBC Bank, which was built eight stories high, in 1921, covering an area of 14 acres, adopted a steel structure and imitated the masonry structure, showing the grandeur, majesty, and luxury with a classical image. The Bank of China in Shanghai, built in 1936, was a 17-story tower decorated with detailed Chinese architectural details, containing a touch of national charm and was prominent in the Shanghai Bund.
Shanghai HSBC Bank The Bank of China
The exterior appearance of the train station had been transplanted to foreign construction forms, such as the Harbin Station of the Middle East Railway built in 1898 which was an Art Nouveau style popular in Russia at that time; the Jinan Railway Station built in 1912 was an example of the late Middle Ages in Germany style.
Harbin Station of the Middle East Railway
Jinan Railway Station
Cultural and Educational Architecture
The museums, libraries, gymnasiums, and commemorative buildings created by the Kuomintang government expressly stipulated the adoption of Chinese forms, including the schools and hospitals in the church system. A group of Chinese architects and several foreign ones invested in this ethnic form creation activity, accomplishing great works such as Nanjing Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum and Beijing Yanjing University.
Nanjing Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum
The business-functioned architecture were the most numerous and widely distributed in modern public buildings in China, closely relating with the majority of urban residents.
The old-style commercial buildings generally followed the traditional forms of construction, with the adoption of appropriate modifications of new materials and structures. The main purpose of the renovation was to expand the space for activities to accommodate more customers and to strive for more space for product display, and to strengthen the advertising effectiveness of the storefront in the facet processing. This type of buildings were originally converted from old houses, of which later the new store was also adopted. The Beijing Qianxiangyi Silk House was an example. As for grand integrated shopping malls, they broke through the independent layout of old forms, built roofs on dense streets, set up shop stalls, and converted open-air streets into indoor commercial areas. The Dongan Market in Beijing, which occupied an area of more than 20,000 square meters and accommodated 600 merchants, was a typical example.
Qianxiangyi Silk House Dongan Market
The new commercial architecture, including large department stores, restaurants, theaters, clubs and playgrounds, were the largest urban modern business district in China, the highest level of modernization and the most prominent architecture. Many of these buildings were multi-storey, high-rise or large-space, long-span, high-standard buildings, such as the Shanghai Sassoon Building (1926 ~ 1928) and Shanghai International Hotel (1931 ~ 1934 ). In some of these buildings, the ground floors served as stores and the top ones as restaurants, tearooms, theaters and dance halls. They were actually comprehensive commercial and entertainment architectures, like Shanghai Daxin Company (built in 1934, designed by Kitai Engineering Division).
Shanghai International Hotel
Sassoon Building Shanghai Daxin Company
The style of Chinese modern architecture is quite complex. During this period, there were both old and new building systems, both Chinese national architectural styles and Western style buildings. As a result, intricate interweaving conditions had emerged. The old building system had an advantage in terms of quantity. In addition to partial improvements, the overall style lacked new elements. The development was mainly reflected in the new system whose evolution constituted the mainstream of the modern architecture style.
Modern Loaned Architectural Style
From the 1850s to the 1930s, the transformation in the architectural styles experienced by Western countries had successively reflected in Chinese modern architecture. In cities where a certain imperialist country was exclusively rented, such as Qingdao, Dalian and Harbin, the architectural style was relatively single and simple, while in cities rented by several imperialist countries, such as Shanghai, Tianjin and Hankou, appeared in multiple architectural styles.
Judging from the evolution of styles, the first loaned form disseminated in China was the classical style of Western countries. The foreign embassies and consulates, foreign banks, restaurants and clubs were all included. Since the end of the 1920s, there had also been a trend towards modern architecture in China’s new architecture. The Shanghai Sassoon building, with the characteristics of the Chicago school, and the Shanghai International Hotel, which simulated the skyscrapers of the United States, could both reveal the feature. However, the architectural practice that really embodied the spirit of modernism was still very rare at that time.
The Architectural Style of Modern National Form
The prototypes of modern national architectural forms existed in the second half of the 19th century. What initially appeared were constructions with some new functions in old forms, such as the Jiangnan Manufacturing Bureau Machinery Factory built in 1865, which developed modern functions in the forms of traditional temples and government offices, actually using old buildings to accommodate new functions that were not yet complicated at the time. A number of Chinese-style churches followed turning up, such as the Shanghai Pudong Church (1878), St. John's College (1894) and the Beijing Anglican Church (1907), which had consciously adopted Chinese traditional architecture according to the new functional designs and led in the use of ethnic forms in modern Chinese architecture. From the 1920s, the modern national form construction activity entered its peak period and reached its climax in the 1930s.
Shanghai Pudong Church Beijing Anglican Church
St. John's College
It was a meaningful creative practice in the exploration of the modernization and nationalization of new architecture at that time. It also involved the introduction of foreign modern architectural forms and advanced construction techniques that were integrated with the realities of China in the process of the modernization of architecture. There were basically three forms of these creative explorations.
The first was antique style which maintained the appearance and structure of a traditional building from the overall layout to detailed decoration. Some completely imitated the stereotypical patterns of ancient architecture, such as the Depositary of Buddhist Sutra in Nanjing which imitated the Lama Temple, the Yenching University School Gate which imitated the courtyard of the Qing Dynasty, but some kept strict adherence to the basic pattern of ancient architecture, such as the Shanghai Municipal Government Building.
Yenching University School Gate Depositary of Buddhist Sutra
The second type was hybrid and classical, the layout and spatial organization of which focused on functionality with the appearance of both Chinese and Western, only maintaining the traditional factors in key locations. The Shanghai Municipal Library was an example.
Shanghai Municipal Library
The third was modern style, also known as modern Chinese architecture which featured in a building with new technologies and appearance, some simplified traditional components and detailed decorations being used to achieve national style, including the Nanjing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Central Hospital. The pursuit of the unification of new functions, new technologies and new appearance and its combination with ethnic styles was an important development in the exploration of ethnic form and style at that time.
Nanjing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs The Central Hospital