Laszlo Hudec

My favourite architect in Shanghai


As the history seems repeating itself, a century ago Shanghai attracted many talents around the world and like several other foreign architects after the First World War, Laszlo Hudecz the Hungarian - Slovakian born architect made his way to Shanghai in 1918 at age 25 via captivity in Siberia. He became one of the most significant architects of the Chinese city in the upcoming decades with his unique approach and style.

For 7 years he worked for an American architect firm called R.A. Curry and Co. where he designed the Normandie Apartments which is marked as one of the symbolic buildings of the city.

In 1925 Hudec opened his own architect company. The dynamic economy, the soaring population and the speedy urbanization had led him to a boom in real estate and construction.

His most famous works in Shanghai are listed as Park Hotel, the Grand Theater and Moore Memorial Church, but my personal favorites are the Voo's residence, Columbia Circle - the most advertised garden villa project in Shanghai's western suburbs - and his own house.

His fortunate and unfortunate was his ambiguous nationality. No organization would take on any legal matter but the Chinese court. He benefited from this disadvantage of vulnerability by winning the trust of Chinese clients with whom he ended up creating his best works. Compared to other architects Hudec's works were always diverse, he used integrated geometry, varied forms, they were rich in details and full of original ideas. He always used the newest techniques and he was able to make full use of the complicated, limited and often awkward bases. However, his architecture was revolutionary it was always the result of the needs of his clients rather than his self-realization which I admire.

During the Art Deco week in Shanghai a two day conference took place at a really special location: the recently renovated Voo's residence was open to the public for this short period of time where among other very interesting presentations Hudec's great niece shared not so commonly known stories about her uncle. I learned that he actually never had spoken any Chinese during the decades living in the country. He also liked to hide little decorational elements in the flooring tiles or in the signage system serving as his signature. 

I also learned that the famous I.M Pei decided to become an architect while he passed by the construction site of the Park Hotel and was amazed how fast the building grew day by day (which was a result of an innovation in the structure from Hudec ). Currently she is investigating the Columbia circle buildings and trying to identify which ones were designed by the Hungarian architect.

  • Michelle Qiao, one of the author of the Shanghai Hudec book, talked about how she became involved in the topic, and ephasized the importance of keepeng and maintaining the architectural heritage of Shanghai. Also talked about how the brewery by the Suzhou river got almost demolished, because the government dreamt about creating a garden and a museum of ecology on the site, not realizing at the time that the empty building could serve as the perfect location for the museum. Later, the partially demolished building got saved and transformed into the museum.

Due to the changing political situation in Shanghai, it wasn't safe for Hudec and his family anymore and they moved to Switzerland in the early 1940s. While in Europe, Hudec was supposedly the part of an international team excavating the tomb of St Peter in Rome. 

After that he and his family moved to Berkely, California, where in 1958 he passed away in a heart attack. 

On the 50th anniversary of his death, Shanghai organized an art deco event in his honor.

Interestingly, his name is not that well known in Hungary. Hopefully one day he will be mentioned among other famous Hungarian architects as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy or Marcel Breuer because his work is just as extraordinary and oustanding.