Shanghai: Normandie Apartment

Wu Kang Mansion, formerly known as the Normandie Apartment in Shanghai, was built in 1924 by the I.S.S (International Savings Society) for western employees living in the foreign concessions during colonial times.

The 8-storey French Renaissance architecture was designed by the renowned Hungarian-Slovak architect László Hudec, who has also designed many other landmarks in Shanghai like the Moore Memorial Church, Margaret Williamson Hospital (Red House Hospital), Columbia Circle etc. The name and the shape of the building is indeed to commemorate the well-known WWI battleship, Normandie, as well as to honor the famouts Flatiron, located on 175 Fifth Avenue, New York City.

To describe I have a strong devotion to the building, is probably an understatement. My grandparents lived in the 2-bedroom apartment at the north end of the top floor since my father was still young, and after my parents had me, we shared a corner unit with 2 other families one floor below my grandparents.

Art-deco vintage lifts, marbled floors, arched ceilings, french wrought iron windows, my entire childhood memory lived in this stone brick building and its signature neighbourhood of the Former French Concession, situated at the conjunction of this rare 6-way crossroad.

As one of the tallest buildings in the early days, living on the top floor was a luxury. One of my favorite activities when no one is watching, is to stand against the balcony grills, tear newspapers into tiny pieces, throw out at once and watching them twirling down like snowflakes, until I hear the street cleaners scolding towards the sky in Shanghainese – “which rascal is it?!” – this pretty much sums up the rebellious side of me as a typical “introverted girl” in adults’ eyes.

The building was acquired by a wealthy banker in the 1940s, later handed over to the government in the 1950s and housed officials in most of the units.

This is one of the heritage buildings you couldn’t help but will stop and admire its beauty. And if you ever do, think of that little girl, who used to throw paper flakes from the long balcony on the north end.

Special thanks to my father, who shared his collected photos over the years from everywhere. The floor plan image is from Katya Knyazeva, which showcased “first bachelor apartment floor” of the building, drafted and signed by the associate architect L. Hudec.

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