Three key architects of Shanghai's Art Deco era

Some of the design stars that helped make Shanghai 'the Paris of the East'

Some of the design stars that helped make Shanghai 'the Paris of the East', from Liu Jipiao to Poy Gum Lee

Liu Jipiao


The young architect was typical of a generation that grew up in an early twentieth century China recently defeated in the Opium wars, and one that was seeking to carve its own identity away from Western influence. As such, he led the way in creating a modern look with a distinctly Chinese flavour, despite having received an education in L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris. After graduating and returning to China he became a professor at the University of Nanjing; later on receiving commissions to design residential buildings, including the Carlton building on Huanghe Lu. There was a bit of a professional blip, however, when he fled with his family to the USA after the Japanese invasion, to run first a Laundromat then a chicken farm, before returning to teaching and architecture in the ’60s. He died in his nineties, and is remembered as the first Chinese Art Deco architect.

Photo credit: Liu Family Archives at

Poy Gum Lee


The Chinese American architect – born in New York – had a design style that reflected his mixed background, often combining Art Deco elements with Chinese-style features such as pagoda roofs and latticework. Before sailing to China, Lee worked for architect Henry K Murphy who, according to Historic Shanghai, ‘was a firm advocate of adapting traditional Chinese styles to modern uses’. Lee designed YMCAs and YWCAs throughout China, in eleven cities in total, with four in Shanghai – including one on Yuanmingyuan Lu (Rockbund), with a strikingly carved entrance. In September of this year, Lee was honoured with a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Chinese in America.

Robert Fan


One of several Chinese architects who studied at the University of Pennsylvania under the tutelage of Paul Philippe Cret, Fan – also known as Fan Wenzhao – Robert Fan toured extensively in Europe and America resulting in a preference for modern, Western architecture – he is responsible for the ‘pure Art Deco’ Majestic Theatre on Jiangning Lu in Jingan, built in 1941 and the Shanghai Concert Hall beside Yanan Dong Lu, a neoclassical design that looks wholly European.