10 Architecture Sites to See When You Study Abroad in Shanghai

May 13, 2014 10:44:48 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Architecture can reveal key stories about a city's past or hold a vision of its future. Some of the most architecturally interesting structures are obvious, but other times they are easy to miss. Today, we take a journey through Shanghai, one of CAPA's global cities, to check out some of the architecture you should be sure to see when you study abroad.

1. THE CHINA ART PALACE. To not see this would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower or visiting Seattle and not seeing the Space Needle. These icons originated from a World Expo (formerly World’s Fair), and the then called China Pavilion is the feature building from the 2010 World Expo held in Shanghai. Originally showcasing China’s culture, it has become a leading art museum which is free to enter. However, tickets have to be booked online and collected from ticket offices in the city before going to the Art Palace. There are no tickets at the door.

Photo: The China Art Palace in Pudong by Colin Speakman

2. THE ORIENTAL PEARL TV TOWER. This is the picture poster for Shanghai as the economic capital of China and is set across the Huangpu River from the historic Bund. It is nowadays surrounded by many skyscrapers and at night glows with much neon. It is the third tallest TV Tower in the world and offers a panoramic view of Shanghai, a revolving restaurant and a museum featuring old Shanghai in the basement. Note that there is a significant entrance fee to go up the Tower – around 150 rmb ($23).

Photo: The Oriental Pearl Tower by Colin Speakman

3. THE CLOCK TOWER OF THE OLD CHINA ART MUSEUM. You'll find the clock tower on the Western edge of People’s Park, North of People’s Square in downtown Puxi. Much of the content of the museum is now in the China Art Palace mentioned above, the art works having moved in October 2012, but the structure remains for future use and is home to a fine restaurant. The building was originally constructed in 1933 as the clubhouse of the Shanghai Race Club and has a definite European appearance.

Photo: Clock Tower, old Shanghai Art Museum by Colin Speakman

4. THE PARAMOUNT DANCE HALL. This Art Deco style building in the Jing An Temple area resembles some of the old and then upgraded movie theaters in Shanghai. Yet this one is a dance hall that was in its heyday in the roaring 1920s-1930s when Shanghai was bursting with eastern and western fusion and was the liveliest city in China. In those days, the females lined the walls and waited for men to invite them to dance, perhaps to a waltz. Today, there are many modern nightclubs such as Muse and Sky blasting out music, but the Paramount still survives with old time dancing traditions. One change is nowadays is that one has to bring a partner or hire one who is available there in order to join in on the dancing.

Photo: The Paramount Dance Hall, Jing An by Colin Speakman

5. JING AN TEMPLE. A stone’s throw from the Paramount is this historic temple, beautifully preserved through much renovation. A Buddhist temple, it originally appeared on this site in 1216, but is not in its original form today. The current temple was rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty and a Jing An Pagoda was added. This was completed as recently as 2010. It is a working temple where visitors can enter for 20 rmb ($3), and is surrounded by shops selling jewelry, Chinese art and traditional fashion.

Photo: Jing An Temple by Colin Speakman

6. THE PARK HOTEL. This building is famous in the 1930 when it was the tallest building in Asia. You'll find it located on the Nanjing Road opposite People’s Square. It has a very noticeable rustic brown brick and is a fully functioning 4-star hotel that has preserved an elegant interior lobby. However, it is now dwarfed by much taller buildings on all sides and this is a testimony as to how rapidly Shanghai has developed as a city of skyscrapers. It remains a very convenient location for a stay in Shanghai.

Photo: The Park Hotel by Colin Speakman

7. JW MARRIOTT AT TOMORROW SQUARE. Continuing with the hotel theme, this building has distinctive features including what look like claws reaching up into the sky. It is but one example of Shanghai’s many skyscrapers and is conveniently located near People’s Square. It is one of the tall buildings overlooking the Park Hotel and hence gives a much better view. You can take a fast elevator up to a sky high hotel lobby where you can enjoy a coffee and great views. Shanghai looks to the future and the location, Tomorrow Square, supports that forward-looking approach.

Photo: JW Marriott at Tomorrow Square by Colin Speakman

8. TRADITIONAL SHANGHAI HOUSING. Amid all this modernity, one can still find some examples of traditional Shanghai housing which only had two stories plus a roof apartment. Shanghai has demolished many of these to enable 23 million people to live in high rises in this megacity as well as to add new metro lines and huge shopping malls. The older housing is often hidden behind the new and is best viewed from a hotel room or a taxi on an elevated road. Keep a look out.

Photo: Traditional Shanghai Housing by Colin Speakman

9. THE SHANGHAI TOWER. In 2015, The Shanghai Tower will be operational as the tallest tower in China and will compete with its two neighbors, the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center, as the place ascend for the highest views of Shanghai. They all stand above the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in height and are located in the financial district in Pudong. They all have entrance fees and cafes and restaurants - a great way to see the bright lights of Shanghai by night. For now, one can only see the outside of the newest tower, but it is looking near complete.

Photo: The Shanghai Tower nearing completion by Colin Speakman

10. FORMER FRENCH CONCESSION ARCHITECTURE. This represents not so much a single building, but an area from the previous century where one can stroll along the streets and feel as if one is in Paris. You'll come across some villas, restaurants, delightful French cafes and wine bars, Parisian style boutiques and a few small art galleries. For an architectural contrast, stroll the Former French Concession area on foot. It can take you back to older times but the authorities are adamant that one uses the word former – there is no French administration today!

Photo: Former French Concession buildings by Colin Speakman

Do you have a favorite piece of architecture in your own city or abroad? Tell us about it in a comment!

Topics: Shanghai, China