From January 31st to April 18th, 2021, URRBANCROSS Gallery will present the exhibition "Now a Landscape, Now a Room: An Architect’s Photographic Diary of Shanghai in the 1930s". The new exhibition will show 21 photographs by architect Tung Chuin. Some of the images were released for the first time. Through Tung Chuin's lens, we can see the urbanization process of Shanghai in the 1930s.
Shanghai, the metropolis, not only incubated the urban landscape but also accommodated people who moved here for various reasons. “Now a landscape, now a room.” The surging population and favorable economic environment in the 1930s led to a golden period for construction. The continuous emergence of new buildings made the title “modern city” unquestionable.
The artist Tung Chuin was a well-known architect and architectural educator in China, one of the first-generation architects in China, and a pioneer in the theories of Chinese gardening and modern Western architecture. Tung was one of the first Chinese architects to study at the University of Pennsylvania after he graduated from Tsinghua College in Beijing. Tung came to Shanghai in 1932, joined Chao Shen and Benjamin Chen. Together, they founded the Allied Architects in Shanghai and completed a large number of buildings in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1938, Tung left Shanghai and stayed in southwest China during the Sino-Japanese war. From 1931 to 1938, Tung witnessed Shanghai under construction.
As an architect, Tung used to walk around the city with a camera and shoot the buildings that worth learning or examining. He would put the focus on a building and raise the camera high enough to get a whole picture of it. He would deliberately avoid pedestrians and vehicles. He would also climb high and get an aerial view of the city, just like an architect overlooking a city model.
In Tung's photos, Shanghai was not as hustle and bustle, but quiet, even a bit lonely. It seems that when he pressed the shutter, the play called "City" was suspended, and so he could look critically at the stage setting of the "Shanghai, the metropolis".
Among the 21 photographs presented in this exhibition, there are 18 architectural portraits. These buildings were almost all completed in the 1930s, and some of them were reconstruction or restoration projects. In these photos, some buildings still show traces of construction work. Each photo could tell a story that reflects the on-going urbanization in Shanghai. In addition to the photographic works, we also present some of Tung Chuin's written books, including his papers on gardens and researches on Western modern architecture. Reading these works can help us understand his criteria for taking photos. We can also learn more about the architecture in the photos after understanding his design concepts.