“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

George Gilbert Scott and Shanghai

Posted: April 28th, 2011 | No Comments »

I’ve noted before the restoration of the the Holy Trinity Church (often referred to by the Chinese as the ‘Red Church’) on Jiujiang Road (formerly Kiukiang Road) and Jiangxi Road (Kiangse Road). The church was originally designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. No more famous name in church construction, or perhaps in all English architecture, is there than Scott.

Recently I read Simon Bradley’s book on the history of London’s St Pancras Station, the most striking portion of which, the Grand Hotel, was designed by Scott. An excellent little book, a most beautiful station, a wonderful restoration job and very enlightening on Scott and his style of designing. In a sense GG Scott and Shanghai were made for each other, as Bradley’s pen portrait of the man shows clearly – GG Scott was basically a brand that sold globally. There are something like 800-1,000 buildings bearing Scott’s name; churches or church restorations being the single largest category Scott did, though you can find his hospitals, universities and, of course, the much loved and equally much hated Albert Memorial (for my money – the stupidest monument London ever got – and therefore, wonderful in its own quirky way).

Scott never visited many of his overseas constructions including his church in Shanghai and others in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, India and Newfoundland. He was a brand, an architect who delegated the work. Scott provided outline sketches that were worked up into blueprints by his team – the ‘starchitect’ brand was the thing.

This seems so Shanghai (and not a little Beijing too) to me – a designer brand that Shanghai must have though with no real roots or connection to the place. A transplant that might just confer a little celeb on an otherwise rather insecure bunch. Just as now so many crave a Louis Vuitton flagship store so in the nineteenth century the nouveau riche Shanghailander upstarts craved a GG Scott. Just as Shanghai’s officials now crave the tallest, shiniest, most penile skyscraper with upmarket hotel brand and lobby Starbucks so the old Shanghailanders wanted to buy themselves respectability with a GG Scott church. And at one time the steeple of Holy Trinity was the tallest structure in Shanghai. Of course, the parallels are obvious – though to this blogger at least the Holy Trinity remains a thing of beauty which is more than can be said of the Westin Hotel and its pompous and somewhat retarded crown!!

As this blog always says – history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme!

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