Laszlo Hudec is a name that resonates deeply in Shanghai, as the buildings he has constructed in this city are imprinted in the memories of generations of native Shanghainese. They may have watched films with their first lover in Hudec's Grand Theatre, given birth to their first child in his "Red House" hospital or simply "had their hats dropped" while looking up at the Park Hotel, once a record holder for the highest construction in Shanghai, thanks to Hudec.
Nearly one hundred years ago, a young Hungarian-Slovak architecture graduate and new military recruit escaped from a Russian prison camp during World War I and, with a limp leg, found his way to Shanghai. He never could have imagined that his architectural designs would become some of the city's most iconic structures. During his time in Shanghai, from 1918 to 1947, Hudec worked on more than 50 architectural projects in Shanghai, spanning over 100 buildings, of which 31 have now been formally recognized as Shanghai Heritage Architecture.
Next year will be a multiple anniversary for Hudec: 100 years since he first arrived in Shanghai, his 125th birthday and the 60th anniversary of his death. To preserve this heritage and strengthen cultural roots between Hungary and Shanghai, the consulate of Hungary in Shanghai along with Hungarian photographer Nicky Almasy recently initiated a photography project of Hudec's buildings.
"Hudec continuously delivered high standards during his stay in Shanghai and relentlessly looked for something new and something different. That these buildings endured through history and that the level of quality has never dropped is really what grabs me," Bolla Szilard, Consul General of Hungary in Shanghai, told the Global Times.
The Global Times recently interviewed Almasy about this and other photography projects in Shanghai, where he has been based since 2006.
GT: What was your first encounter with Hudec's architecture?
Almasy: I arrived in the city in 2006 and just started to shoot and document the city. Sometimes it drew me to these particular buildings, like the Park Hotel and the Green House, but I didn't know back then that it was Hudec's work. There's a saying that behind every great building there is a person. For me, all buildings have a personal history behind it. I feel the person behind them. It's really hard for me to pinpoint which buildings I like most, but every building is unique in its own way.
GT: Were there any special experiences while making this book that impressed you?
Almasy: What made this project very special is that we went to places that nobody has photographed before. My most special memory is getting into the American Club, which has been closed to the public for a couple of decades. Everything was covered in dust. We found old computers from the 1990s in one room. That was very special. The whole building was dark from the inside and the guards weren't happy. We were always rushed but this was very memorable.
GT: How have Hudec's buildings been preserved?
Almasy: Some of them are left in ruins but some are really beautifully done. I think the buildings with nothing old inside are the worst. I was always looking for Hudec's remains to shoot and there's not much really. The Christian Literature Society Building, for example, is empty inside, just like a shell, but at least it is still standing. The Margaret Williamson Hospital is still used but there's nothing old in there. The Park Hotel is really wonderful, like walking into the 1930s.
GT: Have you spoken with any of the people living in Hudec's building? How did they react to your project?
Almasy: I once talked to old lady living in a Hudec building. I said "can we photograph your room" and she was like, "I have been living in this building for a long time; why are you shooting?" I said "it is a Hudec building" and she said "I'm living in a Hudec building?" She didn't know but was so happy to find out that she's living in a Hudec building. So cute.
GT: Apart from the Hudec buildings, are there any other buildings that have left you with a deep impression?
Almasy: Yes, I was working on the Shanghai Tower for five years and I documented the project since it was a hole in the ground. I admire what's happening in Pudong. It's really amazing. But if I have to choose a side, I love the old side. I used to go to the buildings behind Beijing Road and I used to talk to the locals. It is so different now. It's really heartbreaking that old houses are being knocked down, because these places, the old buildings and the old people, are really the heritage and heart of Shanghai.
Bolla Szilard, Consul General of Hungary in Shanghai, delivers a speech at the event. Photo: Qi Xijia/GT
Book browsers at the event Photo: Courtesy of Consul General of Hungary in Shanghai
A poster memorizing Laszlo Hudec Photo: Qi Xijia/GT
A booklet of the new photo album Photo: Courtesy of Consul General of Hungary in Shanghai