It both surprises and delights me that after living in Nanjing for 2 years I still regularly come across unexpected and intriguing architecture on the streets I tread every day. That is not because I walk head down, consumed by TV shows on my phone, but because behind unassuming gates, bland car parks and cumbersome evergreens, Nanjing is saturated with architecture that was once the making of a capital city.
Whether seasoned Nanjinger or recent arrival, I urge you to make habit of exploring the city in which you are; to get you started, three of my favourites.
Former Provisional Government, 10 Hunan Lu 临时政府参议院旧址
Built in the last years of the Qing Dynasty, this building, in the style of French Renaissance, was the remarkable work of a 26-year-old architecture graduate. All blushing pink and jarring green, it is frilly and decorative with its fish scale roofs, minarets, chimneys and railings, reminiscent of the Louvre in Paris. The building is intrinsically linked to Sun Yatsen, who made it the base of his Provisional Government when he established the Republic of China in 1912. Thirteen years later when he tragically passed away in Beijing, it was to this building that his body was first transported, allowing mourners to come and visit before the mausoleum was built for him on Purple Mountain.
Former Republican Supreme Court , 101 Zhongshan Bei Lu 国民政府最高法院旧址
1 year after Nanjing was established as China’s capital in 1927, for the tenth time in history, the Nationalist government implemented the great “Capital City Plan”, covering everything from schools to sewage, politics to buildings. Architects were encouraged to follow a European or American model but to include elements that suited a Chinese context.
The Former Supreme Court, completed in May 1933, is an excellent example, with its imposing design, well fit for purpose. Defined by a vertical axis, it could not be more opposite from the wide sloping eaves of traditional southern Chinese architecture, emphasising its height and giving it a sense of authority. Still pertaining to a Chinese aesthetic, architect Guo Yangmo designed the central structure to mimic the Chinese character for mountain, shan (山), illustrating the phrase “zhi fa ru shan” (执法如山) meaning “to maintain the law as firm as a mountain”.
Former Bureau of District No. 6, 26 Ninghai Lu 第六区区公所
Isolated at the intersection of six roads, what is now a branch of the much loved Librairie Avant-Garde was once the gateway to Nanjing’s Legation Quarter. Semi circular from a bird’s eye and painted a warm yellow, it is made up of four levels which narrow in step towards the top.
The building dates to the 1930s and was initially the Bureau of District No. 6, but was taken over during the Japanese invasion, when it was used by the Japanese as the military police headquarters. In 1960, it became Gulou Library, but was subsequently closed down during the Cultural Revolution, then reinstated as a commune hospital in 1983. As you sit there today; coffee in one hand, book in the other; it is hard to imagine this peculiar shaped building once served such variety of purposes.