Shanghai is home to some of the most extraordinarily buildings in China. With a rich architectural heritage that encompasses everything from ancient Buddhist temples and 19th-century colonial structures through to cutting-edge contemporary skyscrapers, all reflect the cultural shifts at the core of the metropolis’ textured history. Here are some of Shanghai’s most beautiful buildings.
Shanghai’s largest Buddhist temple has existed in some form since 242 AD. Legend has it Sun Quan, Emperor of Wu, one of the three kingdoms of China, ordered the construction of 13 pagodas to house the remains of Buddha. Longhua Pagoda, one of the structures that makes up the Longhua Temple complex, was one of them. Destroyed by war, it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Taizong in 977 in the striking architectural style of the Song Dynasty and has been renovated several times since.
Famed for housing the great Hongwu Bell, which was cast in bronze for the founder of the Ming Dynasty, Jing’an Temple is thought to have been built in 247 AD. The current incarnation, from 1216, stands on the busy West Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai, where it stands in stark contrast to the contemporary, high-rise skyscrapers surrounding it.
St. Ignatius Cathedral
Completed in 1910, this Roman Catholic cathedral was once described as “the grandest church in the Far East” and has been the seat of the Bishop of Rome and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shanghai since 1960. Designed by British architect William Doyle, its stained glass windows incorporate Chinese characters and iconography.
Designed in the neoclassical style, the Custom House, completed in 1927, is one of the most iconic buildings on Shanghai’s famous Bund waterfront. It is best known for its bell, Big Ching, modelled on London’s Big Ben.
This Art Deco masterpiece, designed by British architect Balfours and completed in 1933, used to house the largest slaughterhouse in East Asia. The vast concrete edifice is now home to a number of creative enterprises, shops and restaurants.
Japanese architect Arata Isozaki’s “archisculptural masterpiece for 21st century China”, completed in 2003, is one of Shanghai’s most beautiful and charismatic buildings. It’s a cultural hub, being home to Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel, Shanghai Himalayas Museum and the state-of-the-art DaGuan Theatre.
This 632m, 128-floor skyscraper, designed by American architectural firm Gensler and completed in 2015, is the second tallest building in the world. It has the world’s highest observation deck (562m) and the world’s fastest elevators.
Shanghai Natural History Museum
The shape of the 44,517sqm Shanghai Natural History Museum was inspired by the shell of the nautilus mollusc, “one of the purest geometric forms found in nature”. One of Shanghai’s most beautiful contemporary buildings, it opened its doors to the public in 2015.
Japanese architect Kengo Kuma used angled strips of aluminium mesh, “like woven lace”, to create the rippling façade of this 29-storey office building, designed to resemble a pleated dress. Hongkou Soho, built for property developer Soho China, was completed in 2015.
This arts and culture centre is part of the Bund Finance Center, designed by British architectural firms Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio and completed in 2017. The façade, constructed of layers of bronze-coloured stainless-steel tubes that slowly rotate around the building, was inspired by traditional Chinese theatre curtains.
Explore Shanghai’s most beautiful buildings while staying in one of them at the Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel, Shanghai.