Anne Warr is an architect who has lived in Shanghai since 2003. Anne earned an MA in Heritage Conservation from the University of York, UK and worked for ten years as Heritage Manager for the NSW Government, and then as Heritage Manager for the City of Sydney. She started a tour guiding business, Walk Shanghai, and is a founding member of ‘Save Shanghai Heritage’, a volunteer group producing walking tour brochures of Shanghai’s twelve Conservation Areas. The first brochure, on the Jewish Ghetto area, was published in 2006. Anne and her partner run the Shanghai office of the Australian architectural firm “AJ+C.”
WildChina: How did you get started giving tours of Shanghai?
Anne Warr: When I first came to Shanghai in 2003 I was given the wonderful task of writing an “Architecture Guide to Shanghai”, by Australian publisher Watermark Press. As I explored the city discovering the many facets of its architecture and history, I became very familiar with the city and its stories. So, it became natural for people to start asking me to give architectural tours. The first tour I gave was for the MOMA Board of Directors in 2005.
WC: What is your favorite place to take guests?
AW: My favourite places vary from week to week and tour to tour. I enjoy taking guests to places that will surprise and delight them – and Shanghai is full of such places. I’m always discovering more about Shanghai, and I like to share these discoveries.
WC: Is there one place or building that has a particularly interesting story associated with it?
AW: There are so many interesting buildings and stories, that it’s hard to choose! Over this year I have been researching the work of the Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec who arrived in Shanghai in 1918, having escaped from a Russian prisoner of war camp. He intended to stay for only a few months, but stayed until 1947, becoming one of the most celebrated architects of that period, designing over 60 buildings including the Park Hotel. Only last week I managed to locate one of his later buildings that I had been searching for – the Aurora University Women’s College. I had seen pictures of the College building, which was designed in a very modern style, but hadn’t seen it any where. Finally I was able to locate the building by going down a narrow lane off the busy Huaihai Road and behind the shops was a large garden with the building standing within. It’s very exciting to make such a discovery and find that the building has survived. It’s now part of the China Institute of Social Sciences.
WC: What is your favorite place to go in China on your own?
AW: I like to go to Moganshan on my own. This is a hilltop retreat near Hangzhou built by missionaries in the early 20th century as a retreat for their families from the hot Shanghai summers. It has only been opened up for tourism in the last decade, and is still relatively unknown and unspoilt.
WC: What would your ideal Shanghai day be?
AW: My favourite Shanghai day would start by riding my bicycle to a small café in the French Concession for breakfast. Then continuing on my bike to visit some of my favourite shops and particularly the antique market on Fangbang Lu in the Old City. Then finishing for dinner with friends in the French Concession.
WC: How would you characterize Shanghai as a city?
AW: For me, Shanghai is a city of paradox. By that I mean that it is full of contrasts and is never quite what you expect. For example, many of my guests coming to Shanghai assume that all the old buildings have been demolished and that Shanghai only has new skyscrapers. In fact, a majority of Shanghai’s buildings from the Concession days have remained. The Shanghai government’s careful preservation of so many pre-1949 buildings has made Shanghai the interesting and unique city it is today. The classic image of Shanghai shows a low-rise group of lilong houses in the foreground with a wallpaper of modern high rise behind. The combination of new and old makes Shanghai exciting and vibrant.