Last month, at the end of May I accidentally found this fascinating free exhibition about the world famous Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec (in Hungary we call him Laszlo Hugyecz). My father and I were just walking around and then passed by a cultural centre named FUGA. I remembered the place because I was there for a fashion show back in February. So, as we were walking near Ferenciek Square my dad suddenly proposed the idea to go and take a look inside. Well, honestly I did not expect this but we found four great exhibitions at the same time. What is more, all of these expositions offered something new and unconventional. The reason I chose to write about Finding Hudec is the amazing story behind the architect’s career that I believe, not a lot people know.
Starting at the very beginning, Hudec was born in 1893 in Besztercebanya (today: Banská Bystrica, Szlovakia). His mother was Hungarian, his father Slovakian and Laszlo considered himself both Hungarian and Slovakian equally. Between 1911 and 1914 he studied architecture at the Technical University of Budapest. His great talent drew many teachers’ attention onto him. Right after his graduation in 1914 he got hired by the offices of Ervin Ybl but unfortunately, World War 1 started. He got drafted into the army and later in 1916, was captured at the Ukrainian front by the Russians. He spent some time in the military prisons of Siberia. Later he was transported by train along with other soldiers but the train had to stop at the Chinese border. Hudec grabbed the chance to escape and made a run for it. He ended up in Shanghai where he joined an American architectural office. In a few months, he became chief architect mainly because of his background in classical design and engineering.
The company was focused on elegant public and private buildings in the Western concessions of Shanghai like the Chinese-American Bank or the American Club.
In 1922, he married a Swiss-English woman called Gisela Meyer. They had three Children and the family lived in a house designed by Hudec. For more freedom to express his style he opened his own studio in 1925. This was when the business really started for him. Clients from all around China were looking for his services. He became the busiest architect of Shanghai. He designed a hospital, a movie theatre, a church, a university and many residential buildings. Amongst all of these exceptional architectural works he designed his best known masterpiece, the Park Hotel which is a 22-story building with a height of 84 metres. The Park Hotel remained the tallest skyscraper of Asia until 1952.
Previously in Shanghai, building skyscrapers had almost been impossible because of the city’s sinking soil. He created foundation plans based on a German technology in which metal partition walls served as a waterproof layer. A bit later in 1935 he designed his second most iconic building in the modern style, the residence of Shanghai industry tycoon D. V.Woo.
For the pressing of the Communist Party in China Hudec and his family decided to leave before things got worse. First they moved to Switzerland then after a short visit to Rome they moved on and settled down in San Francisco where he began holding presentations in the University of California, Berkeley. Stepping back from active work in the fields of architecture, he began investing in real estate and also as a hobby he started painting. In 1958 he died of a heart attack and according to his final will he was buried in his birth town, Besztercebanya.
As I finished reading through his life story it really got me thinking. A small town boy from Eastern Europe became one of the biggest architects of Shanghai. He escaped from the Russians and started a new life in a country he had never ever set a foot before not even speaking the language. But, against all odds he learned Chinese and got into a famous American architectural company. If this is not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
The exhibition showcased beautiful exterior and interior photos of Hudec’s buildings taken by the students of ECNU School of Design and was supported by the Hudec Cultural Foundation.
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Photo credit Lilla Andre