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Meditations on Urban Spectacle at historic villa

A modern art exhibition was launched on Saturday at a villa designed by renowned architect Laszlo Hudec and once owned by Dr Sun Yat-sen's son Sun Ke.

Visitors will be able to walk into the ground floor of the 90-year-old building and view the exhibition about modern art and the city.

"Meditations on the Urban Spectacle" features artworks and urban renewal projects from artists, architects and cultural researchers. It aims to explore the possibilities of urban development in the future.

Photos are displayed on the preserved fireplace of the villa, while the octagon-shape balcony has been converted into a meditation room. A phonograph plays sounds recorded from the last remaining urban villages in Shenzhen, south Guangdong Province.

"Urban spectacles are one of the main drives for the evolution of public space," said Li Xiangning, a professor with Tongji University and the academic director of the exhibition.

"The exhibition gathers the collection and thinking about urban spectacles from modern artists, architects and researchers and shows the possible directions of future urban development."

The exhibition, jointly organized by Vanke, Minsheng Art Foundation and Minsheng Art Museum, will run through December 12. The number of visitors will be limited as a COVID-19 prevention measure.

The Sun Ke Villa, built in 1931 at 60 Panyu Road in Changning District, is one of Shanghai's key protected historic buildings.

The 1,051-square-meter, three-story villa is part of the Columbia Circle compound, once a country club and a gathering place for Americans between 1927 and 1942 in the then outskirts of the city.

Hudec mainly drew on the Spanish-style architecture that was in vogue in the US at the time and built the garden villa for himself next to the club.

It blends at least five architectural styles, with Spanish red tiles and roof, Baroque window frames, Islam arch and tipped decoration and Renaissance-style chimneys.

In 1932, Hudec transferred ownership of the villa to Sun Ke in gratitude for personal favors. Sun, then head of the legislative body and vice president of the Kuomintang government of the day, lived in the villa between 1932 and 1948.

Chen Yi, Shanghai's first mayor after liberation in 1949, turned the compound over to the Shanghai Institute of Biological Products in 1951, when the villa became offices of the institute.

The villa is well-preserved because it was listed among Shanghai's first group of protected historic buildings in 1999. It has never been open to the public before.

Vanke launched the renovation project in October 2019 after three years planning. The exterior walls have been cleaned, and ventilation improved to ward off mold in the wooden floors. The wooden roof, eaten by termites, has been replaced by similar old material collected from across the nation.

Some details of the three-story villa have been retained, such as its natural wooden floors, a curved staircase, French windows and elegant chandeliers. Quarters that once housed servants are attached to the villa.

The historic compound now features restored structures, as well as offices, entertainment venues and cultural amenities. Other key landmark structures, such as the Columbia Country Club, the Navy Club and a well-preserved swimming pool, along with 11 industrial buildings belonging to the institute, have opened to the public.

The compound also serves as the main venue for the ongoing Shanghai Urban Space Art Season 2021, which is themed on the 15-minute community life circle.

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