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Building Shanghai’s Dreamworld:

Architects and Elite Ballroom Designs of the 1920s and 1930s


Andrew Field

Kunshan Duke University, Kunshan, China


ABSTRACT  Using historical records from the period including newspapers and architectural journals, this paper examines seven ballrooms built in Shanghai between the 1920s and 1930s. These ballrooms were all designed by leading architects and reflect their ambitions and visions in creating fantastical spaces for the city’s elites to celebrate their status while socializing with other members of high society. Their technological features include sprung dance floors, sophisticated lighting schemes, and other technical wizardry to enhance the experience of dancing and being entertained. One ballroom was in the style of a traditional Chinese palace, highlighting the connection to earlier forms of culture in China. Today most of these ballrooms still exist and many of their original features are still intact, although the dancing has been superseded by other activities such as wedding banquets, conferences, and even the stock exchange.

KEYWORDS  China entertainment culture, architecture, urban design, Shanghai interwar ballrooms, dancing society

Received May 27, 2019; accepted August 20, 2019.

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