To continue last week’s exploration of Prada’s cultural restorations, their most recent and most ambitious project was the Rong Zhai villa in Shanghai. Completed just last year, the early-20th-century Western-style garden villa took six years to restore, and it is now open to the public as a cultural center for exhibitions and performances.
The villa was originally built between 1899 and 1910 for a German expatriate, and then purchased and expanded in 1918 by Yung Tsoong-King, an agricultural businessman known as the “Flour King” from Wuxi, China. As described by Elle Decor, he turned the house into a “harmonious melding of revivalism, [with] ancient Greek motifs, Chinese aesthetics, and Art Deco details.” He, along with his wife and seven children, made the home a social hub of Shanghai. They threw 48-hour-long parties that you weren’t allowed (or desiring) to leave until it was over, with rotating bands (including opera stars and other celebrities) and swing beds– all hosted in the stained glass-ceilinged ballroom. Unfortunately, in 1938 the Yung family was forced to flee to Hong Kong to escape the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Rong Zhai villa then became a government building for the Communist Party and then offices for Rupert Murdoch. It was declared cultural heritage of the Jing’an district in 2004 and included in a list of Shanghai’s most relevant historic buildings. And then Prada purchased the home in 2011 and enlisted Italian architect Roberto Baciocchi to oversee its restoration. Working with local Chinese artisans and historians, along with Italian artisans, the many surfaces and materials were meticulously brought back to life using historically accurate techniques to maintain their authenticity.
The villa has a unique Western-style architecture, but with Chinese deco elements and Classical and European influences. There are stained-glass windows, gilded ceilings, Chinese-scene-scapes, stucco and plaster walls, ceramic tiling, inlaid Chinoiserie details, Grecian columns out front and a hand-carved wooden teak panels inside. The result is an international cultural synthesis that Prada has reinvigorated to its rightful splendor. They have brought life back to the building through the hosted cultural activities and events, and H.C. Yung, youngest son of Yung Tsoong-King, says, “If he was still alive, my father would have been extremely happy.”
“Architecture has always been a source of inspiration for Prada. The analysis of practical, commercial and historic implications of buildings has always had a crucial role in the development of Prada’s activity, through a profound commitment to contemporary architectural experimentation projects and rigorous historic preservation.
Notably, China — the country and how Europeans perceive it — has always been part of the brand’s imagery… we have sought opportunities to expand our explorations in architecture and other artistic fields in China. This was the principle that led us to Rong Zhai, the historic residence capable to properly embody our ongoing commitment to Chinese culture and Sino-European dialogue”.
-Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli