Donald Insall Associates has recently carried out what must be one of the most challenging fast-track projects on record - a seven-month renovation of the former Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank on the Bund in Shanghai for the new Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. dia, specialist in conservation and restoration work, bid for the position of historic consultant on the project at the invitation of Hong Kong-based architect American Design Associates.
The granite-clad Neo-Classical building, the longest on the Bund, opened in 1924. Designed by Palmer and Turner, it was China's first steel-frame building (20 years after the steel-framed Ritz Hotel was erected in London). Trollope and Colls was the builder and many of the fittings - metal windows, sanitary ware, radiators - were shipped out from England. The Chinese clients were keen to preserve the Britishness of the building, and the discovery in the Midland Bank archives of a brochure showing the bank when it was newly completed proved a useful reference source.
The building has undergone a number of changes since 1924 and since 1949 had been in use by the Chinese government as a regional office. Natural finishes had been painted over and partitions inserted; humidity had also caused considerable damage but the quality of the original fittings, especially teak and bronzework, was such that it was possible to retain most of the existing windows, doors and other joinery.
In China, although the native bamboo scaffolding (so frightening to Western eyes) is efficient, machines are in short supply and poorly maintained; extra machinery had to be flown to Shanghai to speed up progress on the project. To counterbalance the drawbacks of a language barriers and a workforce largely unfamiliar with Western codes of practice, abundant man-power and innate patience made it possible to give rare attention to certain minutiae - for example, the individual screws in metal glazing bars were removed, cleaned and refitted.
The Chinese have little experience of currently approved Western restoration techniques, and before the arrival of the dia team sub-contractors had cleaned bronze and marble elements using acid-based solvents, with disastrous results. dia had to perform numerous site trials to demonstrate good practice methods using, for example, Ph detergents that would not damage the patina.
A spectacular discovery was the revelation of high-quality mosaic panels by George Murray under a thin layer of plaster in the grand domed entrance hall, which were painstakingly uncovered. Marble needed for work in the main banking hall had to be sourced in Italy - China has no suitable marble quarries, although there are plenty of skilled local marble workers. Experimental removal of layers of varnish uncovered much original teak joinery, which had come from India and was still sound.
Marble around steel columns enclosing leaking rainwater pipes was damaged where water had caused corrosion. Some marble capitals had to be entirely dismantled, others were fitted re-secured and made air- and water-tight.
dia also advised the Australian lighting consultant on new light fittings and was able to point out the close resemblance between some surviving fittings to light fittings in London buildings dia has worked in - County Hall (with som) and the Bank of England.
Working with stone cleaning specialists Tensid and Intachem, recommended by consultant Nicola Ashurst, the principal facades were cleaned in five weeks, using both water cleaning methods and a poulticing system. The granite was completely repointed, later ribbon pointing being replaced by the original slightly recessed jointing.
One of the major structural changes to the building was the enlargement of one of the banking halls to make space for the still largely paper- based Chinese banking system. dia was involved in the negotiations for this and other structural changes to the building with the specialist department of the Design Institute (China's equivalent of English Heritage).
Permission has also been obtained to create a garden courtyard on the roof over the main banking hall. The top floor is to be converted back to its original function as a nightclub, but it will no longer be frequented by its original membership whose emblem has been uncovered on a section of floor below the roof dome - the raf Association. The bank will start opening for business this summer.