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Ward Road Gaol; Tilanqiao Prison

  • Kind of Object:
  • Name:

    Ward Road Gaol; Tilanqiao Prison

    Word Count: 5

  • Alternative Names:
    Tilanqiao Prison
  • Year End:
  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Ward Road, Hongkou (now Changyang Lu, corner of Zhoushan Lu, Hongkou Qu) Shanghai

  • City:
    Shanghai (CN)
  • Introduction:

    The Ward Road Gaol (today Tilanqiao Prison) had space for 7000 prisoners.The rather small new extension for foreign prisoners designed by the architect Rudolf Hamburger consisted of two buildings and a pavilion for the guards.

    Word Count: 35

  • Content:

    Rudolf Hamburger’s first contract as architect with the Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) was signed in 1930 for three years and in April 1933 extended for another three years. In these six years he realised a waste incineration plant (now demolished), the Victoria Nurses Home, the Chinese Girls School and the new Ward Road Gaol. Hamburger’s ideas on architecture were strongly influenced by his teacher Hans Poelzig in Berlin. In addition to the aforementioned four major buildings for the SMC, he also designed several small buildings and innumerable interiors, as well as furniture, partly in connection with The Modern Home, a company he co-founded.The Ward Road Gaol (today Tilanqiao Prison) had space for 7000 prisoners. The rather small new extension for foreign prisoners designed by Hamburger consisted of two buildings and a pavilion for the guards. The floor plan of the main building, for 150 male inmates, was designed as a cross. The building consisted of six floors, with an enclosed space on the roof. On the ground floor was the registration office and the medical department for screening new arrivals, as well as offices for the civil servants and the visiting room. Two staircases and a lift connected the floors above, where the cells and two common washrooms per floor were located. There was a common dining hall and a kitchen offering three different types of cuisine to provide for the various ethnic groups such as Sikhs from India, Muslims and Europeans. Large work spaces occupied the top floor, and the partially-covered flat roof was where the prisoners were allowed their daily walkabout. As far as security provisions was concerned, British standard regulations were applied.

    The centre of the cross-shaped floor plan was covered by a glass cupola, which allowed light into the open inner space, from the top floor to the ground. The spines of the cupola were made of reinforced concrete and covered by glass tiles. The wide corridors in front of the cells were connected with openings in the ceiling – secured with metal grids – allowing visual and acoustic control of all floors. With this design it was possible to control the whole building with few guards.

    The female section, in a separate building, consisted of four floors and was topped by a roof garden. The layout followed a rectangular block and housed 30 cells. The building was partially open on the ground floor, with an enclosed courtyard, and the roof was used for exercise.

    Both buildings were cast in concrete, which emphasised the character of the prison architecture. The windows in the cells were small and positioned in the upper part of the wall, whereas common and work spaces had big windows, which allowed for natural light and ventilation. The horizontal format of the cell windows was combined with a shadow gap. On the roof, the wall was set back from the perimeter and closed on top with a lattice. Hamburger’s design, including the use of different-shaped windows on different floors, succeeds in sidestepping the danger of producing a dull, box-like complex.  

    Hamburger took on the difficult task of designing a prison and applied experimental design in terms of materiality and aesthetics. The exterior of the concrete building was left raw and the shadow gaps gave the otherwise bare building scale and proportion. The rigorous structure and symmetrical composition were consciously balanced by the design of the window openings. Using a few subtle means the architect was able to solve the task in terms of architecture.

    Between 1943 and 1945, Wang Jingwei’s puppet regime used the prison and named it Tilanqiao Prison. From 1945 to 1949 it was used by the Jiang Kaishek government and in 1949, under the new communist leadership, it became a People’s Prison. The complex is used as a prison to this day (2021) and planners and architects have been waiting for many years for the prisoners to be moved out, to allow the inner-city complex to be used for other purposes.

    Word Count: 654

  • Signature Image:
    Ward Road Gaol, interior, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The guards are able to see all areas from the aisles.
  • Media:
    Ward Road Gaol, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The men’s building has six floors and a usable roof area.
    Ward Road Gaol Shanghai, floor plan, (© Hamburger family). It shows a typical cruciform floor plan.
    Ward Road Gaol, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The central round light source, which was covered with a glass dome.
    Ward Road Gaol, interior, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The guards are able to see all areas from the aisles.
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Dikötter, Frank. Crime, Punishment and the Prison in Modern China. Columbia University Press, 2002.
    Kögel, Eduard. Architekt im Widerstand. Rudolf Hamburger im Netzwerk der Geheimdienste. DOM Publisher, 2020.
    Kögel, Eduard. Zwei Poelzigschüler in der Emigration: Rudolf Hamburger und Richard Paulick zwischen Shanghai und Ost-Berlin (1930–1955).  University of Weimar, 2006, toi:

    Word Count: 54

  • Author:
    Eduard Kögel
  • Metropolis:
  • Entry in process:
  • Eduard Kögel. "Ward Road Gaol; Tilanqiao Prison." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • Victor Sassoon

    Victor Sassoon was a descendant of the Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family. He contributed significantly to a real estate boom in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s and helped European Jews in the Shanghai Ghetto. An ambitious amateur photographer, he produced many images of people and events of the time.

    Word Count: 50

    Photograph of Victor Sassoon. G. L. “Die Immigration – ein Problem.” Shanghai Woche (Weekly Review), 30 March 1939, p. 3.
    Hahn, Emily. China to Me. A Partial Autobiography. BCE, The Blakiston Company, 1944, cover.
    Hubertus Court

    The print was made by the artist Emma Bormann during her exile in Shanghai in the 1940s.The title suggest that the print offers a bird’s eye view from the Hubertus Court building.

    Word Count: 34

    Emma Bormann, Hubertus Court, lino cut or wood cut, around 1940, Shanghai (© private collection).
    Emma Bormann, Deutsches Eck [German Corner], wood or lino cut, around 1949 (© private collection).Emma Bormann, Great Western Road, wood or lino cut, around 1940 (© private collection).Schiff, Friedrich and Ellen Thorbecke. Shanghai. North China Daily News & Herald Ltd., Shanghai, 1941.