Google+ London Architecture Blog: Week 18/13 Feature #11 Chinatown, Soho

Monday, 6 May 2013

Week 18/13 Feature #11 Chinatown, Soho

Entrance to Chinatown from Wardour Street. Photograph by Laurence Mackman.
Chinatown, Soho
Architect: Various/ Westminster City Council Architect's
Date Completed: 1970s - 80s (majority)
Location: Gerrard Street (and surrounding area), Soho, City of Westminster, London, W1

Chinatown is a broad area situated within Soho, W1 between Shaftesbury Avenue to the north, Leicester Square to the south and Leicester Square underground Station to the east.. The area is home the to the Chinese community in London and contains restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and shops. The current Chinatown has existed since the 1950s, although earlier communities existed across London, mainly in it's original location in Limehouse in the Docklands.

The history of Chinatown in London dates back to the 18th century when Chinese workers (including seamen and sailors) from the docklands chose to settle within the Limehouse area of the Docklands. As communities formed, the workers set up small restaurants and shops to cater for the local Chinese community as well as migrant workers and visitors. The community continued to grow until WWII when the Limehouse docks were heavily bombed and the post war years when industry and shipping fell into decline. The area now known as Chinatown was previously home to a diverse range of European restaurants and cuisines and so provided an idea base for many Chinese entrepreneurs moving away from the East End.

The main street running through Chinatown is Gerrard Street, a low rise Georgian brick terraced street with restaurants, supermarkets and shops offering Chinese cuisine and imported goods. The street is enclosed by three gates identifying the central area of Chinatown, commissioned by Westminster City Council and the London Chinatown Chinese Association and the Chinese Embassy and designed by Richard Swain of the Westminster City Council's Planning Department in 1985-86. These are designed in the Paifang (arch) style and are constructed from timber and steel. The main frame is painted red and supports a sweeping green timber roof with further red detail at the apexes. Centered underneath the eaves within intricate screening, and on the top of the columns is calligraphy signage.

Continuing with street furniture, approximately halfway along Gerrard Street are statues of two stone lions which were donated by the Chinese government. Street lights and bins have also been finished with red and gold paint throughout Chinatown and the street signs have both English and Chinese writing.

Lion statue. Photograph by Laurence Mackman

Further to the east, at the end of Gerrard Street and beside Newport Place, is a pagoda completed in the late 1980s. This is used as an informal meeting point for visitors and locals into Chinatown and is constructed from wood with a concrete base and stone table in the centre. The structure is brightly finished in red paint (columns) and gold for the roof and details. Lighting follows the roof profile and pitches on top and inside, a large central light illuminates the pagoda at night.

The pagoda, and lit up at night. Photograph by Laurence Mackman
Beside the pagoda, a series of shops and cafes continue on Newport Place and down Newport Court which leads to the entrance to Leicester Square underground station. Examples of Chinese style architecture include highlights such as the New China restaurant on the corner of Newport Place and Gerrard Place, directly opposite the pagoda and the Golden Pagoda restaurant on the corner of Gerrard Street and Dean Street. These contain features such as sweeping overhang roofs, red lanterns, Lion statues and red and gold finishes typical of Chinese architecture.

A contemporary restaurant, Plum Valley was designed in 2002 by London based, Dols Wong Architects.

Plum Valley restaurant. Photograph by Laurence Mackman
For further information, check out the Chinatown, London website:

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