Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sun Kings and Crittall Kings

A while back I spent a few days looking at solar panel manufacturers in China. The most interesting company is Suntech, the creation of China’s ‘Sun King’ Shi Zhengrong and based in Wuxi. At first Shi concentrated on exporting to countries like Germany and Japan where solar panel installation enjoys subsidises. But now this is happening more and more in China and now he rules the growing domestic market too.

His success at developing a domestic production base for what is now an accepted architectural feature in many overseas countries and then grabbing market share from foreign imports by producing more cheaply in China as it adopts the technology is a nice rerun of the success of Tang Jingxian’s Taikang firm in the 1930s who noted the vogue for Crittall windows in Shanghai.

Tang set up a Shanghai factory manufacturing Crittall frames and undercut the foreign imports winning over 70% of the local market before starting to export. Crittall windows were a design feature but also made architectural sense as they were thinner than traditional frames and allowed in more sunlight while giving a more expansive view from the window. Solar panels obviously also have a range of benefits from being environmentally friendly to cutting household fuel bills. A nice tale of two types of excellent mixing of form and function.

Sadly walking on a street just back the Bund last night I noticed one old building constructed around the early 1930s being ‘refurbished’ – the new owners (Chinese property developer, western architects) have completely stripped out the Crittall window frames and dumped them. Tragic – as I know from having gone through the process a few years ago on a house in London Crittall, even when in a poor state of repair, can be restored – you don’t have to succumb to the horrors of UPVC. Sadly the western architects so keen to get a ‘1930s Shanghai’ feel to their new project dumped one of the most intrinsic features without thinking – the barbarian foreign architects of Shanghai strike again!

By the way someone told me that the man who invented the product John Francis Crittall (1860-1935), who’s portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery pictured above, visited Shanghai and actually sketched a portrait of the city – not sure if this is true though, so if anyone knows?


Crittall said...


I don't know about the Guv'nor's sketches, but I do have some photographs of the Shanghai factory, if you're interested.

Paul French said...

Sorry not to reply sooner but, yes, I'd love any photos of the factory - they'll be put to good use among architectural preservationists if you don't mind.

Crittall said...


I've emailed some photographs to you. If I find any more in my trawl through our archive, I'll add to them.

Anonymous said...


It was Walter Francis Crittall who visited and sketched the area, have seen them at the family home is Essex.

My Masters thesis was on 'Recognising WF Crittall'.

If you need any info my email is

Ellen Thorogood

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