Architect responsible for many of the landmarks of Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am

Robert Fan was one of the architects who moulded Shanghai into the 'Paris of the East' in the 1920s and '30s. His major works include landmarks such as the Shanghai Concert Hall, the Rialto, Astor and Majestic theatres, and the YMCA Building.

A prolific architect who embraced both Chinese and Western architectural styles, his portfolio also includes Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and many private homes in the city, as well as the Railway and Health ministries in Nanjing .

Fan received an American scholarship and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1921.

Heavily influenced by his teacher, Paul Philippe Cret, he belonged to the school of Beaux-Arts architecture, which combined baroque and rococo grandeur with impressionistic decorations.

The YMCA Building, for example, has a Chinese-style roof of upturned eaves and windows that resembled the art deco style.

In 1925, Fan launched a movement with fellow architects to study and adapt traditional Chinese elements in modern architecture. In 1930, they founded the Society for the Study of Chinese Architecture, recruiting such members as Wilma Fairbank, Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin.

But after a trip to Europe in 1935, Fan gradually distanced himself from traditional Chinese style and fully embraced Western architecture. The Majestic Theatre, completed in 1941, was a variation of art deco architecture with a simplistic American touch.

Fan left the mainland for Hong Kong in 1949, just before the Communists took power. He died here in 1979.

The Shanghai Concert Hall, formerly named the Nanking Theatre, is probably Fan's most remembered work. The neoclassical concert hall, one of the few European-styled buildings solely designed by a Chinese, has a faint resemblance to Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal, with marble columns, brown bricks and arched windows.

Fan's son and daughter-in-law, who migrated to the United States, are also architects, and his granddaughter, Maureen Fan, is a journalist. In a memoir Maureen Fan wrote for The Washington Post, she chronicled her father's childhood in Shanghai.

'The history of a country changes, but often the buildings do not. They continue to stand, mute witnesses to the narrative around them,' she wrote. 'My grandfather was one of the most prominent architects in Shanghai.'