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Emmanuel Gran

  • A stateless Russian Jew exiled in Shanghai, Emmanuel Gran rose to become the most accomplished and the most prolific of the diaspora architects. His projects included dozens of public and commercial buildings, apartments and villas in Shanghai and elsewhere in China; close to twenty of them still stand in downtown Shanghai.
  • Emmanuel
  • Gran
  • Эммануил Моисеевич Гран

  • 04-04-1984
  • Samara (RU)
  • 21-06-1969
  • New York (US)
  • ArchitectTeacher
  • A stateless Russian Jew exiled in Shanghai, Emmanuel Gran rose to become the most accomplished and the most prolific of the diaspora architects. His projects included dozens of public and commercial buildings, apartments and villas in Shanghai and elsewhere in China; close to twenty of them still stand in downtown Shanghai.

    Word Count: 51

  • Sapajou (Georgy Sapojnikoff), portrait of Emmanuel Gran, cartoon, around 1934, The North-China Daily News, 17 April 1934.
  • [I][/I]Born in Samara in 1894, Emmanuel Gran studied architecture in Saint Petersburg. In 1917 he was drafted and fought against the Bolsheviks as a young officer of the Siberian Fleet. Having landed in Shanghai in 1921, he found work as an architect at the city’s largest architecture firm, Palmer & Turner. During the decade that Gran stayed with the company, it completed its largest projects, including the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (1923), Yokohama Specie Bank (1924), Custom House (1926), the remodelling of the Palace Hotel (1927), Beth Aharon Synagogue (1927), Cathay Hotel (1929), Embankment Building (1931), Metropole Hotel (1931) and Hamilton House (1932).

    By 1932, local newspapers described Gran as the “author of many notable buildings,” “an architect with an already established reputation” and an “exponent of the newer tendencies of modern architectural practice.” His name, always placed near the top of the list of Palmer & Turner’s employees, was the only one without the credentials of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In January 1932, Emmanuel Gran became partner in the firm of Davies & Brooke. A year later, one of the partners, C. Gilbert Davies, died, so Emmanuel Gran and John Tallents Wynyard Brooke continued as a duo, retaining the firm's name Davies, Brooke & Gran.

    During the 1930s, the firm accomplished a number of large-scale projects in Shanghai, most of which survive to this day: the Lafayette Court (1933), Medhurst Apartments (1934), Yue Tuck Apartments (1934), Victor Court (1934), Development Building (1935), Magnet House (1938) and Hanray Apartments (1939). Gran worked on the architectural design of both versions of Pushkin's Monument (1937 and 1947), co-authored together with colleagues Victor Podgoursky and Mikhail Kichigin. Some of Davies, Brooke & Gran’s projects were in Hong Kong and North China, such as the China Light and Power (CLP) building on Argyle Street in Hong Kong, where it stands to this day.

    In 1931, together with other Russian colleagues, Gran founded the Russian Engineering Society, becoming its chairman. He was also vice-president and lecturer in architecture at the Higher Technical Centre of the French Concession in 1936–1941. Always an activist for the Jewish cause, in 1941, Gran became a chairman of the ORT Society, which promoted handicrafts and employment among the European Jews exiled in Shanghai.

    Gran’s largest gift to the Russian Jewish community, numbering about 4,000 people by the mid-1930s, was the construction of the New Ashkenazi Synagogue in the French Concession. The building, conceived in 1936 and completed in 1941, was described as “extremely modern and simple in style,” with “the severe modern lines of the interior broken and softened effectively by an imposing altar designed in the ancient Hebrew style.” The architect included a hidden choir, the first of its kind in a Shanghai synagogue: “The voices of the young choristers will be clearly heard, but they will not be visible to the members of the congregation.” The seating for men was on the ground floor, and for women it was on the balcony.

    The cost of the construction, estimated at 175,000 taels, was shared by the community. The plan to finish the building by September 1937 was not realised due to the beginning of Japanese hostilities, but work on the foundations began. The laying of the cornerstone was delayed until 24 November 1940, when the skeletons of three storeys had been completed. The Japanese marine commander Inuzuka Koreshige, who sympathised with the Jews, ensured an uninterrupted supply of cement for the construction. The chandelier for the new synagogue – 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide – was hand-made by the artisans Solomon and Isaac Miller, father and son who were working from their garage in Wayside.

    On April 6, 1941, the opening was celebrated by a mass wedding of twelve couples. The services in the New Synagogue continued until 1956. In the 1990s the former synagogue was completely remodelled inside and out, retaining only the footprint and buttressed walls of the original building.

    In 1949, Gran left China and relocated to New York. For the next twenty years he worked as architect and director of interiors for Hilton Hotels, having created more than 45 buildings around the world. In his interviews, he admitted: “I may be not the best architect in the world, but I am the fastest.” He did not stop working until his death in 1969. Emmanuel Gran’s vast collection of Chinese art, jade and curios, amassed during his time in China and exhibited at his home and office, made a splash at major auctions in 2014.

    Word Count: 718

  • Emanuel Gran, development building in downtown Shanghai, drawing, Shanghai Sunday Times, 11 December 1932.
    Emanuel Gran, Medhurst Apartments on Bubbling Well Road, drawing, 1934, Shanghai Sunday Times, 10 December 1933. One of Gran’s largest projects for Davies, Brooke & Gran.
    Davies Brooke & Gran, development of the Hanray Apartments on Avenue Joffre, drawing, Shanghai Sunday Times, 12 December 1937.
    Drawing of the project for Pushkin’s Monument, brochure page, Pushkinskie dni v Shanhae (Pushkin Centenary 1837–1937), 1937 (Public domain).
    Emanuel Gran, New Ashkenazi Synagogue on Rue Tenant de la Tour, drawing, Shanghai Sunday Times, 12 December 1937.
    Mary Catalina, Ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone of the New Ashkenazi Synagogue, 24 November 1940, photography (© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Siegmund Sobel collection).
  • Knyazeva, Katya. “Building Russian Shanghai: the Architectural Legacy of the Diaspora.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China, vol. 80, 2020.
    Pushkin Days Committee. Pushkinskie dni v Shanhae 1837–1937 (Pushkin Centenary 1837–1937). Shanghai, 1937.

    Word Count: 29

  • Katya Knyazeva
  • China (1921–1949); New York, USA (1949–1969)

  • 7 Samarkand Apartments, 1986 Avenue Joffre, French Concession (now Huaihai Lu, Xuhui Qu) (residence); Russian Engineering Society, Medhurst Apartments, 934 Bubbling Well Road, International Settlement (now Nanjing Xi Lu, Jing‘an Qu); Ashkenazi Synagogue, 102 Route Tenant de la Tour, French Concession (now Xiangyang Nan Lu, Xuhui Xu) (one of the projects); Pushkin’s monument, Route Pichon, French Concession (now Fenyang Lu, Xuhui Qu) (one of the projects), Shanghai

  • Shanghai
  • Katya Knyazeva. "Emmanuel Gran." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 08-05-2021.
  • Mikhail Kichigin

    Mikhail Kichigin was Shanghai’s preeminent émigré artist in the 1930s and 1940s. He travelled extensively around China and Eastern Asia, exhibiting his work and conducting visual studies. A versatile professional and a respected art instructor, he influenced a number of young artists from the Russian diaspora.

    Word Count: 47

    Victor Podgoursky

    Victor Podgoursky spent more than twenty-five years in Shanghai, working as an artist, teacher and designer. As a long-standing member of the Shanghai Art Club, he acted as the resident art critic and an instructor in life drawing and painting for the members.

    Word Count: 43