Les tribulations d'un architecte belge en Chine: Gustave Volckaert, au service du Crédit Foncier d'Extrême-Orient, 1914-1954

Thomas COOMANS, Leung Kwok Prudence LAU

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Belgian companies made large investments and developed important businesses in China during the first half of the 20th century. Several architects were employed by these companies and made a career in the Far-East. Contrary to the architects working in Belgian Congo, the Belgian architects in China remain largely unknown. This article follows one of them, Gustave Volckaert (1888-1978), who worked for the Crédit Fonder d'Extrême-Orient (C.F.E.O.), a Belgian-French company specialized in mortgage-loan, real-estate, and all activities related to construction business in the main treaty ports of China. Volckaert worked in Tianjin and Beijing from 1914 to 1922, in Tianjin from 1934 to 1946 and in Hong Kong from 1947 to 1954. His work includes houses, offices, educational buildings, churches and convents for both Western and Chinese clients. The article pays attention to Volckaert's professional relationships and reveals a fascinating network of influent Catholic people including the Ghent contractor René Van Herrewege, the Chinese diplomat Lou Tsien-Tsiang, the missionary-architect Alphonse De Moerloose, the Jesuit naturalist Emile Licent, the expert in reinforced-concrete professor Gustave Magnel, several directors of the C.F.E.O., and major missionary orders (Jesuits, Lazarists, Paris Foreign Missions, Maryknoll Sisters, etc.). Although Volckaert was not at the front line of innovation, he was a conscientious architect, a good technician and fully devoted to his company. His career spans four decades during which the Chinese society opened up to modernity, especially in semi-colonial cities like Tianjin and in the British colony of Hong Kong. Architecture, one of the most visible expressions of modernity, evolved from classic and historic styles to art deco and modernist buildings with concrete structures, modern comfort and technologies. This article therefore examines Volckaert's works under the evolution of modern architecture in China. Copyright © 2012 RBAHA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-153
JournalRevue Belge d'Archeologie et d'Histoire de l'Art
Publication statusPublished - 2012



Coomans, T., & Lau, L. K. P. (2012). Les tribulations d'un architecte belge en Chine: Gustave Volckaert, au service du Crédit Foncier d'Extrême-Orient, 1914-1954. Revue Belge d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art, 81, 129-153.


  • Alt. title: The tribulations of a Belgian architect in China: Gustave Volckaert, in service of the Crédit Foncier d'Extrême-Orient, 1914-1954