From China to Hanover

by Nicole Tsong | 10/22/98 5:00am

At the age of 10, used to the tropical environs of China and Hawaii, Lo-Yi Chan '54 was in for a change when he arrived in Hanover with his family -- shoes.

"I had not worn shoes until I got here," Dartmouth's Campus Master Planner told The Dartmouth in an interview yesterday.

Chan now walks the streets of Hanover with a different purpose. As the campus master planner, he makes decisions regarding the overall aesthetic of the Dartmouth campus.

"You need to know when [a building] works best and when it doesn't work best," Chan said at a meeting on the 1998 version of the campus master plan. "Not everything can be important."

Chan works to keep the campus on an even keel.

"We need to find a balance between buildings and open spaces that are wonderful in themselves," yet continue to connect the campus, Chan added.

As a former resident, he said he has noticed the campus moving away from a purely rural aesthetic to "something else." He wants to ensure that the "something else" remains uniquely Dartmouth.

Chan's roots to the campus and Hanover reach further back than most students can imagine. In a town quieted by the demands of World War II, Chan's father moved the family to Hanover after Dartmouth hired him as an Asian Studies professor.

As a student at Hanover High School just down the street from the College, a civics class spurred Chan's interest in architecture. Chan said he and a friend chose to design an addition to the high school for their final project.

"It was so much fun I decided that's what I wanted to be doing," he said.

He stayed close to home when he entered Dartmouth as a day student. His tuition was waived because his father was a professor at the College, Chan said, but his family still couldn't afford to put him in a dormitory.

After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in art history, Chan said he left Dartmouth for a long time while he pursued a career in architecture. He then completed a degree in architecture at Harvard.

As a fledgling architect searching for a job during a 1960 recession, his family's friendship with the world-renowned architect I.M. Pei helped him gain a foothold in his field.

Chan said Pei used to visit Hanover, and his family would "feed him fresh corn on the cob, which you don't get in China."

After his stint with Pei, Chan soon founded his own architecture and planning firm and designed buildings that were built in cities from New York to Beijing.

One inventive project in Connecticut garnered Dartmouth's attention -- Chan had designed the first hospice in the United States, built in New Haven. The publicity from the unique project caught the eye of Peter Smith, the former Director of the Hopkins Center.

Chan said Smith told Dartmouth, "This is a Dartmouth grad. We ought to bring him back here."

Through Dartmouth Horizons -- a program that brings back prominent persons for an intensive weekend at the College -- Chan returned to Hanover.

During the visit, Director Smith recruited Chan to help him select an architect for the Hood Museum.

As a result, Chan continued being a consultant to the College and eventually became the campus master planner in the late 1970s. He has served under Presidents John G. Kemeny, David T. McLaughlin, James O. Freedman and now, James Wright.

His tenure working for the College has extended beyond campus planning as well, with a commission to design the Rockefeller Center. Chan said the commission was "one of the best things I ever did."

Dartmouth looks different to him now, he said. As an undergrad, he never paid attention to the graduate schools: the Dartmouth Medical School, the Thayer School of Engineering and the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration.

"They were out of my sight," he said. Now, he said, he realizes the importance of the graduate schools in both an academic and architectural sense.

But the aesthetic of the school has been preserved -- Dartmouth "has remained a New England college," he said.

His three children all attended Dartmouth as well, graduating in 1980, 1983 and the last in 1988.