Sun, Mar 09, 2003 - Page 18 News List

A new direction in architecture

While most people seem content to live and work in buildings that vary little from place to place, a group of Taiwanese architechs is designing houses tailored to suit the needs of one of the nation's more environmentally conscious counties

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

One of four houses constructed under the first Ilan House project, in rural Ilan County.

PHOTO COURTESY OF YOUNGSUN

What is the essence of Taiwanese architecture? Columns carved with dragons? Auspicious animals on front gates? Elaborate tiled roofs? The answer to this question is a small, but not insignificant part of the answer to the larger question: What is unique about Taiwanese culture? As such, it is a question that architecture professionals in Taiwan ought to be interested in.

Some architects and scholars of architecture have sidestepped this question and chosen instead to experiment with vernacularism. They believe that designing buildings that satisfy the needs of local residents with local materials, rather than designing buildings based on preconceived notions of a traditional Taiwanese form, is more relevant to the search for a local style of architecture.

Youngsun Culture and Education Foundation (仰山文教基金會) gathered a group of these architects and scholars to implement this ideal in a project called "Ilan House" (宜蘭厝) in 1994. Nine vernacular houses were planned and of these four have become actual homes for families living next to expanses of fields in Ilan.

Having received encouraging responses from home-owners, academia and the media, the foundation launched the project again in 2001. The seven resulting buildings are now documented in a book entitled, A Quiet Landscape Revolution (寧靜的地景革命).

"Ilan House was born out of a cooperative effort between the Ilan County Government and Youngsun. At the time, many traditional buildings were being renovated. After the renovations, what were once houses with courtyards (三合院) and bamboo fences became European-style villas. Buildings characteristic of Ilan were disappearing fast. Ilan House was meant to provide an alternative," said Lin Fang-yi (林芳怡), the book's editor-in-chief.

In his book, Lin includes documentation on the lives and personalities of the property-owners who participated in the project, along with their ideas of what their ideal house should be like. A family that loved nature had their future house designed with a long promenade where they could "listen to the sound of the rain." A devout Christian family hoped for a large living room where they could play host to their many friends from church.

"The execution of Ilan House included a good deal of communication between the architects and landowners. The houses were almost custom-made," Lin said.

Besides being "custom-made" for individuals, the houses were also custom-made for the environment of Ilan. Guidelines stipulated that designs should be able to resist strong typhoons, the northeast monsoon, frequent rains as well as high amounts of groundwater.

This was the first group of houses in Ilan that stressed compatibility with the natural surroundings. "Houses that look local on the outside have been built before, but none really aimed to respond to the specifics of their surroundings," said Wu Guang-tin (吳光庭), associate professor at the architecture department at Tamkang University (淡江大學) and convener of the selection committee for Ilan House in 2001.

It' s not surprising that Ilan's residents became pioneers of vernacular architecture considering the area's strong stand on environmental and development issues. In the 1980s, when most local governments were encouraging business investment, Ilan County vocally opposed the construction of the No. 6 Naphtha Cracker Plant due to environmental concerns. In the 1990s, Ilan County opposed the construction of the 4th Nuclear Power Plant and voted against it in a referendum in 1998.

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