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

"No need to emigrate to New Zealand. Just live in Ilan," was the confident slogan of current Premier Yu Hsi-kun during his term as Ilan County commissioner in the 1990s.

"Ilan is a unique case. They realized early on the importance of preserving the natural landscape and a healthy environment. It's also unique in that the county government's environmental and regional development policies have been consistent for over 20 years." Wu said.

Former county commissioner Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) instituted conservation plans for the Dongshan River (冬山河) and Wulaokeng Scenic Areas (武荖坑) in 1982. Yu, the next county commissioner, followed Chen's example but put more emphasis on living spaces. While a 1991 study by National Taiwan University estimated the county's maximum population should be capped at 1.46 million, Yu decided that the number should not exceed 1 million. Development and construction regulations were then amended to limit the density of buildings accordingly.

While most people in Taiwan resign themselves to living in cramped match-box apartments or badly built villas with outlandish names, Ilan residents seem to have more creative ideas about where they want to live.

"In the project, I saw people who really cared about their living environments and were actually willing to create the environment they wanted," said Lin Chi-hong (林志宏), an architect with "Ilan House."

Lin designed a two-story residence for Lee Chang-hsi (李長溪), a retired Chinese medicine doctor whose wife is in the same trade. The house integrated a Chinese herb garden, a small pond and a room for worshipping. Considering his old age, Lee asked for convertible structures for his study and garage so that they can become herbal labs when he's no longer around.

"In the process of intensive communication with landowners, architects heard their life stories and [became aware of] their needs as individuals," Lin Fang-yi said.

The typical architectural education in Taiwan, which trains students to design buildings according to their types -- schools, residence, offices -- no longer applied with Ilan House. Some of the buildings were designed with additional uses in mind, with sections for a community library or seaweed farms.

In Chitan Community (直潭社區) in Hsindian, Taipei County, Ilan House inspired residents to launch a similar project last October. Like Ilan County, Chitan Community prides itself on its pristine natural environment. It's only an eight-minute drive uphill from Bitan (碧潭) Scenic Spot.

Ten architects are currently designing houses for eight land-owners. "It's common practice here that architects design buildings according to their whims. What they consider suitable may not suit the actual tenants. Our goal is a new architectural culture where architects and property-owners interact more," said Lin Chian-cheng (林健正), chairman of Chitan Community Administrative Committee, organizer of the "Chitan House" project.

No other group has tried to follow Ilan House's footsteps. "It's not easy to change people's materialistic ideas about real estate. New architectural concepts take time to mature and gain acceptance," said Lin Chi-hong, who's also part of the Chitan House project.

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