Women in Architecture Taiwan


《TAIWAN REVIEW》︱ Form and Function

Date : 2020/05/01 - 2020/05/31


Form and Function

— interview by Oscar Chung

Wang Chiu-hwa has spent her long career designing architecture that serves the people.Sitting gracefully in the living room of her apartment on a cool February morning, 94-year-old Wang Chiu-hwa (王秋華) introduces visitors to features of the home she designed for herself and her family. Xue Residence, an eight-story building located on a small, quiet street in downtown Taipei City, speaks volumes about the veteran architect. With an unassuming tiled exterior characteristic of the 1970s and 80s along with an interior reminiscent of a library, the residence demonstrates Wang’s philosophy of functional design and understated aesthetics. Beyond all else, she believes a space must cater to the needs of its users while taking environmental factors into account.“I let in as much natural light as possible through a series of sunroofs and windows,” said the architectural doyenne. Along with floor-to-ceiling walls of window panes, Wang built in a ventilation system that cools the whole structure without the need for air conditioning. Even the furniture shows Wang’s signature touch. “I devised wardrobes that allow airflow through strategically placed vents in the handles, an important feature given Taiwan’s high humidity.”
Buildings like Xue Residence have received even more attention since Wang won a 2020 National Award for Arts, becoming the first woman to earn Taiwan’s most prestigious honor for artistic achievement in architecture.Architectural MissionBorn in Beijing in 1925, Wang obtained a bachelor’s in architecture from National Central University in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing. Shortly after her graduation in 1946, she departed for the United States to continue her studies at University of Washington in Seattle and Columbia University in New York, receiving a master’s degree in architecture and urban design from the latter in 1949. For much of the next 30 years Wang worked in the Big Apple, first as a visiting critic at her alma mater and then as a licensed architect.It was at Columbia University that Wang began developing the philosophy that would shape her whole career. As a student she was greatly inspired by the ideas of renowned Jewish architect and urban planner Percival Goodman. Their shared conviction that architects have a social responsibility to fulfill led to a long and fruitful professional relationship, with Wang working her way up from mentee to full partner. “In Goodman’s firm, Wang didn’t need to chase fame by creating novel designs. Instead, she could focus on what mattered to her—the social aspect of architecture and the harmony between buildings and their surroundings,” said Shyu Ming-song (徐明松), assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at Ming Chuan University in Taipei. “Wang and her associates believe architecture’s purpose is to create a better life for the public.”
True to her values, Wang devoted much of her time to designing public buildings. In addition to six schools in NYC, she was involved in the design of some 60 Jewish houses of worship across the U.S., including the well-known Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan. “Wang was responsible for the building’s layout, and the final plan showcases her impressive design skills. She integrated spaces fulfilling a variety of needs into a harmonious whole despite having limited area to work with,” said Kuan Hui-yu (關惠尤), founder of Kuan Architects based in northern Taiwan’s Taoyuan City. “The design was so carefully thought out that any small change would destroy the entire work.”Wang’s structures are also known for reflecting respect for nature, as exemplified by her first project in Taiwan. She accepted the commission to design what is now the Institute of American and European Studies at Academia Sinica in 1973 while still living in the U.S. “With features like double-layer walls and floors reducing indoor humidity and heat, as well as ingeniously positioned windows enhancing the interior’s airiness, it’s one of the earliest examples of green architecture in Taiwan,” Shyu said.
Mother of LibrariesWang’s career took a major turn in 1979 when she relocated to Taiwan and shifted her focus to libraries. This change was brought about in part by an invitation to collaborate on plans for National Central Library (NCL), overseen by the Ministry of Education. When the Taipei-based institution opened its doors in 1986, its interior reflected Wang’s influence all the way down to the furniture.In the midst of the NCL project, Wang started a decadeslong cooperative relationship with JJ Pan and Partners, a firm founded by prestigious architect and fellow Columbia alumnus Joshua Jih Pan (潘冀). Together they embarked on a project that would elevate Wang’s prominence: the Chang Ching Yu Memorial Library of Taoyuan-based Chung Yuan Christian University.“The plans were groundbreaking at the time because open-stack libraries didn’t exist in Taiwan,” Wang said. Previously visitors had to ask librarians to fetch books for them, but Chung Yuan’s patrons could walk into the stacks and directly browse the shelves. This feature made it the first modern library in the country when it began operating in 1985.
The building’s eco-friendly design brought Wang and Pan acclaim, with Taiwan Architect Magazine selecting the library as a top winner of the 1985 Taiwan Architecture Award. “Three large atria in the five-story building facilitate airflow and make the space visually permeable,” said Kuan. “Well-positioned windows and ventilation ducts also let in a lot of natural light and fresh air from outside, significantly reducing energy consumption from artificial lighting and air conditioning.”Wang and Pan were likewise lauded for incorporating the campus’s first structure, Grace Building, into the path leading up to the library. Sitting immediately next to the construction site, the two-story classroom building was initially slated for demolition but was preserved on the team’s recommendation. Those heading to and from the library can pass through the building’s lower floor, giving them a taste of the school’s history.
Lasting LegacyIn partnership with Pan, Wang has contributed her talents to the design of seven libraries in Taiwan as well as classroom buildings, dormitories, research centers and school gymnasiums around the country. The architect has also taken on solo projects, including a library in Xianning, her father’s birthplace in central China’s Hubei province. Her most recent endeavor was the renovation of Chang Ching Yu Memorial Library in 2016. Even at age 90 the architect embraced an active role, taking her own measurements and supervising on-site work.“Whatever project Wang works on, she’s meticulous about details that contribute to making a space comfortable,” said Chiang Chien-ping (江建平‬), a former project manager at JJ Pan with over 15 years of experience working closely with Wang. “Unlike many architects, she doesn’t have a huge ego. She actively communicates with users to find out their needs rather than unilaterally dictating how a space should be,” he added.
Wang ensured her knowledge and user-oriented design philosophy has been passed down to the next generation of architects by teaching in Taipei universities from 1980 to 1996. “She encouraged her students to produce designs truly connecting with people, instead of making creations that are showy but impractical,” said Shyu, who studied under Wang in the early 1980s at what is now National Taipei University of Technology. “She was a modest teacher as well. When students asked difficult questions, she would take time to think them over carefully instead of giving an immediate response that might be flawed,” he added.Those who are concerned by the gender imbalance in the industry have also been inspired by Wang’s legacy. Among them is Chiang Le-ching (姜樂靜), an architect based in central Taiwan and a member of Women in Architecture Taiwan. The Taipei-based nongovernmental organization, of which Wang is an honorary member, is devoted to documenting the lives and careers of women in the profession. “In the male-dominated world of architecture, women’s stories don’t receive due attention and their works don’t get the credit they deserve,” she said. “The fact that Wang has won a national award is a huge encouragement for me and all women architects.”

LINK:  https://www.taiwantoday.tw/news.php?post=176213&unit=20,35&unitname=Taiwan-Review&postname=Form-and-Function