Architecture & Urban Design II (ARCH 4002) – Inventing The Immemorial

I. Idea:

As Edward Said discusses in “Culture and Imperialism”, due to extreme confidence and ambition for grand scale, Western colonialists took exhaustive survey of almost every subjects globally, provided definition and dictated values of the world. This colonizing process and phenomenon, although much weaker and conspicuous, is still very much en vogue in different fashion. Globalization and internet have brought universal solutions to lifestyle, architecture, and urban development. Specificities of a place, a time, and people, especially for Asian cities, have been eroded. In the mean time, users and local cultures never gave up resistance against the arrangements and formal languages imposed by the prevailing culture, authority, or designers. Taipei is a city with diversity of cultural strands including that of old China (Ching Dynasty), Japanese, American, and modern China, etc. Each governing body imposed contemporary town planning and architecture design from the West that served up its demands. However, users counteract by injecting new meanings and making adaptations through the course of time.

Like the dilemma of W. B. Yeats, or many Irish writers, he wrote in English although it is the colonizers’ language, the overall environment including the implanted and transformed spaces and structures compose what Taipei is.

Chinese traditional novels (三國演義 Romance of Three Kingdoms, 西遊記 Adventure of the Monkey, 水滸傳 Outlaws of the Marshes for example) provide a different notion towards literary creation from the West. These stories were passed down through generations, constantly retold and revised by storytellers, and each was organized and re-written into a coherent works with its essences enhanced by one master that became the most popular version. This creative evolution process corresponds to the urban development process above.

In this ever-evolving world around us, we observe that there are perpetual fluctuations among “constants” and “variables”. Constants in life are continually mutated while variables are integrated as constants. This happens in hardware (city planning, infrastructure, and buildings), software (policy, private sector development and operation), and people (management and attitudes towards life) reciprocally that everything is unceasingly re-defined.

II. Projects:

Three sites are selected in Taipei. Each site is located in an area first developed under governance of Ching Dynasty (1850 -1895 AD), Japanese (1845-1945 AD), and KMT-Kuomingtang (1945 till present). Each period represents the City’s cultural influence from old China, Japanese, modern China and America, and each site epitomizes the distinctness of physical planning of its time that in turn endures through time. The three sites provide a section of the City’s historical development and project a perspective of their role at current time. Charting between “implantation” (complete new, foreign brought by the authority) and “evolutionary” (transformed through time into local integrity), various areas of Taipei carries different mix of the two.

Project types should be mixed-use, including at least public space and amenities, shops, and housing (either private or social). The studio is an effort to explore commercial and residential patterns and ways of living that corresponds to specific features of each site’s historical and cultural context.

III. Objectives:

  1. To break away from purely physical description, to extend observation from three categories (hardware, software, and people) mentioned above.
  2. To ascertain imaginative programs that resolve development pressure and generate urban vitality
  3. To integrate the immemorial:


(a) elements erased, forgotten, evanescent from formal records (usually dictated by externalized definitions)

(b) processes of adaptation/hybridization/mutation (usually pressured by internalized immediacy as mechanism for design inspiration and database.