Architecture in tune with Taiwanese identity


JCA Living Lab, in 2019, in the heart of Taipei.

A metal gate barred by a wooden beam on which we can read “JCA Living Lab”. To enter, you have to turn it around. We then find ourselves in a micro-garden saturated with tropical plants, on the threshold of a Japanese-style wooden house. This is where Johnny Chiu, founder of the JC Architecture agency, lives with his family. We are in the heart of Taipei, in a housing estate dating from the end of the period of Japanese occupation (which extended from 1895 to 1945). When he spotted this house, it was a ruin. “There was not even any more ground”he said.

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To rebuild it, he called on old carpenters experienced in traditional techniques and brought in cedar from Hiroki, a very dense wood, sacred in Japanese culture. He wanted “Let us feel the weight of history”. He also used cinder blocks, fences, and even a car sunroof, which allows you to see the sky from the bathroom. Starting from the original plans, the architect reconfigured the house to his liking to bring in as much light as possible, a tree, too, which grows in the dining room, interweaving interior and exterior in an intimate and playful way.

Trained in the United States, at Columbia and at MIT, then in Japan in the agency of Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007), the father of the metabolist movement and the famous Nakagin capsules, in Tokyo, Johnny Chiu was determined, in opening its agency in Taipei in 2010 to “beautify the city”, by developing Western-style architecture. But, after a few years, he became disillusioned. “There was no soul in what we were building. »

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The do-it-yourself approach that he develops today is in touch, according to him, with the Taiwanese identity. “Taiwan is a dangerous country – we regularly hear Chinese fighter jets flying overhead… It seems like people are ready to break camp any day. And the city reflects this: the arcades, these stands on wheels, the scooters that spin everywhere… Nothing is thought to be permanent, everything is cheap, mobile. I ended up telling myself that we had to assume, that there was a way to forge our own language with that. »

Heritage concept

This pragmatism is consistent with a passion for the preservation of old buildings that he shares with many architects of his generation, reflecting a very strong desire in society to celebrate a complex identity, which Chiang Kai-shek (1887 -1975) and his successors wanted to dissolve by force in a fantasized Chinese purity. The heritage of Aborigines, Dutch colonization, Southern Chinese and Japanese are all layers of the Taiwanese cultural layer cake that society is proudly reclaiming today, and that the transitional justice body set up in 2018 contributes to revalue.

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