taiwan “doesn’t have architecture?”


an architecture of making do

often when someone says something ignorant, i just want to let it go. after all, it’s really not my purpose in life to enlighten people, particularly so-called expats with colonialist attitudes

but this time, the ignorant remark about taiwan “having no architecture” stayed with me. for a couple weeks, this remark continued to annoy me, like a pebble in my shoe. i decided to shake it out and make some sort of reply–and well, as you all know, my research interests include vernacular domestic architecture

the remark was on twitter. a environmentalist friend said that he didn’t think of some of the features of taipei architecture, such as mildewed tile walls, rooftop water towers, or window cages, as ugly but as “information”

one of the responses: “taiwan has no architecture”

clearly, the truth of such a remark depends upon a rather limited definition of architecture, a bourgeois, “auteur” model in which only a narrow range of people can be architects and a narrow range of practices can be admitted into its sacred precincts

on this account, there are very few domestic spaces that could be called architecture in taiwan, but we could say the same thing about architecture elsewhere. so what is the reply really saying?

for one, the tweet shows that its author is suffering from terminal whiteness

it only signals that the person who would make such a remark remains so mired in colonial attitudes that he has not bothered to look or think carefully about what people do when they attach window cages on the fifth or six floors of buildings, arrange potted plants along alleys, or negotiate what to do with common spaces of apartment buildings. clearly his privilege, securing him in the lofty heights in which he feels a right to condemn taipei’s urban dwellers, has blinded him to the architecture of making do. but we, who care about everyday life in urban taiwan, can do better than that:

it’s time to think about the architecture of making do–the creativity of vernacular architectures in all of their aesthetics, whether we find the use of jerry rigged tin structures and other features of these architectures ugly or not

so in this series of short blog posts, i’m going to focus on small features of this architecture of making do–making do with tiny, cramped spaces; making do with available resources; making do with available infrastructures. together, we can explore this architecture as we push away a far too limited notion of what architecture is or could be. in the spirit of bernard tschumi, who located true architecture in rot, we can define architecture as a dynamic process of how people actively transform the spaces in which they live and work

in doing so, we can see how the architecture of making do has its own kind of beauty, as in my alley in yongho, which is overflowing with greenery–if the hanging gardens of babylon were a world wonder, why not these vernacular gardens of metro taipei? only our attachment to an imperial vision of architecture keeps us from seeing this wonder

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