Straightforward Yet Innovative

Taiwan's First Modernist Buildings

2019 / March

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Scott Williams

Must buildings be old to have historical significance? Not necessarily. Few people realize that in addition to Taiwan’s tradi­tional Chinese-style temples and gardens and its Japanese-era government buildings and wooden homes, our island is also home to historically inter­esting structures built after World War II with US aid.


Taiwan received roughly US$100 million per year from the United States during the period from 1951 to 1965. This financial aid, technical support, and educational assistance helped change Taiwan’s developmental tra­ject­ory. With the end of this period, the personnel involved departed and local residents began to forget their legacy. These days, only a few buildings remain to offer us a window into this portion of our past.

Hidden in plain sight

Though only a few of the many buildings constructed during this period still stand to offer us a window into the past, there are more than you might think.

According to the Ministry of Culture’s 2016 “Assessment of US-Aid-Related Architectural Cultural Assets,” more than 500 structures built during the period with some form of assistance from the US still remain. These include military facilities, fact­or­ies, office buildings, and schools.

If there are so many of these buildings, why don’t people notice them?

First, the buildings don’t have a uniform style like that imposed by the Japanese administration. They also lack any obviously American symbols, because US aid focused on functionality and cost effectiveness.

But American aid nonetheless had a profound impact on the history of Taiwanese architecture. American capital offered Taiwan’s first generation of architects numerous opportunities to showcase their skills. They took advantage of them by applying the modernist influences they had picked up while studying Western architecture, and they were also influenced by Amer­ican practices in terms of construction technologies and mater­ials, such the use of cinder blocks and prestressed concrete.

Imagine the Taiwan of those days for a moment: World War II had just ended, goods were in short supply, and the extant architecture consisted primarily of large Japanese government buildings, Japanese-style wooden homes, and mud-brick structures. And then these sharply regular, geometrically shaped modernist buildings with plain exteriors suddenly began popping up….

The period marked the start of modern architecture in Taiwan.


Yangmingshan: US Military Club (Haigo T.H. Shen, 1968)

Huang Chien-hwa has a motto: “Design exists for people, not for ideas.” When his company, HC Space Design, renovated the US military club on Yang­ming­shan as part of the Tai­pei City Department of Cultural Affairs’ Old House 2.0 project, the principle helped them to successfully restore the dilapidated club to its former glory.

Located partway up Yang­ming­shan and known to the 217 local households as the “a-tok-á house” (Taiwanese for “Caucasian”), the club that served the US military families who lived in the area was a high-ceilinged brick structure covering nearly 3,000 square meters and possessed of a three-meter-deep outdoor swimming pool. The renovations turned it into a multipurpose building, renamed Brick Yard 33⅓, with dining, drinking, exhibition, and performance spaces, as well as a large vinyl record collection.

Originally built by Haigo T.H. Shen, then a consultant with the US military’s advisory group, the club was expanded and refurbished at various times in a variety of materials, including wood, brick, steel and reinforced concrete. Faced with such a complicated design, the renova­tion team brought in craftsmen to teach them tradi­tional construction techniques, and help them restore the roof. Huang chose to incorporate aluminum-­framed French windows to echo the architectural style of the American South. Interestingly, Huang and his team also found a cache of unsold double-grooved tiles of the kind originally used on the roof, even though the manufacturer had long gone out of business, and used them to restore the roof. Unlike modern tiles, these old tiles vary in color from kumquat-­orange to yellow-­orange and on to pomegran­ate, their gradual progression of hues suggesting the passage of history.


NTU: First Student Activity Center (Wang Da-hong, 1961)

An outstanding talent among Taiwan’s first postwar generation of architects, Wang Da-hong’s forte was mixing traditionally Chinese elements into works in a modern­ist style. In the case of National Taiwan University’s First Student Activity Center, he based the space on the “nine palace” (a 3x3 grid) to which he added the modern­ist elements of a broken roof line and exposed steps approaching the entrance. Other familiar Chinese-­style elements include tall, narrow red doors, wooden window frames, a partition just inside the entrance, and a veranda around the exterior. This blending of Eastern and Western styles helped establish a vision for Taiwanese architecture in the minds of the architects of the day.


NTU: Agricultural Exhibition Hall (Yu Yueh-chen, Chang Chao-kang, 1963)


In the middle of the last century, openwork cement panels became popular in the American Midwest. The fact that traditional Southern-Fujianese-style architecture also makes use of decorative openwork provided local architects with an intuitive grasp of the American style when it arrived in Taiwan. This led to openwork panels in concrete walls becoming a distinctive feature of local architecture during the US aid period.

National Taiwan University’s Agricultural Exhibition Hall, also known as “Dongdong Guan” (“Hall of Holes”), is famous for the ceramic tubes that pierce the concrete walls of its facade, making it one of the most eye-catching buildings on the large campus. The building has been designated a tangible cultural asset with good reason. The first floor’s tile siding emulates a traditional red brick wall. The top and bottom rows of tile are laid vertically, while those in between are horizontal. The facing of the bare concrete plinth supporting the veranda is marked with thin vertical lines that align with the columns behind. The geometric details extend even to the two interior stairways, one of which makes a spiral, while the other is straight, their contrasting lines creating visual interest.


NTU: The Old Gym (Yang Cho-cheng, 1962)


Like other US-aid-period buildings, the Old Gym is box-like in its construction. The gym is largely constructed from cinder blocks, and its front features a facade of the openwork cement panels common in the period. Architect Hsieh Ming-ta, a lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Tamkang University, explains that cinder blocks have many advantages over traditional bricks. They can be produced more quickly and easily, have a lower defect rate, can be used just seven days after being produced, and reach their design strength in 28 days, enabling buildings to be erected with new blocks at a pace of one story per month. In addition, their large size makes them easy to align and therefore easier to build with. The fact that traditional bricks were in short supply during this period’s building boom gave American advisers still another reason to recommend the use of cinder blocks on many projects.


NTU: Center for the Arts (the Odeum), 1963

The NTU campus holds yet another relic from the American aid period. The area between the School of Management and the Second Student Activity Center once held the Taipei Air Station, a US Air Force communications center. Traces of the wall that used to encircle the compound are still visible today. 

In those days, the present-day NTU Preschool served as the station’s vehicle repair depot. The nearby Odeum is distinguished by an elongated pentagonal face that makes it look like a cake box. Once a church for military personnel, the Odeum’s former nave has been converted into a performance space that hosts a variety of cultural events. 


NCTU: Chu Ming Building (‬Lu Yu-chun, 1960)

The Bo’ai Campus, National Chiao Tung University’s earliest location in Taiwan, contains numerous traces of the American aid period. One of the first things visitors see on walking through the gate is the College of Biological Science and Technology’s Chu Ming Building, designed by Lu Yu-chen, the architect behind the Nan­hai Academy. This simple, white structure incorporates numerous decorative elements drawn from Chinese tradition. The include the trident shapes in the parapet above the main entrance, which suggest the interlocking brackets of traditional Chinese architecture, and have their origins in the Han Dynasty. A plaque to the left of the main entrance, reading “American Aid,” offers a visual testament to the period in which it was constructed.


NTHU: Nuclear Science and Technology Development Center (Chang Chang-hwa, 1958)

The US worked hard to upgrade Taiwan’s scientific and technological standards during the American aid period, and encouraged the construction of many scient­ific classrooms to facilitate science education. The Nuclear Science and Technology Development Center, an educational and research facility at National Tsing Hua University, traces its roots to this period and even has its own nuclear reactor. Designed by ­Chang Chang-­hwa, an alumnus of the Department of Civil Engineering at the old Tsing­hua University in mainland China, the nearly 60-year-old building is still as solid as a rock. ­­Chang also designed the nearby con­temporan­eous student dormitories, which were necessary to meet the housing needs of a growing student body.

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この建物は、米軍顧問団の技術者Haigo T.H. Shenが建てたものだが、時期を異にして増改築が行なわれたため、構造は木造、レンガ、鉄骨、鉄筋コンクリートの4種類が融合している。複雑な設計だがリノベーションチームは手を抜くことなく、ほぞ接ぎなどの伝統工法をベテラン職人に依頼し、傷んでいた屋根をふき直した。黄建華は、アメリカ南部のカントリースタイルを取り入れ、床までのアルミの格子窓を設計した。最も特徴的なのは屋根瓦だ。同じ瓦を生産するメーカーは廃業していたが、その倉庫に当時のレンガが数千枚も保管されていたのである。当時の瓦とは色が違うのだが、オレンジ色やだいだい色などのグラデーションがかえって美しく、重ねてきた歴史を象徴しているかのようだ。










この時期、同じく台湾大学内に建てられた建築遺跡は、管理学院と第二学生活動センターの間にある。かつて台湾に駐留していたアメリカ空軍基地の台北通信ステーション(Taipei Air Station)であり、取り壊された塀の跡が今も残っている。







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台大校園境內另有一美援遺跡,就在管理學院與第二學生活動中心之間,這是昔日的駐台美軍空軍基地的台北通訊站(Taipei Air Station),如今我們仍可以看到被拆除的圍牆所遺留下的外緣線。



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X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!