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A few weeks back, I was drinking sake and cruising Etsy at my desk when a poster caught my eye. The title of the listing read:

“Taipei International Architectural Design Competition – 1995. Vintage Taiwanese exhibition poster on thick recycled paper!”

I clicked on the link.

It’s not every day — or any day, come to think of it — that you come across something described as vintage Taiwanese design.

liu kai taiwan poster design

The Etsy seller was based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The poster was priced at just over 2,000TWD.

It was for the Taipei International Architectural Design Competition in 1995. An open call for entries from design professionals and students. It was an original print — not a reproduction.

The artwork was by Liu Kai [劉開], a prominent and respected Taiwanese graphic designer born in 1957.

Liu Kai is best-known for designing movie posters for Ang Lee, Hou Hsiao-hsien and others. He also created artwork for Cloud Gate Dance Company and various arts organizations.

I think it’s safe to say if Liu was a working designer today, he might be one of the most popular in Taiwan.

liu kai taiwan poster design

On a whim, I added the poster to my cart and clicked “buy”.

A little later, the Etsy seller wrote me a note: “Thank you very much – so cool the poster is going home.” 

The Etsy seller’s name was Houston Wilson, and he runs the DanishVintageDesigns store on Etsy.

The next morning, I wrote Houston to ask if he knew anything about this Taipei architecture competition held back in 1995. He wrote back:

“I do wish I could help you out here, but I have no specific info on that competition, and I have had a hard time finding online info as well. This poster was a part of a 55 poster lot I sourced from the estate of the former director of the Danish Design Center, from his personal collection. I imagine that he was invited there to attend, as I have similar posters from Japanese design competitions, and one of these is backed with a letter from the head of the Japanese Design Council describing this.”

All I had was the name of the former director of the Danish Design Center: Jens Bernsen. After some online searching, I found this photo on Facebook.

jens bernsen taipei icsid

The caption reads:

“It’s Flashback Friday! We rewind back to 1995 at the Icsid Congress in Taipei. Icsid board members Alexander Manu (left), Dieter Rams and Jens Bernsen holding a picture of themselves, holding a picture of themselves.”

Sounds like 1995 was a big year for design in Taipei.

Not only was there an international architecture competition that year, but the city also hosted the Icsid Congress, known as the Olympics of design. Plus, Dieter Rams was here. (Who did he meet? Where did he go?)

What likely happened is Jens Bernsen was in Taipei for the Icsid Congress and stayed in Taipei for the architecture competition, where he received the poster and added it to his collection back in Copenhagen.

I’m pretty excited to have accidentally come across this little piece of Taiwan design history. And proud to have brought it back home to Taiwan.

Thanks to Houston and his Etsy shop for sharing the late Jens Bernsen’s poster collection. If you’re interested, he has two more copies of the same poster. One’s for sale. (Update: It already sold!) The other he’s keeping for himself.

Oh, I should also thank the sake that inspired this impulse purchase.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out more about the 1995 International Taipei Architecture Competition. If you have any info, please share!

Photo credits: Houston Wilson and Icsid’s Facebook page.

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