Taiwan at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale

The International Architecture Exhibition has been held every two years in Venice since 1980. This year, 64 countries are taking part, exhibiting projects under the theme of “Fundamentals”.

The Taiwan Pavilion is the work of Taiwan-born, Canada-raised, now Chicago-based architect, Jimenez Lai. He’s an Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago and runs the architecture firm, Bureau Spectacular.

Since we are nowhere near Venice, the best we can do is explore the official pavilion website and do some reading about the project – named “Township of Domestic Parts: Made in Taiwan”.

Beyond the physical designs in the space (shown above), the project also discusses the history of “imported” architecture into Taiwan by international star designers, and the “export” of Taiwanese talent overseas. If you’re interested in that like I am, you’ll want to view the Project Essay slideshow. Lots to learn.

Otherwise, I found a good interview with Jimenez Lai where he talks about the thinking behind it all…


From this interview in Dezeen magazine dated June 16, 2014 by Amy Frearson:

Can you begin by telling me the main concept of the exhibition?

There are really two aspects to this thing. There is the video component, where I’m actually exhibiting people. I’ve selected a list of roughly 20 people, including people who live in Taiwan and people who have been imported to Taiwan. Neil Denari for example, Jesse Reiser, there’s also people like me who sound and feel American but identify strongly as being a Taiwanese-American or a Taiwanese-Canadian.

Then there’s the exhibition. Once upon a time, even when we became biologically modern, we were living in caves. We know that we naturally we wouldn’t shit where we sleep, and we couldn’t eat where we crap. So the process of compartmentalisation began a long time ago, and this process may have been intensified over the last 150 years, now that we’re able to afford privacy. The standardisation of the domestic program, or the domestic diagram, is a modern phenomenon.

So if we’d never set out looking for a two-bedroom cave to live in, we wouldn’t have two-bedroom houses. What we wanted to do was to isolate and condense the programs and make them single-program houses. So we have nine single-program houses in this interior and the scattering of the nine houses form a kind of urbanism on the inside, where we’re maybe walking on the streets between the houses. Or we can also think of a kind of figure-ground relationship where you and I are standing inside of a wall.

Can you explain your relationship with Taiwan?

I was born in Taiwan and moved away when I was 12 to Toronto, so I am also Canadian. There are a lot of people like that in this video, who are sounding like foreigners but are carrying a piece of Taiwan with them.


Can you talk me through the ideas behind some of the houses?

So here you’re looking at the House of Social Dining, where we’re looking at the politics of geometry and the Western culture of eating around rectangles, where you can assign power. With the politics of geometry, as far as rectangles are concerned, we can create relationships. But a circle definitely softens the power structure. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a power structure. If you inscribe a circle inside a square, depending on how you orientate the square to the entry, you can still assign power.

There’s also the House of Shit. We were also looking at the functions of spaces. The function of taking a crap is unavoidable, everyone has to. But then going to the bathroom does something else. The bathroom is the ultimate fortress of solitude. You’re totally alone, you have absolute privacy, it’s actually really enjoyable if you think about it.

What about some of the others?

We also have the Altar of Appearance and the House of Pleasure, which look at the living room. The living room is interesting if you perform a kind of analysis. Some people’s living rooms are actually used, they sit there in their underwear and watch TV and eat chips. I don’t do that, but I know some people do. But some homes also have a living room specifically for the guests. Some people can afford that. That kind of living room has the best photographs, the best armchair, and is seldom used. It’s almost like a vitrine or a shrine of your family, a representation of an ideal state. Since you seldom touch it, or are frowned up on for touching it, it’s like a museum, a little museum of your home.

What elements have you looked at that are unique to Taiwanese homes?

Some of the concepts are maybe more difficult to explain. For example, there’s a culture of worshipping ancestors for Taiwanese people, and a lot of homes have little models of the home from generations of ancestors. So the ancestors are inside of this model home and on holidays you put out food in front of them. I was thinking about this kind of scale shift, and the articulation of architecture for the past ones.



Photo Credit: Iwan Baan from the Township of Domestic Parts website

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