HSIEH Ying-Chun 謝英俊

Atelier-3 第三建築工作室
” We wanted to encourage local people to join the reconstruction…The best therapy is activity. House-building takes a lot of energy as well as a lot of cooperation. Being involved in such an activity helps to eliminate the suffering caused by the disaster.”

HSIEH Ying-Chun

Hsieh Ying-chun born 1954 in Taichung County, a Taiwanese architect and contractor.

In his socially engaged work Hsieh has been helping people rebuild their homes since the devastating earthquake in Taiwan 1999, when his reconstruction project for the Thao Tribe gained him international recognition. Hsieh organized the reconstruction of housing and communities in disaster-struck areas while faced with two challenges: to build houses within an extremely tight budget (25%-50% of the market price) and to base the projects on the notion of sustainable construction, green building, cultural preservation and creation of local employment opportunities. Hsieh has played a key role in rebuilding communities for Taiwan’s tribal communities.

In more recent years, Hsieh has continued to help people build their own houses, from the remote villages of China to the sufferers of the South East Asian Tsunami.

When we face the future challenge of environmental crisis, a one-dimensional technical thought process is inadequate; the considerations must be broadened to cultural, economical, and environmental levels.

Hsieh represented Taiwan in the Venice Architecture Biennale 2006 and Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art 2009. Hsieh is part of the architectural team WEAK! together with Roan Ching-yueh and Marco Casagrande. The WEAK! operates an independent architectural research centre Ruin Academy as their headquarters in Taipei.

The Curry Stone Design Prize 2011 was awarded to Hsieh Ying-Chun to champion the designer as a force of social change building more than 3.000 homes with local people in natural disaster zones in Taiwan and Mainland China.


Ying-Chun Hsieh, architect of post-disaster reconstruction

Interviewd by Chen-Yu Chiu.
The article “Architecture for People; Two architects from Taiwan” was published in Arkkitehti – Finnish Architectural Review 6/2015.

Ying-Chun Hsieh (b. 1954) studied architecture at Tamkang University near Taipei, Taiwan, graduating in 1977. In the beginning of his career, he worked for many years in construction before returning to the field of architecture. Following the massive 1999 earthquake, which killed almost 2,500 people in Taiwan, Hsieh took his office to the village of the indigenous Thao people to facilitate reconstruction work. Since then his studio, Atelier-3, has been working on several catastrophe sites as well as rural areas to promote cooperative, sustainable and social building methods. Ying-Chun Hsieh has been internationally recognised for his innovative projects that use design to address pressing social justice issues.

Today, we have many studios located in both Taiwan and China. We have maintained this important office in Taiwan we started after the 1999 earthquake because we helped the Thao people to reconstruct their habitat and community. Since the project began, we have worked and lived with them and offered them job opportunities. Due to their financial disadvantage, no one took care of the reconstruction project and this is what happens with other aboriginal tribes in Taiwan as well. Ironically, this unpleasant situation has granted us the chance to realise our “collaborative construction” projects. Thus, my team and I have shifted our focus to this specific approach.
For architects it is very important to truly understand and get involved with the whole process of building production, from initial design to construction. It is of equal importance to create interdisciplinary architectural practices actively dealing with various socio-political issues such as community, economy and identity. However, in the division of labour in today’s society, architects are somehow powerless in regards to these two important issues. The “powerlessness” is exactly what we should challenge.

Architectural practices have become part of the endless consumption triggered by financial benefits. This is true especially in Taiwan, where most building projects have to do with real estate investments. This is why the majority of the world’s population does not live in an environment designed by architects. We architects are only able to provide our humble services to less than 30 % of the population living in excessive consumerism. I would like to see our “collaborative construction” projects improve the living conditions of the 70 % of people who have not been within reach of the work of architects, particularly in rural and poor communities.

We have established a factory to manufacture the building elements we design. We also have our own technicians and contractors to take care of, in active communication with the local residents, every stage of the building process, from design to construction. We always emphasise that the local residents are the “initiatior” who should play a key role in the whole process and that we architects are the “facilitator” who should always play a minor role.

However, in architectural education the role of an architect’s individuality is overemphasised. For architects, architecture has become a field in which they can express their own artistry and ambitions through “total design”. This makes the construction field unable to respond to both the physical and psychological demands of local residents, including their wish to build their own houses according to their own taste and skills. In our office we only focus on what the local residents cannot do themselves, so we offer up our professional skills for them to accomplish that part.

In the design process we aim at minimising the unnecessary building elements and providing a very simple solution. There are two reasons. One is to reduce costs, and the other is to add flexibility to be able to respond to the varied local conditions.

In many reconstruction projects we have designed a bearing structural system of light steel frames. These steel frames are extremely low-cost and also very easy to transport. More importantly, the recyclable earthquake-resistant steel frames are easy to assemble with bolts and screws. The simple post-and-beam system gives the skeleton frame a “primitive” feel, which seems very close to the life of the local residents.

Recently, we participated in post-earthquake reconstruction projects in Nepal. We realised that most of the building materials of the destroyed houses were reusable. By designing and producing a series of steel joints we helped the people to reconstruct their own houses themselves and to reinforce the whole structure strong enough to sustain any future damage from earthquakes.

I admire the team of Shigeru Ban for having widely adopted affordable and recycled materials in their reconstruction work. They also have devoted much effort to making their work extremely beautiful, especially in the eyes of architectural professionals. However, this indicates that they have taken total control over the whole building process and ignored the capability of local participation, as well as the possibility of using local materials. Both natural and human resources are extremely valuable in any post-disaster reconstruction project. My team and I, we also care about the aesthetics of our reconstruction work but we appreciate even more the beauty of primitive architecture built without architects. We would like to see our houses as anonymous vernacular buildings without expressing the aestheticism derived from the elite society.

More importantly, we never build the houses but the survivors do it themselves. If you treat post-disaster survivors as “consumers” who buy the houses from you, it will end in another “disaster” – discontent and not being committed. On the other hand, if the survivors are treated as the “producers” of their own house, they are always satisfied with their own work, even if in our eyes it doesn’t necessarily look perfect. According to my own experiences, reconstruction work can be very therapeutic and help the survivors get past the trauma.

All of this makes me believe that the “acts of production” are always enjoyable but the “acts of consumption” are usually not.

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