My Natural Building Practice in TAIWAN

By LIN, Ya-Yin

Natural building was introduced to Taiwan as a movement over ten years ago. Much to my surprise, people immediately showed great interest and enthusiasm.

Taiwan is an island nation, with its coastal plain highly developed.  Our recent history has created ideal conditions for a resurgence in interest in natural building techniques and philosophy.  Having experienced modern industrial civilization for more than fifty years, many people have been asking questions about what has happened to our lives and to our environment as a result.  There is a strong environmental movement in this land, as well as a concept of do-it-yourself circulating widely in the middle class as a way to improve one’s own life.  Meanwhile, the mainstream building department has embraced the introduction, research and legislation of green building.  However, there has been no analog to natural building’s emphasis on doing things right from the very beginning.  The basic philosophy of our movement sheds a bright light on many people’s quest for a better way of housing ourselves.

Evolution of the rural residence in TAIWAN

Traditional composition of a rural family residence.

This used to be the concept my grandma had of a home.  In merely fifty years or so, the face of home has changed completely.  Modern construction practices have dramatically altered the global landscape .

Traditional building materials in Taiwan

It was many years after I became a natural building practitioner that I realized my intuition for design had been altered dramatically by academic training. In an assignment during my first college year in the architecture department, we were asked to do addition practice onto a cubic solid made of clay.  After sitting up for several nights, a marvelous idea suddenly hit me in the twilight of the due day and I molded the clay to make grapes and vines growing out of the cube.  Later that year, my first house design for another assignment featured an arc that defined the plan of the house. Somewhere along the way of my professional training, I let go of these organic forms and curvy shapes and converted to clean, straight lines. Despite this, however, in order to be honest and fair, I must say that I always feel grateful to my college education for helping me form a framework of knowledge about building that has been indispensable for my later work.

During the years I worked in mainstream architecture, I learned two important lessons: that misguided public policies jeopardize the land and destroy the soil under our feet forever; and that the general public’s craving to profit from the land has become worse than ever. Having lost touch with the meaning of my work, I became an activist in the environmental movement. Mainstream architecture seemed like a death sentence for the earth. Eventually, quitting my position as a designer in a big architecture firm and my life in a big city became an obvious and inevitable choice.

I went back to my hometown to start anew, hoping to find something I could believe in and work for. In the interim, I established a local chapter of The Society of Wilderness and worked in the zoning and landscaping department of the county government. A nationwide government project aiming to minimize the rate of unemployment revealed a brand new vision for me in the year of 2002. I was given 100 unemployed laborers from very diverse backgrounds. As most of the budget went to pay the workers, there wasn’t much left for materials and tools. However, I had abundant labor and really wanted to achieve something with these colleagues. We gradually learned to salvage natural and recycled resources from the surroundings, while I worked out designs and building techniques feasible for people without former construction experience. We turned quite a few deserted open spaces into nice gardens for their neighborhoods. Our remodel of an old building remains popular for tourists even now. Our county scale project was a huge success, and the experience turned out to be the turning point for my career. I was so enlightened by this new possibility that I suspected this might be the answer to my quest.

…to be continued in the next issue.

林雅茵 LIN, Ya-Yin

LIN, Ya-yin has a a degree in architecture from National Cheng Kung University and is the founder of LIN, Ya-Yin Architect’s Firm.  She is also founder and current member of NBN-ASIA, and executive member of the Taiwan Bamboo Society.

 

 

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