Note: This is a raw transcription of an audio recording. Part of our mission is to release transcriptions as soon as possible, to improve access to M+ talks. Therefore—while we strive for accuracy—in some places, these transcriptions may be imperfect.
SUHANYA RAFFEL: Welcome and good morning. I think everyone is seated. So first I want to say thank you so much for taking the time, making the time, today to actually come and nourish the spirit and soul. My name is Suhanya Raffel. I'm the director, the museum director at M+. It is really fabulous to be welcoming you all as M+'s female director, and a South-Asian Australian now living in Hong Kong.
So really this is an M+ Matters that is focusing on conversations on women, architecture, and the city. These series, our M+ Matters series, are there to stimulate conversation, dialogue, insights, new frameworks in our research. And research and scholarship is a central part of the work that we do. We hope that it could feed into how we build M+'s permanent collection. Our curatorial programme, our learning and interpretation, how we think about the ideas of, in this case, women and architecture and the city. The topic of women's role in the field of art and design production has been a subject of attention for decades. The issue of equity in gender representation across the arts has however been a more heated topic of discussion necessarily, and the action in recent years varied. As a 21st century museum of visual culture we see the importance of addressing this issue. However, we would like to address it not with the intention of jumping on a bandwagon of feminism or out of political correctness. We believe that men and women have both played important, undeniably significant roles in contributing to culture and humanity. And there is every reason that these diverse contributions be represented in our collection, our programming, our discourse, our research. Yet while reality encompasses the contribution of a wide spectrum of players, we also know that there have been barriers that have led to a less inclusive scenario. These could be barriers that have been the result of a lack of equal opportunities for work; barriers that have come up due to perception about women's contribution; barriers to a knowledge acquiring, knowledge of under-represented women practitioners. For M+, these have led to harder work on the part of our curators to unravel documentation and the works of women practitioners, particularly in the field of architecture, when the profession has historically been dominated by male practitioners. The issue of representation is however only one aspect to overcome. We are also aware that there are other structural reasons why women architects have lacked representation and documentation. Reasons which we believe are related to the limited set of criteria that we have been using to assess what is ‘good architecture'.
So today we are pleased to partner with Eunice Seng, from the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Architecture, whose research into the histories of women architects in the region beginning with Hong Kong very much complements our own work at M+ on uncovering and conserving the works of more women practitioners, like the work of Wang Chiu-hwa, who, I would like to acknowledge, is here with us—Thank you so much for travelling all the way to this event—who has also generously donated a large part of her archive to M+. And through that process of looking closer we also hope to develop a new set of criteria and methodology into how we assess architecture itself. So today we hope that our conversations on the life and work of eight women in architecture will truly help us appreciate and value architecture in the fullness of its diversity. Who are these women? Minnette de Silva, Wang Chiu-hwa, Julia Fung, Corrin Chan, Anna Kwong, Winnie Ho, Joan Leung, Nora Leung, and Joanlin Au. And these conversations have been framed through the perspective lens of our interlocutors. And they are Tariq Jazeel, Hsu Li-yu, Thomas Chung, Wallace Chang, Cole Roskam, Koon Wee, Clover Lee, and Marisa Yiu. I want to personally thank all of you for participating in this very important M+ Matters. Now this event is also a result of a truly collaborative dialogue and project and relationship between M+ and University of Hong Kong.
And I'd like to acknowledge the work of four incredible women: from M+, Shirley Surya, our Curator for Design and Architecture, and Eunice Seng, the Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Architecture, by who together this M+ Matters has been birthed, supported ably by Noel Cheung, M+'s Curatorial Assistant for Design and Architecture, and from University of Hong Kong, Research Assistant Ina Wu. I would also like to thank all the participants who've come here from Taiwan, from London, and from Hong Kong for their time, their thoughtfulness, to make this event possible. And of course to all of you because we have to have audiences that are interested. We need to have dialogue and your questions as much as the debates and the insights that we will hear today. Thank you again for joining us today.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Thank you all. Thank you, Suhanya, for the introduction. I also just want to thank Doryun and Ikko for supporting us with organising this event.
I just wanted to share really two points, why Eunice and I have brewed this event since February earlier this year. I just want to again reiterate my thanks for all of you to be here. It's a very tough time in the city so thank you for your time and your attention to be here.
The two points that I want to share are really kind of aspirational, but I also consider them quite challenging, both to myself as a curator, but also to any individual or institution who mediates architecture and its value. The first point really begins with the idea or the question of the who and the what. Who are the important women architects that, as a museum and a research institution, that we should actually pay attention to? What are the literature and the archival materials that document their work and which will help us to understand their work and define what is important to us for us to actually consider preserving or even disseminating?
So this event, I think from day one, I always described it as, it's a project of visibility. In our preparation sessions with the participants, I often introduced it by saying that it is not a feminist project. While it's important to strive for equity in general representation, we thought it would be more pertinent to learn of the documentation, and also to acknowledge and then bring greater visibility to how these women architects have contributed to the city. The first session in the life and work of Minnette de Silva in Sri Lanka, as well as Wang Chiu-hwa in the US and Taiwan, is an example of what M+ has done and is doing to preserve, unravel, and to share knowledge of the life and work of pioneering women architects across Asia. These include making Wang Chiu-hwa's archive available for future access as well as our digital editor making an entry in Wikipedia on Wang Chiu-hwa. While the remaining sessions for today with key women in architecture in Hong Kong, who are already are going to be part of Eunice Seng's long-term oral historical project, they will represent our beginning to uncover even more of these practices and ways in which we can represent them in our collection and our programmes.
The second point is about the how. It's a question of how are we to learn about their life and work? Especially when archives are either absent, fragmented, or even voluntarily hidden. Many women architects whom we came across actually have chosen to not share about their work. If we are aware of the existence of shared authorship barriers to sustaining development in the profession, and also the idea of the full spectrum of design work that includes everything from the grand ideation to the menial tender submission, how are we to ascribe values to these very fluid and diverse practices of women architects, whose final outcomes may not have been valued in the same way as the type of photogenic or signature works that have historically been mediated and promoted by historians, popular media, and the design community? How do we begin to consider new research methodology, reference points, or even modes of representation in ascribing value and narrating the range of design outcomes that occupants may actually consider more impactful than the media?
I've sort of warned some of us who are coming today that there will not be anything too dramatic in our conversations today. Dramatic here just meant, you know like, you know very signature works and people all know about it. In that sense, I described it as a series of discussions on the life and work on what some may deem as ‘little people', ‘little women', ‘little architecture'. Yet what seems little, I also consider as fundamental, even baseline essential, in how architecture should contribute to nurturing communities and sustaining cities. However one might measure value, validity, impact, or mass appeal of architectural ideas, processes, and build outcome, our little wish today is for me and for us as individuals but also as learning institutions to be able to reconsider some of the assumptions and the criteria we have used to assess what matters in the shaping of our built environment. With that, I'll just introduce invite Eunice to come and share with us about her research trajectory. Thank you.
EUNICE SENG: Hi, good morning. Rather than... in lieu of an introduction or rather specifically my research trajectory... Am I loud enough? I do want to dwell a bit on, in fact my introduction on this question of why. And perhaps by the end of the five minutes, you'll see that there's an ongoing, in a way, challenge as well as attempt to establish the how. The methods in which we've researched things that are actually incredibly complicated and difficult. Why are we having conversations about women and architecture and the city? If we look at the figure of the woman architect very closely, we will start in the same way as how architecture or architects have been discussed. We will look at how they dress, we will look at what signature work they have done, where they went to school, the very typical ways in which we would describe, analyse the value of a professional work... all professional. Let's zoom out a little bit and kind of think of them in a larger context. I would like to take us back to the middle of the century to look at some of the very first in which some of our participants today were part of. So immediately after World War II, there is an across-the-board, and I'm specifically looking at the region at the moment, increasing attempts across Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, etc. of women being invited and given the right to vote. This is a historic moment and this coincided with regionally and globally other geopolitical situations, like, for example, in 1949, the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and within Hong Kong in the 1950s, as many of us know, significant changes to the built environment. If we keep going we'll see then other establishments and as well as the founding of the first architecture school in Hong Kong. And we look across also in the 1950s, Hong Kong was not the only one. University of Hong Kong’s Architecture Department was founded in 1950, but we cut across Southeast Asia, you see also all the way down to Indonesia that architecture schools and schools to study city were beginning to emerge and establish. We get in 1955, the first batch of graduates from the University of Hong Kong. Out of the, I believe, fifteen who graduated, there were three women who graduated as well. And we're going to see that trajectory, the ebbs and flow of women graduates as we go. And at the moment we are at over 50%. It's kind of interesting if we're talking about a rise from 5% to 50%. What are the kind of ways in which we, and you know begin to, acknowledge gender rather than not to talk about it, but in what ways can we rethink that without also overstating the fact? With the continued growing in the late 1950s the first woman was registered, Edith Woo, in the then precedent to the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, the Hong Kong Society of Architects.
We also begin to see a number of women instructors that appear at the University of Hong Kong. We've reached a peak in Hong Kong and now I'm really focusing more in Hong Kong. But all these are interrelated to what's happening in the region where across the board—and I will explain why there is a reason why it looks extremely messy, because it is—that there is the first magazine that was primarily dedicated to architecture and design. That invited Julia Fung, who herself is not trained as an architect at all but a graduate of University of Hong Kong, who found herself then participating and being an editor in that first magazine. I'll talk a bit about her later. This was also a moment in which… towards the end of the 1970s and only at the cusp of 1980, where the first issue of the magazine in the Asian Architect and Builder dedicated itself to discuss publicly the question of women in architecture. It's not moving. So you begin to see that we have to start thinking about how to think about this question. If we start looking at practices, education, geopolitics, within and in the region, we begin to see that there are the ebbs and flows. And very much, of course, male and female architects are part of these evolving events and this dynamic situation which we are still experiencing, in which the woman architect, as you see, if you really zoom out, begins to present itself, and this is an ongoing project, as very much part of interrelated questions that pertain to not just the history of the profession, the dynamic situation of the profession, the education of the architect, but also conversations of the city. And throughout the day, we'll see today that in the conversations, you will see each and every one of the architects and nonarchitects involved in the discourses and practices and education of architecture, design, and the arts are also themselves wearing multiple entities, identities. They're mothers; they're children of mothers; they are possibly teachers; they are students; they are architects; they are members of particular clubs, Zonta Clubs; they are friends of the museum; they are also on boards on education.
So I think without further ado, we're gonna start with the first session, in which... Sorry. In which we will begin to start discussing with our participants what architecture and the city and really their roles are throughout their life and their practice. Hopefully we will continue to be inspired by each other. Thank you.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Before I introduce Tariq Jazeel to present on Minnette de Silva, I just wanted to show some photographs, or just some slides, as to why M+ is interested in Minnette de Silva and also some of the houses that I visited in Sri Lanka with Ikko earlier this year.
This image here is a very frequently used image. You can see Minnette de Silva there sitting in the middle next to, I guess you can say, architectural giants, which is Siegfried Gidion, a historian, and also Walter Gropius on her left. This picture is really kind of showing, like the fact that she's donning a sari, kind of a very deliberate positioning of her, I guess, womanhood but also being a South Asian and so the question... and also being an architect at the same time. It's pretty much that positioning of this Asian woman architect. It's also the title of her autobiography, which is the book that is on that table right now, out of print but you could still get them from Sri Lanka, perhaps. This is a book that she wrote and published in 1998 before she passed away and so it's the life and work of an Asian woman architect. You could tell that this is how she wants to position herself and also write about herself. If you were to look at the book, all the archives are driven to frame herself as a practitioner, and her struggles and also her accomplishments. The question for us is that knowing that archive is no longer available and it's all in a book, very fragmented in that sense, we have to check out her houses. These are just some of her earliest houses and it was what a lot of people actually described as the first house by a woman architect in Sri Lanka. It's called the Karunaratne House in Kandy. So you could tell here just really dilapidated, not been occupied for many years, and that's just a little photo of what it used to be in its glory. We just wanted to kind of show you this as an example of how Minnette herself has really innovatively tried to design something. There is a house built on a split-level on a slope that is able to view out to the city and is able to be sheltered from the sun. All of these details but also a combination of using materials, like this glass brick wall as a panel between the study and the dining room, and this very use of the arts and crafts of Sri Lanka that integrated and embedded into her interiors. This is an example of this stairs balustrade, it was using this Kandian wooden lacquer and patterns. So you could tell that even the decorative kind of like ventilation holes on the wall and even these terracotta tiles that are actually cast from patterns that are in ancient castles and temples in Sri Lanka. Of course the second house here is the Pieris House in Colombo itself. Similar treatment, the use of the bow leaf and the grille, as well as the same terracotta tiles to line the entrance. Then at the same time all these supposedly very traditional craft based sort of integration into the architecture—it's also combined with a very modern way of building technology. This cantilevered roof on top of the driveway is actually designed, or engineered, by her friend Ove Arup, Arup Engineer's founder.
We just wanted to show you all these images as a way for us to show why we think this is important. And she's the... I guess many people have considered her to be the first to coin the term of what it means to build an architecture that is modern but also for the region, so modernism regional architecture. And yet, despite her pioneering contribution, it's not actually been as acknowledged compared to other architects that are in South Asia or other parts of Asia, which is why we have invited Tariq to really talk to us about this occlusion of history, and also just to talk about how he frames and why he finds Minnette de Silva interesting in really... as he researches into the post-colonial history of Sri Lanka. And so just a little bit of an introduction, which you can of course read in the booklet. I just want to mention that Tariq Jazeel articulates a sustained interest in Minnette de Silva's life and work and eventual erasure of her contributions. His scholarly approach addresses the ways in which de Silva's work illuminates the relationships between the politics of Sri Lankan cultural production, everyday life, and mid 20th century anti colonial nationalism. He has published very key publications, including Sacred Modernity: Nature Environment and the Postcolonial Geographies of Sri Lankan Nationhood as well as Postcolonialism and Subaltern Geographies. Tariq is coming from London, he is a professor of Human Geography at University of College London, where he also co-founded and directs the Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World. Welcome, Tariq. Thank you.
TARIQ JAZEEL: Okay. Well, thank you so much. It's great to be here. I'm not unaware of course of the irony that in a workshop on the under-representation of women architects, I'm a man giving the first talk in the first session, so I apologize for that. I'm genuinely privileged and delighted actually to be here for this workshop, thank you for the invitation. I look forward to participating in and hearing the conversations as they unfold today. Thank you for inviting me… Thank you for the introduction, Shirley. Thank You, Eunice as well. And Noel... And Suhanya and everyone else that's been involved with today.
So I was invited, as Shirley said, because of my work on Minnette de Silva who was of course, as we've already heard, Sri Lankans earliest tropical modern architect, really. She pioneered the style in a career that spanned from the late 1940s through the 1990s. But as many of us will also know, and we've also heard just now, she's frequently overshadowed in discussions of Sri Lanka's architectural modernism by a significant architectural heritage industry in Sri Lanka that fixates on the architectural genius of her more famous male counterpart, Geoffrey Bawa in particular. And whose earliest commissions actually, Bawa's earliest commissions in the late 1950s, were a full 10 years or so and 19... 18 or 19 builds into de Silva's own practice. Now to focus on de Silva then, which is what we're doing of course, the style, the Sri Lankan style, that I think Minnette de Silva helped to inaugurate adapted, as Shirley said, adapted elements of international modernism to Sri Lanka's own tropical environment. She trained at London's Architectural Association, graduating in 1948, and through her involvement with Siam, was in touch with many leading modernists and famously of course including Le Corbusier, with whom she enjoyed a close relationship.
Incidentally, there's a kind of parenthetical note that I want to make here, which is that her relationship with le Corbusier is the subject of this recent novel by Shiromi Pinto called Plastic Emotions. I'm not sure if anyone's come across this novel yet. It was published just this year, and the novel really is a speculative piece of fiction on Minnette's relationship with Le Corbusier, a relationship cum affair with Le Corbusier. Now I guess the parenthetical note that I want to make here is that it's interesting to me that one of the few published books on Minnette de Silva is this mostly fictional account that, in my own reading at least, seems to kind of place her in a quite peculiar relationship with Le Corbusier. I guess what I mean to emphasise here without commenting on the novel itself is that, that same license to speculate in print and in public on the architect's emotional and intimate life doesn't seem to get extended to other male Sri Lankan architects, including Bawa, who would seem to have had a very interesting and colourful private life as well. So I think there's a kind of interesting point to discuss here about... perhaps about how the female architect's life becomes a kind of property of the public in particular kinds of ways.
But anyway de Silva's tropical style offered her a method, I think, for responding to the cultural homogenisation wrought by colonialism. It's a style that grew in popularity in 1950s Ceylon, especially in Colombo, given an emergent demand from Ceylon's upper-middle class. My interest in de Silva's work has been part of a broader project, as Shirley said, a broader project on Sri Lankan tropical modernism, including de Silva's work but also Geoffrey Bawa's work and other contemporary Sri Lankan architects. Over a number of articles and in this book on the left-hand side of the screen, Sacred Modernity, that was published in 2013 traces architecture's politics in the context of Sri Lanka's ethnicised conflict. Now with respect to Minnette de Silva and the article published in the journal Fabrications, that article on the right hand side there Tropical Modernism Environmental Nationalism. I want to try to delineate some of the ways that she sought through her architecture to embrace the Sri Lankan environment, Sri Lankan tropical nature, and in doing so to try to show how this kind of aesthetic effort was implicated in what Minnette de Silva and other modernists after her regard as an avowedly post-colonial architecture, one that she intended really as a break with nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial architecture. But I've also argued, in that book and in these articles, I've also argued that despite her rather ambivalent relationship with more violent strands of anti-colonial late 1950s Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, de Silva's modernism helped, I think, to create something like a crucible, if you like, for the expression of these more violent political articulations.
So to be clear, my argument here was not and is not that Minnette de Silva was in any way, or in any sense, any kind of a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist or chauvinist. Indeed, she firmly believed, I think, her architecture to kind of transcend formal politics, to be a kind of, well, sort of modernist conceit, I guess, of art for art's sake or architecture for architecture's sake. However, the broader sweep of the argument is that Sri Lankan tropical architecture has in fact been one of those aesthetic domains that has fashioned the historiographical and environmental narratives of post-colonial Sri Lanka in ways that have enabled the logic of ethnicised political violence. I'm going to briefly elaborate on this argument not because I think it's important in the context of the conversations here today, but because actually in doing so, what I want to do is sketch some of the methodological challenges that working on Minnette de Silva raises actually, which I think is of more interest to us here today. And in particular, I want to emphasise the difficulties, really, of working on an architect who's been largely neglected in the heritage industry of Sri Lankan tropical architecture, eclipsed, as I said already, by the very prominent figure of Geoffrey Bawa, who's become something of an icon for this kind of post-colonial Ceylonese architecture. And of course I think that the canonisation of Bawa himself as an upper-middle class male architect doesn't just happen, right? Architectural histories are of course written; they're produced by architectural historians. So in this sense, part of what I want to suggest is that Minnette de Silva's relative obscurity in this context has in some senses been produced by Sri Lanka's architectural heritage industry, if we can call it that, which emerged I would speculate or I would say in the mid-1980s, but gathered pace in and around the 2000s, when in particular David Robson began publishing his very beautiful and excellent, I have to say, series of Thames & Hudson books on Bawa. I'll come back to Robson if I have a little bit of time later but the result of all this, I think, is that it's a rather, I guess, historically perverse situation where de Silva's considerable and foundational influence and genius is continually refracted through the male figures that in reality, I think, her work would have inspired, actually.
I'm going to focus here on a house that she designed in Colombo in 1954 for the Amarasinghes, an upper-middle-class Sinhala Buddhist family. Now like much of de Silva's work, the house was demolished in 2011 and what remains of it are textual fragments in de Silva's 1998 autobiography that Shirley's already referred to - there's a copy of that book over there actually. Now the fact that much of her work has been demolished I think is symptomatic of the ways that she's largely been forgotten about. It raises important questions also I think about the value of built space and how the value of built space is retroactively produced in a wider textual and political economic field that we might want to think about in relation to women architects. And I guess I'm thinking here about how the canonisation of architects like Geoffrey Bawa in Sri Lanka retroactively attaches value and permanence to their buildings, just as that as the work of those who aren't canonised devalues they work and interns, I think, you know... makes it more susceptible to the neoliberal vagaries of the wrecking ball. So the absence of a material record of her work means that de Silva's autobiography becomes an incredibly important resource for any scholar of her work. It's at once a kind of scrapbook, a diary, coffee-table book, compilation of her work and other fragments. It's part bildungsroman; it's part portfolio, equally committed to documenting family biography, a history of Sri Lanka, and her intellectual concerns. It's chaotic; it's difficult to follow, but also a kind of treasure chest really, I would say, full of de Silva's iterations, thoughts, ideas and glimpses into her main influences. And until the publication of Shiromi Pinto's novel earlier this year, it was I think, as far as I'm aware at least, the only book out there on Minnette de Silva. It's a valuable document, not just because of its descriptions of buildings long since demolished, but because of its collected ephemera as well. As one of my good friends and colleagues, the architectural historian Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, has written, the book is valuable because it's one of those rare cases of a fish describing the water in which it swims. which I think is a great expression. Now, this kind of architectural deficit... Sorry. This this kind of archival deficit is of course of familiar crisis in women's histories and one that feminist historians like Antoinette Burton have long identified and sought ways around by invoking the value of domestic and private archives, diaries, family histories, etc. for the telling of women's histories. I think Minnette's book is precisely that kind of document that enables us to locate her practice in a wider expanded field. For me, it became an invaluable tool of mapping for mapping the intersection of her tropical modern architectural practice with what I referred to as forms of environmental nationalism. It enabled me to trace how her vanguardist tropical architecture became entangled in an ethnicised spatial politics of nationalism that helped consolidate ethnicised power through a kind of environmental refrain that, whether I think Minnette de Silva wanted to or not, positioned non-Sinhala others—Tamils, Muslims, Bergers—as guests to be tolerated by sovereign Sinhala hosts. To make this kind of argument, I attended in the work as much to the things that de Silva and others said about her work as I did to the to the work itself. Methodologically then... And as Shirley said, I'm a geographer. So methodologically, it's fair to say that I'm less interested in architecture's formal qualities and more so in what architecture does in and through the world. My fascination is what is with, what the architectural theorist Tony Viddler has referred to as architecture's expanded field. And I situate de Silva's tropical modernism within a broader set of cultural ideological and ultimately spatial processes, I think, that reveal much about the politics of post-colonial nation-building in which the dominance of the Sinhala Buddhist ethnos was emerging.
Now let me illustrate this and by speaking to a short passage from de Silva's book, where she narrates the Amarasinghe House, a typical kind of inside out outside tropical modern house. Now of the property, she writes how—I'm gonna read through this quickly. 'House walls are pierced with openings influenced by traditional economically designed air vents. There are few solid walls; the main structure is carried by reinforced concrete pillars with reinforced concrete flat slab floors. The enclosing walls of louvered or sliding doors and windows or wood or wrought iron trellises direct every available air draught into the house. The roof space is utilized as an attic study. Note niches for pahanas. Notes: the garden, courts, and house flow into each other. Materials: flat slab and column structures, woodwork, jack wood polished, colour light cherry sliding doors and windows. During the "Pirith Ceremony", the priest made us all laugh as his sermon consisted of consolation for the Amarasinghe's as their house didn't appear to be finished, of course it was – he just did not think there was enough decoration or walls to hold the thing up!'
Now, instead of asking what kind of building de Silva describes here, I've chosen to dwell instead on the expressions, the tensions, and the anxieties I think that the quote reveals. The first thing to stress here is the presence of a number of different textual communities. So first of all we have de Silva's clients, the Amarasinghes themselves, a middle-class professional, nuclear family, both Buddhist and Sinhalese, though not implicated in the more populist Sinhala Buddhist nationalism of the mid-1950s. I think it's interesting that they requested de Silva build a shrine room into the structure, which is not really, I guess, an explicit articulation of religious nationalism but a symptom of the growing normalisation of Buddhist aesthetics in the formal capital… the former colonial capital, Colombo. Second, the priests and monks invited to bless the house who represent a public institution, the Buddhist clergy, of considerable power and who institutionally were far closer than the Amarasinghes to populist nationalism. Third, of course, there's de Silva herself, the architect with her own sense of modernist sensibility. And fourth, the text implies a reader, of course, right? The you or I reading about the Amarasinghe house.
I want to suggest that reading this quote requires us to dig just a little more deeply into de Silva's work. Her writings from her London period, 1945 to 1949, betray her own awareness of her own, I guess, what we refer to as exoticism in the professional spaces of the Architectural Association. Again, Shirley's already referred to this in her introduction. Yet they also suggest a certain kind of confidence in her ability to renegotiate modernism because of her own difference. And it was this architectural double-consciousness I guess that proved central to the translations of modernism that she felt responsibility to help forge back in Ceylon. Though the universalism of Le Corbusier inspired her work, it was in fact Patrick Geddes' work in India that offered her an inroad towards what would become, for her, a genuinely Ceylonese form of architectural modernism, particularly Geddes' notion of conservative surgery, which advocated for modern improvements sensitised to the roots of regional culture. In conservative surgery, de Silva saw a roadmap for a new vanguardist Ceylonese architecture offering what she thought was an avowedly post-colonial departure that walked in step with Ceylon's political ambition towards independence. So conservative surgery held the potential to concretise a rupture between the standardisations of colonial architecture... Sorry. A rupture with the standardisations of colonial architecture and in so doing, it anticipated many local iterations of modern architecture across the world. But of course de Silva's relationship with colonialism was quite complex because it was colonialism's class structure that enabled her own architectural training in the United Kingdom. So despite these breaks with colonial architecture that she sought, she also abhorred the more obviously anti-colonial nationalists Sinhala Buddhist revivalist style that was gaining traction in Ceylon at the time. This to her was antithetical to the secular, the functional promise of architectural modernism. She sought a style that looked for a suitably deferential break I think with colonialism, able to bring Ceylon's architecture and thus Ceylon into modernity on its own terms.
It's for this reason I think that her description of the Pirith Ceremony of the Amarasinghe house is it pains to distinguish her thoroughly modern architectural sensibilities from the priest's fear that the house didn't appear to be finished. I think there's a sort of performative kind of distancing of herself from his uncomprehending remark. In so doing, she betrays a certain kind of teleology, I think, that the house embodies that sense. Formally and technically, de Silva brought this movement away from colonial architecture. She brought this movement along by building space that recuperated a relationship with Ceylon's tropical environment. Put simply, she worked to open out the colonial bungalow, breaking through the constraints of colonialism's imperial universalisms. In the process, building space more suited to living with the super abundant tropical growth of the local environment. Her architecture drew on design elements from Ceylon's varied past to accentuate this. She began to regularly use internal courtyards, for example, which has become something of a design staple in the tropical modern house in Sri Lanka. And in the Amarasinghe House, this enabled rooms to open directly into a secure interior outdoor space, offering transparency and clear lines of sight. And the effects were this kind of fluid and liquid inside outside spatiality. Crucially, features like the internal courtyard were architectural motifs common across a varied palette of historical Ceylonese building practices, including Sinhala, Moor, and Dutch housing but De Silva narrated them as Kandyan devices, the meda midula, indicating, I think, how her formal architectural techniques tabled as quintessentially national were imaginatively mobilising an ethnically exclusive sense of Sinhala tradition. And this was all done in the midst of rising populist Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in the 1950s.
She was also keen to use local vernacular building materials and she chose materials that could bear the environmental stress of weathering, thus enabling the house to imprint itself... Sorry. Enabling the outside environment to imprint itself on the houses inside. She'd sparingly also use antique ornamental materials, which signified, I think, a desire that her structures extend out into the timespace of the nation state. And her ornamental choices invariably drew upon histories of Ceylonese classical arts and crafts, usually from the Kandyan region. They created, I guess, kind of stretched affiliations with an imagined pre-colonial history and geography in the post-independent nation state. So though De Silva's work was inspired by the likes of Le Corbusier, a conservative surgical approach powerfully articulated cultural difference. And this was her success. She was responsible, I think, for buildings that, as Fred Jameson has put it in his diagnosis of critical regionalism, reaffirmed the regional national culture as a collective possibility in its moment of besiegement and crisis. As I've been suggesting, for de Silva Ceylon's tradition and historical identity were located in the island's Kandyan Sinhala heartlands. Most of the techniques, most of her materials were framed around the Kandyan Sinhala tradition in history, which in turn, I think, thus instantiated the primacy of the post-colonial national thought retroactively as Sinhala Buddhist in a context where this was the very same claim of populist ethnically exclusive nationalists. She was influenced by the pre-eminent art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy in this, whose 1908 monograph Mediaeval Sinhalese Art called for a modern revival of the Sinhalese arts and crafts tradition. This was the text that became part of the ideological terrain of an emerging nationalism, actually. And De Silva was also strongly influenced by her close association with Sri Lanka's modernist movement, the 43 Group, painters like George Keyt, George Claessen, and Ivan Peries, who were developing their own aesthetic response to colonialism, forging a distinctively Ceylonese artistic modernism that combined European modernist trends with Orientalist themes that spoke to Ceylonese particularity.
Now, looking once more at her description of the Amarasinghe House, it becomes easy to see these SB striations of De Silva's tropical modernity. The house is narrated in ways that position it to, and amongst, its users as an essentially Buddhist and Sinhalese structure, albeit a thoroughly modern one. So for De Silva, the house is replete with an aesthetic that's coded Buddhist. It's thus sacred but not in the tradition of institutionalised and formal religion that the Buddhist priests and monks represent. This is the point, I think, where as much as the materiality of the house itself it's the house’s narration; it's her anxious humour at the priest’s uncomprehending remark, and that helps the building's sacredness into modernity. So here in the Amarasinghes' modern tropical house the sacred ceases to be a counterpoint to modernity. Just as the non-secular Sinhala Buddhist nation becomes modern on its own terms.
Now as I said, this political argument is less important in this context than some of the methodological points that I hope to have raised in this short talk. This in the context of a broader discussion about female architects whose work and influence has largely been concealed by the gendered and patriarchal squint of architectural history-writing, I guess there are three points really that I just want to draw out very finally. First, I hope to have elaborated on something of the method involved in locating Minnette de Silva's work in what I've referred to as architecture's expanded field. That's a phrase, as I said, that I borrowed from Anthony Vidler... Tony Vidler, who borrows the phrase himself from the art historian Rosalind Krauss in her work on sculpture, Sculpture in the Expanded Field. Really the point here is about suggesting and thinking about how architecture is always situated in the world, right? It always must be thought about in relation to the broader cultural field.
Secondly, I hope to have spoken a little bit about the value and the necessity of going to unconventional archives, in this case her book. Reading them also across the grain, critically engaging with those archives, and this, I guess, is an approach that takes much inspiration both from feminist history and subaltern studies' historical scholarship. I think you know, just to come back to one of the comments that was made in the introduction, that the aim today is that this is not a feminist project, but a project of making things visible. I think in many senses, many feminist historians or feminist geographers would argue that a feminist project is about making the work of women visible actually. So there's an interesting conversation to be had there, I think.
Thirdly, I guess, importantly I hope to have shown something of how in the case of Minnette de Silva working on her absence is as important as working on limited presence in the history books. So in other words it's immensely productive, I think, to think about exactly why and how her presence has been effaced somewhat from the history of Sri Lankan architecture. Because it means that we have to see her in the context of, I think, the immense intellectual labour, an industry that's created the kind of architectural heritage industry in Sri Lanka as it is, right? I'll leave it there because I'm way over time. Thank you.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Thank you, Tariq. I think you raised some really key questions or issues on the methodological, kind of like, challenges in really studying or understanding what her life and work, of Minnette. I just wanted to kind of find out a little bit more about your thoughts when you first encountered this book, her autobiography and the idea that it is such a subjective construct of herself. And yet you're still able to embrace it as a text in which it's going to inform, I guess, your core knowledge about, or a core narrative about her. I just wanted to kind of understand a little bit more about... Were you sceptical about it? Or just that process of reading this very much self-construct, I guess.
TARIQ JAZEEL: Thank you very much. It's a really... I don't know if anyone has seen this book or leafed through it. It's quite a bewildering book actually because it's really chaotic. It was published in 1998, actually, published posthumously after her death. It really is... It's quite a remarkable book because it really feels like things thrown on the floor that have just then been published. So in that sense, it takes a lot of work, I think. It's one of those books that it's almost like... It does feel very much like you're going through an archive. I'm not sure if this was your experience when you read the book as well. In so far as it does that, I think it really is a useful book from a historical perspective or from an intellectual perspective, because it enables... what it forces of you as a reader is a very active engagement with the text. I think that's really important because it makes you think about Minnette in relation to what was going on at the time. It's a very contextual book. You can see the workings of her process, of her mind. The things that were close proximate to her. When she was in the process of the various building projects that she talks about, the people she was in conversation with. I think, you know, from a historical perspective, it's a really incredibly useful book. There's a great article by Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi on Minnette de Silva, it uses the book and it focuses on the book in some really interesting ways. I think the book for me is most useful when it's considered as a kind of fragmentary source, actually, that really kind of enables you to locate her in this broader field. Its value is precisely in the way it's so unpolished, actually.
SHIRLEY SURYA: But I still wanted to ask, were you still compelled to find other sources apart from what she presents about herself? And how successful have you been in finding other sources about her?
TARIQ JAZEEL: When I was doing research for the book, in particular I did a lot of archival research in Sri Lanka, looking through particularly newspapers actually, I was interested in the kind of newspaper coverage of architecture as it was produced at the time. There was a lot of that kind of archival research that was incredibly useful. Of course, you know here's where that third point in my final three points becomes relevant, because not much was written about Minnette de Silva. There was an abundance of material at the time on other architects, including Geoffrey Bawa, but not much on Minnette de Silva, some. But then what I also did was I interviewed not just architects, but I interviewed people who had commissioned houses from these architects. I was interested in that process of living in these buildings. What people wanted, what they imagined and dreamed and fantasized about when they commissioned and worked with these architects, and what that process of working with architects like Minnette de Silva was like. So that was that was incredibly fruitful experience actually.
SHIRLEY SURYA: So was there a revelation of gaps or, I guess, conflicting stories to how she presented herself based on your other findings?
TARIQ JAZEEL: Well, that's an interesting question because I'm not really entirely sure how I would characterise Minnette's presentation of herself. It's kind of rare that you see her own voice actually. Even in that book itself, you know, it's very difficult to discern her own voice in some senses. But no, I mean, I think not so many conflicting stories but actually you know what was interesting, and this was not specific to Minnette, but most of the architects... Sorry. Most of the people who I interviewed who had worked with architects to commission a house of some description... I'm aware that I'm in a room full of architects here. Most of the people I interviewed said it was a really difficult process working with architects.
Because of that negotiation, of the architects' own design, image, etc. Of course, you know, as a client you're paying for a house, right? You're paying for a design so you want some input into that process. I didn't find that there were many conflicting stories known and Minnette's working relationship with her clients wasn't out of sync with other stories that I heard, no.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Thank you. So yeah just I just wanted to ask if anyone has any urgent...
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. Thank you very much for presenting about De Silva. I'm a very fortunate person because she is my teacher. I think it was the first year when she came to University of Hong Kong and I was a student in her class. I never knew she did all that. I know so little of her and my experience is she didn't even once mention what she did. We all know she had some kind of relationship with Le Corbusier. Well, that's something, you know, little gossips. That's all we know. She taught history of architecture and she never talked about her work. We didn't even know what she did. We knew she graduated from the Architecture Association but nothing about what she did. So it was really eye-opening to finally know my teacher, really. And the thing is, yeah, finally I know her. I came here because I wanted to know her even after she died. And I wanted to share a little bit of a side story of what I know of her as a person, as a teacher, which you didn't cover. Her eyes glowed when someone did well in her class. I did one assignment that was very good and I got an A from her. She was so happy and I was so happy. I didn't get As so easily from other classes. But her class is difficult. Not everybody took the class seriously because it's history of architecture and we all focus on studio work.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: One thing you didn't cover is we all know she contributed to the book, Fletcher's A History of Architecture. That's something she mentioned. Her only little contribution there, that we know. After knowing about this talk, I tried to research about her too and to get to know my teacher. After so many years, we never knew her. And I found out that, you know, reading initially discovering what you covered, those houses, they were demolished. It actually makes me feel bad. You know, it wasn't recognized. I stumbled upon an article that mentioned that she also did the Kandy Arts Centre, which is still standing. It was a beautiful civic piece of work, which I never knew my teacher did, that either. It's surviving and it paints a picture, that's something that she did, it was successful and it still stands. Sometimes I told, you know, my friends that architecture and architects are very interesting. Even when the architect has passed away, their work stands for a long, long time beyond their life, and it seemed to kind of capture their life in a certain way, extending beyond that human existence. And I also read online after researching about my teacher lately, that people always connect the woman to the man they know, like Le Corbusier. That's the only thing our classmates remember, I guess. Either she is connected to his family, which seems to be pretty well-off and influential. But nobody focused on the women themselves, you know, and when we talk about them, sometimes we talk about the unfortunate side, which links the story and seemed to be... We will be emotionally attached. 'Oh, she didn't do that well.' She was overshadowed by men. I hope your further research will bring out the success of her, not overshadowed by other people or family or whatever. Because I think we wanted to honour my teacher in this way, and I wanted now to switch my mind to remember her, she's suddenly grown taller. You know, she's actually a very small lady, by the way. You know, she's very small. And when she was teaching me of course she was already much older. It was in the 1970s. I was in that class. I'm very happy to have participated in this event, I came here to learn more about my teacher and I did. But I wanted everybody to know that she's a very passionate teacher and her eyes glowed, you know, every time somebody did well in her class. And I wanted now to remember her as a different teacher to me now. She has grown much taller, you know. [chuckles] Thank you very much.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Thank you very much.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Thank you so much. So with this, we'll move on to Wang Chiu-hwa. Thank you, Tariq.
TARIQ JAZEEL: Thank you very much.
SHIRLEY SURYA: And thank you for sharing that. It's a very personal moment.
TARIQ JAZEEL: I hope you were recording that for the archive.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Yes, the whole thing is documented.
TARIQ JAZEEL: A fantastic piece of oral history right there.
SHIRLEY SURYA: Yes, yes. Thank you. I just wanted to...
Again, before we go into the next session of really talking about Wang Chiu-hwa's practice… Wang Chiu-hwa is what many have called to be the mother of libraries in Taiwan, but of course it's much more than just libraries. I just wanted to share a little bit more about the process and what the four lessons that I learned in acquiring Wang Chiu-hwa's archive. It's just the four small lessons and photographs of my, I guess, my interaction with Wang Chiu-hwa since 2015, about what it means to really, kind of... the thoughts that kind of come through our minds as curators as we acquire these things.
The first question here is really about a like... lesson is really about the hidden archives. I think we mentioned before about what you mentioned, not every woman architect wants to tell other people about their work. Sometimes they chose to not talk about it at all. I think I have to mention, we have to be really grateful to Wang Chiu-hwa, you know, for really sharing her work with us. When you go to her house, she has all these photographs of her work in the States, and we were all just wondering what are those, and there's no book about her, and I think even up till now, she refused to publish her memoir publicly, it's only shared to her friends and families. So that aspect actually makes it, you know, the question of like how do we get to know? It's very hard. We don't really get to know. I'm sorry, I've not been talking to the mic. So yes, I will talk to the mic now. Yes, please stay there. Okay and so does the first lesson, the lesson of the hidden archive, and how it takes the person to really initiate in revealing herself. And so these are just pictures about her as she, 'Oh yes, I think I have that book there. I have a drawing there. so it's that... I know I have a box of slides of all my projects in the States.' Or even, you know, slides of models of libraries in Taiwan and so it's just this sort of process. I think, it's over about four to five visits that we slowly discovered this. And I have to mention Shao-ping here, which is really the person which is a former colleague of Wang Chiu-hwa, who really helped to organise all these materials for us to be able to acquire and actually tell our registrar this is what we are acquiring. So it's a long process in that sense.
Then the second lesson is really a lesson on authorship. Authorship here really is... a lot of people will say okay, do we have the signature on a drawing to say that, you know, Wang really designed it? You know like so, oh, she's always associated with Percival Goodman, you know, this very kind of architect in the United States, you know, that she was working very closely with. So who designed it really? Is it really her? All these questions come up and I think over time after especially... I just wanted to kind of show that hard hat of Wang Chiu-hwa, and you could tell on the hard hat it says 'C H Wang Architect'. You know, this is her own personal hat next to her desk in Taiwan. And that's a portfolio of projects that she and Percival Goodman did together. The question of single authorship versus collaborative, kind of an autonomous practice versus collaboration, is something that... I think we have to embrace both. In our justification of why we think that these projects, even though they are collaborative with Percival Goodman, it is just as something valuable for Wang Chiu-hwa to be partnering with him in designing some of the very important modern synagogues in America. I think in her little memoir, she mentioned before that Wang Chiu-hwa, she's much more of a plan... designing the plan and the floorplans of the building that really informs the final structure. Even Percival Goodman had to kind of like take his hat off and let Wang Chiu-hwa really resolve the spatial planning aspect of these buildings. When I go through the drawings with her, she will be able to talk about every single detail of these buildings. The question here isn't that a proof of authorship in itself, you know, even if the final signature is not the person. So I think it is a question that went through my mind.
The third lesson is really appreciating architecture with a small... So people, this is not a performance art centre; it's not a parliament house per se. It's libraries; it's primary... public primary schools in New York and well and in… It's drawings that... it's not a form that is you know gestural in that sense. But when I saw this drawing... so this is of a library in Chung Yuan and I just saw the people going down the steps, you know, and how the library itself is next to an open courtyard and how her kind of attention to wanting to allow readers to be accessing the outdoors and light and nature and all that is really part of what she thinks is important. But of course, this is not a gestural architecture that is meant to be completely of mass appeal and everybody knows about it. But this is just as valuable for us as a museum, so it's a question for us because this is the first time that we encounter such works. A lot of museums tend to acquire altered works and very highly mediated works. This is the first time that I learned about these projects. I think it's a process to realise that there is important value to be ascribed to these projects. So again, steps, you know, for Queensborough Community College. Or even the little ventilation holes to actually ventilate non-air-conditioned libraries in Taiwan in the early 1980s. We saw this little book there. It's actually Henry Dreyfuss' manual for designing furniture, it's next to her desk and just how much detail she went into designing every single furniture in the library, it was really about this attention to detail, but also to attention to the usage of the object and the space itself.
And then the last lesson and after that I will pass it on to Hsu Li-yu. It's a lesson on gender. So gender here to me never really, kind of… It became a prominent issue after I encountered Wang Chiu-hwa. Because for us, like, okay, just to get a good architecture. Good architecture, right, just look at it. Just find it and then bring it to the museum. But when we encounter her it was almost like it's not the same kind of issue. There are other questions to raise. There are other challenges that she may have faced that may not be the same as everyone else who may be dominating, like male architects. But for her, but Wang Chiu-hwa, when we asked her, was there any difference that you always wear a qipao to the construction site in New York? Chinese wearing qipao in New York. And she said, 'Actually no, there's no difference. There's no problem at all as long as you're able to be humble and be good in what you do, you will earn respect.' We just posted a little blog two days ago, and you can read more about what she said about that. So again, this is a photo of her being one of the few female students in Columbia architecture school, and then this is her in a qipao exactly in an entrance of Center for American Studies in Taipei.
So that's the four lessons I learned, and I just wanted to play this very small video that we did. It was interviewed in 2015, after she fell down many times and we were afraid that something might happen... We just wanted to share this with you and after that, I will introduce Hsu Li-yu.
[Gentle music begins]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I wore a qipao most of the time when I was in the United States. So [sometimes] when I paid a visit to a construction site.
INTERVIEWER: [Mandarin] They were all shocked?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] No, people would say, 'Oh, here comes the architect in qipao.' Architecture was a male-dominated field.
My mum said to me, 'Perhaps you could get married to an architect someday. You could sharpen the pencils for him.'
[I studied for two years at Columbia [University]. One day in the second half of my first year, I told Goodman [Professor of Design at Columbia], 'I don't just want to study. I want to have some work experience.' So, he asked me to come to his office. My father wished at the very beginning that I could come back to Taiwan. He was president of the Academia Sinica at the time. He had the idea to form an institute within Academia to study American culture.
I did not want this building to be a piece of classical Chinese architecture. That's why the library was essential. The materials I used were largely in line with those of the buildings nearby with red bricks and red tiles. Nine research studios were built, all of them were rather small. There were two reasons why a pitched roof was designed. Firstly, it helped with discharging rainwater. Secondly, it created a veranda. I referenced Le Corbusier's works. By creating a pitched roof, water would not run down directly along the walls. I admired Le Corbusier a lot back then. There used to be a two-storey house on this plot of land. When I was designing this building, the part I liked the most was the staircase. This metal column has a diameter of eight centimetres. It stands all the way from the basement to the eighth floor. It supports the whole staircase. There are only two bedrooms on this floor because only my mother and I lived here. The rest of the floor was turned into outdoor spaces. It wasn't that easy for my mother to go out so I wanted there to be a place outdoors for her to sit and relax.
My little gallery here serves a special purpose. The end of it is designed as a clerestory. It is on the top floor. In summer, it's very hot in Taiwan so I placed a specially-designed fan there. The louvres in the window can be opened when I turn on the fan so that the entire house will be cooled.
I've always been interested in libraries. When I was in junior secondary school, there was a library there. It was a two-storey building. Not very big. The librarian recognised me because I was the only person who went there every day. I would go there after class, stand by the bookcases and read. I never wanted to leave. Sometimes, the librarian would come by and pat my shoulder and say, 'Hey, kid, why don't you sit down on a chair or a sofa to read your books?' I would reply, I can't walk away or sit down once I've started reading.
Lighting is very crucial. We wanted to get sunlight from the north to prevent shadows. Natural ventilation is a must, as there is no air conditioning so windows were installed at the top of each floor with air flowing upwards from the bottom of each floor. Once it reaches the top it is expelled outside. I think that the priority of modern architecture should be to satisfy the needs of its user. No matter what the form is, the space that is designed must be functional, serving its intended purpose.
[Gentle music stops]
SHIRLEY SURYA: I will introduce Hsu Li-yu right now. She'll be sharing more about her own take. Back on Hsu Li-yu… Hsu Li-yu is an architectural educator but also a practising architect in a studio called ARMU. She co-founded WAT or ‘Wat', that is Women in Architecture Taiwan, an association that really focuses on raising the visibility of women architects in Taiwan by documenting and publicising their life and work. Li-yu recently just edited an issue, a special issue, on Wang Chiu-hwa's work, which I think she will give away to some of the speakers today. She had also received her Master of Architecture from Yale University and PhD from National Taiwan University. She's really both a practitioner, a writer, editor, but also quite an activist, welcome.
HSU LI-YU: Hi everybody. [Mandarin] I'm going to speak in Mandarin, because I think that way, Ms Wang can correct me if I'm wrong. First, I'd like to say thank you to M+. I say that on behalf of the female architects in Taiwan. We're grateful to M+ that they took so much time and effort to organise Ms Wang's work and store a large part of her archive properly, so that we get to know more about Ms Wang.
Today what I'm going to share is actually... We'll have a chance to discuss Ms Wang's work with her. What I'm going to share today is the projective relationship between Ms Wang and me. I'll be blunt. In architectural history, especially the prominent modern architectural history, most of the works are viewed by comparing or following the footsteps of the pioneers. They are viewed in terms of the pioneers, and the glory of these pioneers are always emphasised, making it difficult for laymen or just any other person to see the good things that are overshadowed.
The topic I'm going for today is inspired by Ms Wang, it’s called 'The Walker' in Chinese. First, actually we call her Ms Wang as an endearment, because we think of her as our teacher. In Chinese, 'the walker' we're talking about is someone who is a knowledgeable, pioneering practitioner. Of course, it also means someone who walks. Why'd I use this phrase to start sharing the projective relationship between Ms Wang and me? Of course, I have to start with the appeal of her work.
I met Ms Wang relatively late, probably just a little bit earlier than when M+ started collecting Ms Wang's work. We were doing a talk for architecture graduates from Chung Yuan Christian University and Tunghai University. The topic that year was 'architecture resume'. Personally, I dislike talking in terms of 'architecture resume', as 'resume' seems to imply it's a special thing that requires extra effort. But that was the first time I met Ms Wang. So both of us looked so young in the picture.
What I wanted to say is that as members of Women in Architecture Taiwan, we're trying to learn more about what the female architects before us have done. Of course, we need to take an approach, but without taking the same approach that's pioneers-oriented. Or else, it'll be hard to talk about what these female architects could do in their times. So, as I said, 'The Walker' also means someone who walks. The walker can see the beauty and order in the environment. 'Environment' is a keyword that was emphasised over and over again when I was discussing with Ms Wang. What's the relationship between environment and architecture? When I was working on one of my projects, I drew this picture. I was talking with an organisation on how to renovate a house for the elderly and other members in the community. I said, architecture is simple. There's a land and the environment around it. And we have to provide a shelter for the people. So we take the environment we like and apply it indoors, making it the same as the outside. We give it the life of nature so that it will prosper. This is something I thought about before I became close with Ms Wang. After knowing her, I suddenly found courage. I saw that you could strive for different things as an architect. So that got me thinking, exactly what it means to be an architect? Many people would say, being an architect means to create. But I think for Ms Wang or myself, who take paths that are less established, the biggest mission is to 'complete' something. Whether it is to fulfil the needs of the people, or to perfect the imperfect parts of that environment, architecture can complete that space and the people in there. I thought it was a very different view.
When I was trying to better understand it, Ms Wang once told me, when I asked her, 'Ms Wang, do you think there's a difference between male and female architects?' Ms Wang shook her head and said, 'There isn't any difference.' Then she told me in 1977, she was invited to an exhibition of a female architect in New York. That architect only brought one of her work. A long time after that, I asked Ms Wang when I was working on this special October issue on Wang Chiu-hwa, 'Ms Wang, could you tell me more about what it was like in 1977?' She said the exhibition was held by the Center for American Studies of Academia Sinica. There was an architect who exhibited one of her completed work in New York. That got us thinking, what did she experience as an architect and a female?
Recently, some young people edited an interview with Ms Wang into a one-minute introduction video for a film screening in New York. So female became... Now people pay more attention to what's special about them, and what have we forgotten or missed before. In the end, we might still be looking for a so-called pioneer. But I must say, the definition of this pioneer is a female architect doing what she wants to do. The definition of pioneer started to change in her time. This word no longer refers to a hero beyond our touch, but someone who connects with every human.
This was done when we worked on the special issue about Ms Wang. I tried to make a simple, basic form and list events in her life chronologically, with her work as an architect in the other column. Yes, there's an extra column. She's worked on many projects with different architects, which Shirley also mentioned earlier. She also challenged the traditional relationship between the author and the work. She started to discuss the relationship between the architect and the work. Is it really limited to an individual? Or how can we tell the part of Wang Chiu-hwa, the architect in a project? What's her key influence? We... Actually, in Ms Wang's home, I saw the most of her thoughts and practices in a lot of details in her home. To me, the most important thing from Ms Wang's example is that an architect is not only about building a shell for appearance. She'd strive for details from lighting to shades where you can rest. Even for the daily routine that you enjoy and need, she'd include it in her design. That's what her home is like. She has a beautiful pseudonym, 'The Lighting of Moon'. Think, what does this pseudonym mean? Ms Wang's birthday is on 8 August. This pseudonym was given by her father. I thought this name sounds philosophical. But what exactly does it mean? I think if you walk in a moon-lit night, especially the night before the full moon, you can see the moonlight staying ahead of you. This pseudonym is referring to the light that leads you to enlightenment. It shows you where to go. I think this pseudonym has a wonderful, deep meaning.
This is one of the titles we used when we did the special issue. It’s actually taken from the translator's preface when she translated her teacher Goodman's book, An Illustrated Guide to Utopias: An Architect's Diary. She said since she met Goodman, the most important thing was she began to understand what architecture is. What did she mean when she said she began to understand what is architecture? She said such enlightenment was because of the social meaning of this profession. What did she mean by that? She began to understand that architecture had a social meaning. Of course, this inspired... I've also been comparing female architects of this generation, including contemporaries of Wang Chiu-hwa, like Lin Huiyin, Xiu Zelan, or Wang Hsiu-Lian in Taiwan. These architects from the 1910s to 1930s were especially social. Compared with the other modern architects of their times, they focused more on taking care of people and serving the public, or even being teachers.
As I mentioned, she said an architect's duty is more than just beautifying the environment, they also need to make facilitating social reform the ultimate goal. Social reform sounds grand, social reform... But the social reform that Ms Wang means... I think more importantly, as a teacher, she did her best to lead by setting an example for her students. She isn't after fame or profits, she shows us with her actions that if you're an architect building a house, build it well. If you're a teacher, especially in architecture, you should tell people that architecture can bring happiness to people and make them feel satisfied. And remember what I said about becoming an architect. The goal is to complete. [English] Complete what? Complete others [Mandarin] To complete others and their dreams. [English] Just like the way she is. [Mandarin] I think she has been a good pioneer. If this is the beautiful new definition of a pioneer, I believe we're most happy today to see Ms Wang here, so that we can see her and hear her thoughts. Please welcome the architect, Wang Chiu-hwa.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, would you like to say something? As a greeting? Hi! [chuckles]
AUDIENCE: [laughter and applause]
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, do you remember when we talked about coming to Hong Kong today, I asked if you've been to Hong Kong before and what you thought of Hong Kong as a city.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I've been to Hong Kong many, many times. When I first went to the US, I always had layovers in Hong Kong. Last time I was here was about 10 years ago.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] 10 years ago. What was it like?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] It's been a long time. It was so different 10 years ago. Later, Hong Kong became layered.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] There are a lot of highways.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, you can reach anywhere just by going on a different road.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] I remember when you talked about Hong Kong, you said the Hong Kong people had a different relationship with the city back then.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I like Hong Kong. I think Hong Kong people are very open and straightforward. They're easy to talk to.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, do you remember when you did your very first urban design in Manhattan with Professor Goodman in 1964?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] What's that?
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The urban design competition of New York you did with Professor Goodman. Can you tell us what were you thinking when you took part in that competition?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] That was my first design competition in Taiwan. Back then I...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] No, I meant a long time ago, you did a design competition with Professor Goodman and got covered in a French magazine.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] That was so long ago when I just graduated from university. Then I went on to attend graduate school in Columbia University. I met Professor Percival Goodman in Columbia University. He was such a wonderful teacher. He didn't just teach us about architecture. He also told us a lot about Western culture and history. Those were things that my Chinese teachers never told us.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] I remember you said... When you were teaching architectural history in National Central University, you said, whether it was Western or Chinese architectural history, the most difficult problem was that they had a hard time talking about the social situation, making it hard to understand the history.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The library at National Central University was my first major commission in Taiwan.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is Professor Goodman's book, isn't it?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] That was my classroom.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Shirley said it was drawn by a classmate of yours.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Your classmate... drew your classroom.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] A Turkish classmate drew it.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is a book by Professor Goodman.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This is an important book co-written by Professor Goodman and his brother. It's been translated in 11, 12 different languages for the international audience.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] What's it mainly about?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] It's mainly about... Because back then, there were many new high-rise commercial buildings. He disapproved of those commercial buildings. This book is mainly about... Look, 'Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life', which is to say for the life you want to live, you can make enough to live that. That is the main message about this book.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So they were already talking about the value of the community.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Talking about the quality of life. Do you remember this picture?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This was when we were...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] In school.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] We got critiques from the teacher.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, when you were studying in Columbia University in New York, were you the only girl in class?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, I was the only girl.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The only one? Did your classmates think there were any differences in learning with you?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] That's the good thing about the Americans. They don't care if you're a boy or a girl. They won't discriminate you for your gender.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] In your work with Professor Goodman, the most memorable ones to people are the synagogues.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Professor Goodman didn't receive much education because something happened in his family when he was a child. But when he was 18, 19 years old, he won a big award in New York. Back then, there was an annual big competition in New York organised by a French institution. His father left when he was small. There were six children in his family. His father said he was going to work on his career and disappeared. So what should they do? His mother was an artist, but she gave up painting and found a job at a department store. Still, there were four young children aged between two and twelve in the family. His mother got one of her sisters to move into their home. This sister of her was strict with the children. Goodman was the third child. He ran from home because he couldn't deal with his aunt's strictness any more. Luckily, he had an... uncle.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] An uncle.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] His mother's brother owned an architectural firm. Professor Goodman was only thirteen so he could only run errands for the staff, like making deliveries or tracing sketches. But later, his uncle saw that he had good potential and had him attended a prominent school in New York, where he learned a bit more about design.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, I have a question. This is the first synagogue you worked with Professor Goodman. Do you still remember which part was your design? Back there?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Why don't you...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Press here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Actually...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Press here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The main building was... I don't know how to use this. Down there.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here. The light's gone elsewhere. Here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Here, and...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here, and here. These two sanctuaries.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This was designed by Goodman. I was staying at a hospital for lung disease. I was staying at a hospital for lung disease but I still drew plans on my sickbed. I designed a space that can hold thirty students.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] And a big sanctuary. Bottom left.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here. Here? Here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] On the left.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Go up a bit. Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So this part is the sanctuary and the... the school that you designed
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, that's for students. The other sanctuary and the chapel down there are open to the public.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Some background info. Synagogue is special because there are three different sects in Judaism. Professor Goodman believed in Reform Judaism. There are a big main sanctuary and small sanctuary. They are for official mass and open to the public. They can do small masses or morning reflections in the small one. What Ms Wong pointed to is the chapel and the school, which are for the kids to study, right?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Next, we'll see... Ms Wang, your synagogues have a lot of designs that need...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Over fifty people.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Over fifty people? Over fifty. There are a lot of designs that need to serve as the space for mass and also daily social activities for the community. Do you remember this project? This is the biggest synagogue you built in Detroit. And these two... You had this amazing design which could turn a sanctuary with an average 1,500 capacity to a space that can hold a mass of 3,600.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This is the biggest synagogue we built. The problem with an average synagogue is that few people go there on the usual days, but when it's Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year, there are a lot of people. Usually, seats are added vertically. But this one is so big that it needs to hold 3,600 people. So we thought for some time and decided that only the middle part...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The middle part is for the usual mass, but the two sides are expandable
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes. Usually, the two sides... That side can serve as space for banquets. This space down there can be used for speeches. It's something any synagogue also does. Besides having masses, the members like to eat together, so there has to be a big canteen. And you can do speeches in the main sanctuary. The other side is used for speeches. This was a difficult project. And look, you might not be able to tell this building with triangles on the sides actually has its flooring one metre higher than the building in the middle. And it's slightly sloped. So you can see the activities in the main sanctuary.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] You can see the main sanctuary...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] and what's happening at the altar. This is such a special design. It took you a lot of effort. One of the parts is... Ms Wang, your synagogues are so beautiful with so many arts by different artists.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, the thing that really set our synagogues apart is us... because Professor Goodman loved modern art. He always tried to work with some modern artists. But some architects or artists were very famous, which would cost more than what our client could afford, so instead we... Professor Goodman knew of a warehouse of an art dealer. He got us there. Then we started looking for younger artists with the potential to work with us. When we finished... Later, our clients couldn't afford the famous architects either.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Speaking of arts, you also built a lot of public elementary schools in New York. These schools are all located inside African-American communities for the underprivileged students.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] We are curious about... you talked about Public School 92.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, it's a public elementary school.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Didn't you say the students didn't like their schools?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] And public schools... I didn't attend elementary school in America. So before I designed an elementary school, I travelled all over New York to see. After the visits, first, I found it strange that all the elementary schools were identical. I only found out later that elementary schools in New York are partly managed by the Department of Education. There are two offices in the Department of Education, one of which is responsible for the primary school programme. It decides how big the school is and what teaching materials they use. And that office has to pick some of the schools to implement experimental systems different from other schools, like some second-grade students can take fifth-grade mathematics, but other times, as second-grade students, they take the same classes with their second-grade classmates.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Have some water, Ms Wang. You've been talking for a long time.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Thank you.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] I've been interrogating Ms Wang. While she's drinking water, let me give you some background info. Professor Goodman and Ms Wang built many public elementary schools back then. New York City used these schools to reform the neighbourhoods and take care of the kids. Public School 57 is special in that they practise the experimental method of team teaching, so the building was designed like what Ms Wang just said. Some kids have different situations, right? There has to be different sections to accommodate their needs.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] When they were starting this school, they wanted to take an experimental approach. We ended up not having separate classrooms for different classes, except for first and second graders. Other students would share three to four big classrooms, where there were removable partitions, so that they could have a bigger space for group discussions. There was also a special discussion room. Some students might have issues and would get too shy to raise questions with too many people around. And that was where they can have deep discussions.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So like here? There are some corners in the classrooms around the school, that are bigger and allow them to do team teaching.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] They can separate students in groups. There are also classrooms for kids with emotional issues or other problems to have a separate space to calm down or communicate.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Right.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] And your most famous... What I remember the most is when I met you in a talk and you talked about this Queen’s Community College with these steps. The street of steps.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This is a very special case. It was the 1970s. New York City Department of Education had a new rule that any college had to submit a plan about the school at the beginning and get approved by the department. Then you couldn't change it. When we got commissioned for this job, it was already a college with 2,000 students in Queens, New York, which is on the east side.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Queens.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Looking at the area around this college with 2,000 students, firstly, it's far from any metro stations or bus stations. So teachers and students have to drive to school. It's a community college.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Community college.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes. It doesn't offer any special degrees, but it helps you as an adult. Maybe you didn't have the chance to receive proper education as a kid. After graduating from schools like this, you can enter the workforce straight away.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Why did you decide to create these huge steps, creating this relationship between these two buildings?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] We were trying to build the school on the plot of an abandoned golf club, so it was on a slope. And the east side is 8 metres higher than the west side. So that... So the gym and the canteen are up on the slope, while other teaching spaces are down there. In spring or summer, you can still walk up the slope. But in winter, the students can't go up. So we designed a sloping street.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This one?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This is it. Look, this sloping street. Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is it. It's easy to walk up the slope on there.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The steps
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] In the middle... Yes, so...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Students can sit on there.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Play the guitar.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Or have lunch. This one.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Look, in front of that. The administrative building is right next to the gate, with the library in the middle.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] In the middle.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Go down further.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Down further.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes. After registering at the administrative building, students can go straight up the big stairs from the room and reach the second floor of the library. This is on a hill, so they have three entrances to the library. One on each of the three floors. But the main entrance is that one connecting to the administrative building.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is the main entrance?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Students can go to and from the two buildings easily. When they're inside the administrative building, there is a big terrace leading from the main road. They can then choose to go up or down the slope, or even to the classrooms on the other side.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, and we also have some plants along the sides of the slope and keep rubbish bins behind the plants. So when the students have their lunch outdoors, they can throw the trash there.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, I recall that you said it's a student activity centre.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This big steps connect all the activity spaces. It became a virtual activity centre, where members of the community are also welcome. It connects the whole school.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The school asked us what sort of building we were going to design. We said we wanted to create a student activity centre where locals can also join in. But we weren't able to find suitable land. So I ended up creating this big slope and it became their student activity centre. Look, many students like to hang out there.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here, they sit on top of it.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This was where your father worked, right, Academia Sinica? Center for American Studies.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This was an earlier work. In the 1970s.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] I think you had a draft for it in 1971, then when you were in Taiwan... Yes.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The original...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This was the original design. Then you changed to this.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The first design wouldn't work. I went to Taiwan to check out the site. There's a deep river next to the plot. The river floods when it's typhoon season and spills over to the paddies nearby. The building was going to be built where the paddies were. So at that time I thought we had to...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Elevate the building.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] We need to take the entrance far away from the river by elevating it off the ground, so that it'll still be accessible when there's a flood. These are... This is the slanted roof you talked about. To get the hot air up.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So it's cooler inside.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] You can always go to the library and do researches.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is the first library you built in Taiwan. This can be considered the first library you built in Taiwan, right? Only that it's a library in a research facility. You designed the furniture yourself.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Since then, you designed all the furniture yourself. This is my alma mater, the famous Chung Yuan Christian University. Right.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Later I donated all my books on architecture to Chung Yuan Christian University.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, I noticed that you're good at creating spaces so students can sit by the windows in the library and enjoy the natural lighting.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The students love it. These single-seat table by the windows.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] These are big tables.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Because we used wires at the bottom of the glass walls. They block the light but they allow airflow. But the windows are high. The window on the top.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This one. They can't open.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] They opens. But look, it's too high. It's because the students have a quirk. Sometimes they throw books out the windows [audience laugh] and then go out and fetch them. But the windows we designed... are so high, they can't...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] They can't throw books out the windows.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] They can't throw books
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] They can't throw books out or jump through the windows. They are a kind of art thief by stealing books. [laughter]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Then we all... Chung Yuan Christian University was poor, so it... Not only the university, the government...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The whole economy was...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The government had rules that...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] all poor.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The staff of the library could use air conditioning in a small room. But the space used by the students in the library could not have air conditioning because of the lack of funding. So we...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So you're saying students sitting by the windows would feel cool around the legs because of thevventilation down there.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] They like sitting by the windows.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] If you look at the cross-section.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This cross-section.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Air can come through down there.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is it. This side.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] We had six ventilation fans up on the roof to draw the hot air out.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] When I was a student there, it was all air conditioning. So I don't understand the feeling of coolness around your feet sitting there. [laughter]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Taiwan became richer and more people got used to having air conditioning. They couldn't live without air conditioning so they added a lot of air conditioning in and messed up my roof, I couldn't help it.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] No wonder you had to go back and help renovate for a couple of times.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I did...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] And also made a donation yourself. Our school is really poor. [laughter]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] When I went back, I didn't change the structure. I only changed the way it's being used. In the old days, when students needed to look up materials, they had to look through the shelves in the reference room. Later, they use cards instead. So we added thirty-six tables for card inserts. Some have six seats; some only have one. It's now a proper modern library.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The way we search for books in the library... When it was closed stacks storage, you had to fill a form.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Right.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Take it to the counter and say you need this book.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] But when you built the library in our university, it was an open-stack library to begin with.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] But even open-stack library has problems with searching for books, and now we use computers. So the third time you came to my alma mater, Chung Yuan Christian University, the renovation you made was to implement a computer search system.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] When I was working on the Chung Yuan Christian University project, the National Central Library of Taiwan was preparing to... I was a consultant to the director there. I had to work on both projects simultaneously, which totalled to 3,000 chairs. Reading chairs. I drew the design and... I also had a teaching job at National Taipei Institute of Technology. One member of staff there was my cousin. She followed the way of Bauhaus and divided the books into three groups, one on architecture design, one on furniture design, and one on product design. I thought it was a good idea. Of course, we were not very successful, but we still tried to do it.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The Taipei Institute of Technology Ms Wang talked about was a vocational school established when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. May Hsiao, cousin of Ms Wang, was the dean when the school established its architecture department after the war. Students were divided into three groups: architecture, furniture design, and product design. When Ms Wang came back to Taiwan in 1979, she taught at National Taipei Institute of Technology. So what she was saying is that... Now I know the chairs in the library of my alma mater, Chung Yuan Christian University, came from the same batch as the National Central Library ones. Right? They were made in the same period. Turns out the library of the poorest university have some national quality chairs.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [laughter] [Mandarin] All right. Ms Wang, you've also built many other libraries. This is the one in National Changhua University of Education. Shirley loved this picture the most. You seemed to be building a huge staircase in a library. What were you thinking? [laughter]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This is a different library. This library is in Changhua. It's a national university leading in financial studies.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] University of Education.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Because the weather is tame in Changhua, with mostly sunny weather and a few rainy days, I designed an outdoor...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] We don't have to worry about them throwing books out the windows. The books will still be inside and the janitors can pick them up easily.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This library was hard work. We worked on it for four years with four different directors. Some directors didn't allow students to read outdoors. It was such a pity. The last director was a woman. She allowed students to read outdoors.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So you had the chance to...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] And she turned the ground floor into a cafe. Students loved to go there.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This is strange. This doesn't look like a library. This project looks adorable. [laughter]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] This is in Taipei. It's...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] The Precision Instrument Center of National Science Council.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The Precision Instrument Center. That was when Taiwan started developing precision instruments. But they were still researching on the uses and developments. It was a three-year project. We only built that much in the first year.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] That one.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Then we added the back.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This was the middle of the second year. The third phase is this one, right?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The round windows and chimneys.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Here.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] It involved certain knowledge in terms of chemistry. I was excited. I love this project.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Let me cut in a bit. Many of us might not understand where Ms Wang love this project in particular. It just so happened that I've worked on a factory before. And I got it. It was difficult. You know, the problems about factory is it needs a lot of chimneys or ventilation holes for the exhaust. As the architect, you can't place them anywhere you want for aesthetic reasons. No, they must be in this spot, or they won't work.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So this is the hardest kind of project. I remember you told me this was a tough project. Because of the surface, if the surface on such industrial or research building is not usable on the inside...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] You design according to how the building is going to be used.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Hence the many cute chimneys. They are not decorative. They are functional ones connected to the inside. And I told Ms Wang, I finally understand the saying, 'Form follows function.' Turns out this form fits its function perfectly. It's not easy for an architect to create a factory lab for the researchers where all the equipment suits their needs. And you even got cute round windows.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] We finally see an adorable side of you. Yes, this is cute. But we never quite got what you were doing in these pictures. When you held that up in a hospital...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] When I was in the US for... When I just graduated from Colombia University, I was diagnosed with lung disease. It was possible that I contracted the bacteria years ago back in China. In China, almost every kid... When they check the kids' lungs, nearly every kid was... infected by lung disease bacteria.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Infected.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] If you have a strong body, you might pull through. I had a few good friends who skipped a year or two before graduation because of this.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So this was taken by a photographer when you were recovering. You don't remember why you did this adorable pose, do you? That one too. You're multi-talented. You play the piano and tennis. And you know how to play the dizi.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I like playing tennis.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, which tennis player...
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I play with Chen Shao-ping.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Chen Shao-ping is your partner.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Chen Shao-ping.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Right. Ms Wang, who's your favourite tennis player?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I love playing tennis.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Do you watch tennis games in Wimbledon regularly?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I do regularly. There is a tennis championship in New York in every four years. I never missed one. When they asked me how many times I had been there...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] You never missed one. How many times then?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I found that I've been there 44 times. [laughter]
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, the middle picture is you in 1973, when you came back to Taiwan to build the Center for American Studies of Academia Sinica. Back then, you only wore a qipao and... You can't see here, but she was wearing sandals.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I had been an architect for a long time in 1973.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] You stayed in Taiwan for three months to build the Center for American Studies. Did anyone said they couldn't trust a woman to be the architect? Did that ever happen?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] The good thing about New York is that they don't care about your background.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So when you went to Taiwan, was there any difference?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] When I first came... I moved back to Taiwan from the US in 1937.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] 1979.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] 1937.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] 1979.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Taiwan was more advanced then.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So there wasn't such a problem, and the workers had good relationships with you.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] You could ask them how to do things.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] It was rough when I first arrived. I couldn't speak Taiwanese Hokkien, and the workers couldn't speak Mandarin.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So what happened at the construction site?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] We could barely communicate.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] They have different Taiwanese Hokkien phrases in the construction sites. [Speaking Taiwanese Hokkien] [Mandarin] Ms Wang, do you understand that? [Speaking Taiwanese Hokkien]
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] What?
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] I’ve confirmed she doesn't know. It's okay.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] It's fine. Lastly, I think... Ms Wang, I think we need to respond to the story of this event. There's a theme here. In 1984, there was a forum on architecture and women in Taiwan. You were very serious. You even wrote some feedback after the forum. Do you remember this line? 'Even if we're not after fame'. Do you remember that?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I planted that tree with an avocado seed. I placed it in water and it sprouted. But that seed was special that it grew seven sprouts. I cut two of them off, leaving only five. As they grew bigger, I moved them to bigger and bigger pots, I also changed the soil. It was about 8 Chinese feet big.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Apparently this tree took up two persons' space? This tree took up two persons' space in your New York office.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So Professor Goodman said you had to take the amount of work for three people.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] So you always wore a qipao in the office.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, many local workers would yell, 'The architect in qipao is here.'
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] This quote up there was what I wanted to ask you before. This was taken from 1984, when the National Association of Architects held a forum on architecture and women for the first time. Ms Wang was one of the VIPs. She published an essay on Taiwan Architect written after the forum. She said, 'Even if we're not after fame, we must participate in work that we can do fairly and openly. The situation and society are both man-made. They won't stay unchanged forever.' I talked to Ms Wang and Shirley about this quote. We felt it'll serve as an important message from Ms Wang to this forum. This quote is not gender-specific, although its context is. Because the article mentioned that historically, women got into architecture later than men because of the previous limit on education. But women had always been there. They were just focused and silent without saying much. It doesn't mean they weren't there. Then Ms Wang says 'even if we're not after fame', which means we don't look to make a bang, just try to participate in things we can do fairly and openly, and to work hard to reform and improve the environment and social values. This is something that anyone can do, so it's more than just women, it's all of us. We are all the same. Thank you, Ms Wang. Now we have Shirley back on the stage. We ran overtime. [chuckles]
SHIRLEY SURYA: [Mandarin] Thank you, Ms Wang and Hsu Li-yu. The time is up. But I'd like to give the audience a chance to raise questions. Anyone wants to ask Ms Wang? [English] Any question from the audience? We just want to give a chance before... Okay. Please speak.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: [Mandarin] Would you feel pity if someday...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] If the users change your design, would you feel that it is a pity?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] No, it'll be fine. As long as they're improving it, I'm okay with that.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: [Mandarin] To let the users decide or to have us architects decide for them, which way do you prefer?
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] He asks should the users decide the design, of should the architect does it all?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Of course you should consider the needs of the users. I think this is the most important thing. So sometimes it can be hard to build something. For example, if you're going to build a hospital, of course you need to consider the patients. But the doctors and management are going to have their opinions too. If you're going to build a house, the one who's going to sell it is going to have opinions. The seller needs to consider if it will sell and if he can make profit from the sale, so giving him a house that you think is good may not be enough.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] But still, you have to try. A good architect will try to listen to the needs of different parties and make the right choice. You'll still try to do it.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] But you'll let the users who actually use the building make it suitable to their own needs.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, you have to consider the users. When you build a school, you have to think how the elementary students will use it.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Let's take an example first. Let me explain it to you for Ms Wang. When she talked about elementary schools, remember there was a slide about Public School 92 in New York, USA, which is a public elementary school. Ms Wang made an important point. The students weren't able to love the school. So they had a design breakthrough, in the hopes of getting government funding for public arts in schools and have the students create their artwork in that space. The artwork would be created by the students. This was meant to enhance the sense of participation. However, this project on Public School 92 fell through because the government turned down the idea. They only agreed to purchase artwork created by artists. Then the architects could have the kids help putting up the artwork. But they found that the kids would not be happy this way. It's because the users would not be truly connected to their design. Later, that idea was successfully implemented in Public School 345. The artwork on the walls were created by the students. The idea was executed beautifully. So when the users feel a sense of participation and identify with the building... Just like what Ms Wang said. The needs of the users will not be as simple as the basic human needs. They need something that they can identify with emotionally. They need to feel connected by participation. This is also what Ms Wang said an architect should consider in their design. It's not necessarily a design of the structure, but the design of the process. You have to consider that too, right?
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] When we built the first elementary school, it was in an African-American community. The community has improved so much since then. But that was before the reformation. We thought... I saw there weren't many broken windows in the houses in that area, but there were many broken windows in the elementary schools. I thought it was probably because the kids hate their schools, so they threw stones at the windows. There was a rule in New York that every elementary school must have a custodian. If there were many broken windows, he would get contractors to fix them, but he couldn't get a contractor whenever a couple of windows were broken. We thought, why was there broken glass in the elementary schools but not the houses? It was because the kids didn't like their schools, so we thought we had to come up with ways for our first elementary school. We had to come up with ways to get the kids to like their school. There was a rule in New York. They had 2,500 US dollars for public arts in the school budget. We thought, if you were a public artist, you could do it if you got the approval from the school, so we had an idea. We found a good architect and gave him the pictures from the elementary school...
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] You found an artist to turn the pictures from the kids into tiles for them to put up.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] Yes, he took some of the kids' pictures and made them into tiles, so that they could be placed on the walls in the canteen. And the kids could sign on them. I wanted the kids to see their pictures in an important space. Then they'd like their school. But the design and construction team in the Department of Education turned us down. They didn't think kids' pictures could be considered public arts.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] They weren't public arts. We fought with them for a long time but he still refused. So we weren't able to build that school.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] You got another chance some time later.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] It was better later. Yes. And the office responsible for the content of the schools, we talked to the professors there and they said they'd allow it.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Ms Wang, do you have any words for the audience here? Since it's near the end.
WANG CHIU-HWA: [Mandarin] I think most of us are not paying enough attention to the built environment. Even if you build a beautiful house, it's not that much of a feat. But I think creating a built environment is a very important duty of an architect, so we must start thinking from this.
HSU LI-YU: [Mandarin] Thank you.
SHIRLEY SURYA: [Mandarin] Thank you, Ms Wang and Li-yu. [English] Thank you for the meaningful dialogue. We're bringing Eunice onto the stage now to introduce the second session.