Atelier-3 / Rural Architecture Studio

Group – Thao Village, Taiwan

1999 onwards

www.atelier-3.com

Atelier-3 was founded by the Taiwanese architect, Hsieh Ying-chun, who moved his studio to rural Taiwan in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 1999. The earthquake prompted a complete rethink of architecture and construction in Taiwan and resulted in the New School Movement, which began with the rebuilding of destroyed schools using vernacular techniques. Especially affected by the earthquake were remote aboriginal communities who were living in ecologically sensitive areas with a rich cultural heritage that was already under threat. These communities required help beyond the standard model of temporary disaster-relief construction. Atelier 3 proposed an architecture that was long-lasting, ecologically sound, culturally sensitive and could be built at a fraction of the cost, typically 25-50% below the standard. Atelier-3 developed a model for 'collaborative construction', a co-operative structure for building adapted to specific contexts; for example construction only happened in periods where farming pressures were at their lowest and surplus labour was available. They combined traditional construction techniques with 'new' technology, such as bamboo screens covered in a thin layer of cement, to make spaces appropriate to the communities involved.

In 2004, Hsieh Ying-chun set up Rural Architecture Studio which carries out similar work in rural China, including work on the reconstruction effort following the Sichuan earthquake. Their low-key collaborative approach to architecture uses technology in a holistic way, paying attention to the preservation of environmental and cultural heritage as well as creating a sense of community. The buildings, built collectively, become guarantees for the banks allowing communities in both China and Taiwan to join a mainstream economic system that was previously completely inaccessible to them.

For Hsieh Ying-Chun, the designing of details is an act of agency, since it 'represents a real opportunity to consider and intervene in some of the most basic social and environmental issues'. He and his co-workers re-consider and re-look at commonly used construction techniques and adjust them so that they are cheaper and easier to use. Sometimes this is about simple things such as the replacing of welded constructions with screws, or of developing a system of construction that minimises the use of high-tech patented connections that are extremely expensive. This enables a DIY, 'open-architecture' which does not require the need for specialised tools or knowledge, making it possible for those with little or no prior knowledge to participate fully. But this is not where his involvement stops. In one project, he helped the local community to set up a factory in their village which now produces prefabricated steel elements that can be sold to other communities that are also in need of low-cost housing.

Other Work

Hsieh, Ying-chun, Sustainable Construction in Community. http://www.naturehouse.org/english/suscom_en.pdf.

Hsieh, Ying-chun, "Less architecture: the ritual space for the Thao Tribe Community Revitalization Project after the 921 earthquake." Chien chu = Dialogue : architecture + design + culture, (42)(2000).

References About

"Earth House 003 - Architect : Hsieh, Ying-Chun," http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5710760207904053400#.

Ching-yue Roan, "Hsieh Yingchun challenges modern architecture with its social engagement [新乡村建筑论坛:谢英俊以社会性的介入质疑现代建筑的方向 /]." Shi dai jian zhu = Time + architecture, (4)(July 2007).

"Sustainable Developments in Practice: Tribal Communities Rebuild Houses, Culture and Heritage," Living Steel. http://www.livingsteel.org/sustainable-developments-in-practice (accessed September 2, 2009,).

Chia-Ling Wu, "Enabling Solidarity into the Steel: Rethinking Innovation from East Asian Cases." East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal 3(1)(2009): 1-3.

Quotes

So during the building procedure we are going to create a record card for every house, it's just like a medical case history which records the building process, the details of quality control, and who's responsible. Every house has its own database, we can track it continuously. That's how we cooperate with the co-operatives there can be a lot of business collaborations between different co-operatives for example the development of a new product or a new ecological material can be jointly invested by different co-operatives. So, we still need connections between all co-operatives. This is why we say, we need to establish an Co-operative Alliance.
- Hsieh Ying-chun quoted in, "Earth House 003 - Architect : Hsieh, Ying-Chun," http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5710760207904053400#.

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