C. David Tseng, “Uncharted Exclaves — Modernism and Other -Isms in the Practices of Taiwanese Architecture”

Photograph of geometric sweeping interior of IM Pei's Luce Chapel

© Wei-ming Yuan

The idea was that in [a] society, one that’s incompletely modernized… the temporal dynamics of that society, and of the modernism that it produces, will be much more striking… [I]t is through the experience of time that modern is apprehended.

Fredric Jameson interview with Michael Speaks
Jameson on Jameson: Conversations on Cultural Marxism


Modernization finds its traces well in the history of Taiwan, from the liberation of foot-binding customs imposed on women to the election of its first woman president. The transformations that took place concurred with political changeovers –from the transition of Qing dynasty ruling to Japanese colonial occupation; from the Republic of China’s “Great Retreat” to Cold War and the American “Military Aid”; from “White Terror” repression to annulment of martial law/democratic reform, and from developing country to one of the “Four Asian Dragons.” Indeed, Taiwan, aka “Ilha Formosa”, which continues to evolve through struggles with its identity, simultaneously finds itself engaged in the “world system” (Jameson, F. Remapping Taipei) through the drift and shift of adaptation, intervention, and modernization.

Throughout its history, Taiwan has been a laboratory for architectural experiments, or more precisely, exclaves of all architectural movements and the -isms. It was the last frontier for southern-style Chinese architecture, the experimental field for Japanese young architects’ endeavors, the perpetual battle ground for “Contemporary Chinese” versus “Traditional Taiwanese” styles, the restless landscape for postmodernism and its two non-formal counterparts, critical regionalism (Tzonis, Alexander & Liane Lefaivre / Kenneth Frampton) and dirty realism (Lefaivre, L. / Jameson, F.), and to be sure, the epitomizing sites of modernism. The lecture examines the architectural movements and the -isms as well as offers a glimpse of the recent Grands Projects and Millennials’ explorations in Taiwan.

This event will include a discussion with Assistant Professor of Architecture, Michelle Chang.


C. David TSENG [曾 成德], MArch ’87, is University Chair Professor at Faculty of Architecture and Dean of College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan.

Under his leadership, NCTU won the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe / 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East in categories of Urban Design, Innovation, Energy Efficiency, and Creative Solution. Tseng and his team also represented Taiwan in the 2016 Venice Biennial International Architecture Exhibition. These projects, “Orchid House”, “CAB: Creative Action Base” and the exhibit “Everyday Architecture: ReMade in Taiwan”, showcased his commitment to sustainability and innovation as well as the achievement in excellence of design.

Tseng takes part in social services and pedagogical advancements. He has served as a member of Sustainability Education Task Force Committee and is the Director of Curriculum Reform Initiative Taskforce of Art and Design Education for Ministry of Education, Taiwan. He also served as the Consultant General of the Built Environment to the Mayor for the cities of Taichung, Taipei, Hsinchu and Taoyuan. His commitment to design excellence helped bring about significant public projects, such as the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House (Toyo Ito), Taipei Performing Art Center (OMA/Rem Koolhaas), Taipei Popular Music Center (RUR/Reiser and Umemoto), Taoyuan Museum of Art (Riken Yamamoto and Field Shop) and Taichung Gateway Park (Stan Allen).

Tseng is a practicing architect and the founder of CitiCrafts, an architectural office that received an Emerging Talent award by the Taiwanese Institute of Architects. The houses he designed consecutively won top prizes in the first and second biennial Taiwan Architecture House Award. The work he involved appeared on international journals, such as Architecture+Urbanism, Plan, Architecture and Progressive Architecture, Dialogue and Taiwan Architecture.

Tseng holds a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In 2017, the French government honored him with the title Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for his contribution to art, architecture and culture.

This event is co-organized by the Architecture Department and TaiwanGSD.

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].