Cultural Transfers #8

Chen Kuen Lee (1915–2003)

Housescapes. Organic Architecture in Stuttgart, Berlin and Taiwan

Chen Kuen Lee, House of Lin family, 1997, Taiwan; © AdK
Chen Kuen Lee, House of Lin family, 1997, Taiwan; © AdK

Between 1981 and 1994 Lee taught at Tunghai University in Taiwan. When he was appointed the country was still influenced politically by the late years of US containment policy. Traditional values of Asian societies were confronted with Western influences. Lee saw himself in the role of an intermediary in this process. His teaching on architecture was strongly shaped by philosophical works by Henri Bergson, Wilhelm Dilthey, Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler. In this tradition, technical matters derived from the spiritual, and Lee always referred to the intellectual history of classical modernism in his teaching. Creativity was a key concept in this thought. It became a point of reference for a contemporary architecture that should develop by adapting traditional design in Taiwan, without merely imitating the West. Lee took a distanced stance to postmodernism and asked his students to read the writings of the De Stijl movement and to study the architecture of New Building.

In 1993 he published "The Significance of New Building" in Taiwan. In the foreword he wrote: “Now, in the 1990s, Asia is coming to the fore. It is worth reflecting, criticising and hoping. This small new book is intended as a new start.” In 1996 Lee’s second book, “Development of New Building”, was published.

Inspired by Hans Schaourn’s school buildings: Chen Kuen Lees design for a detached house; © AdK
House of Dr. Gilliar, Nabburg, 1966, winter garden with operable roof; Photo: A. Körner, © bildhübsche Fotografie
Hongkong Bar, Berlin, 1957; © Privat Archive Yu-Dembski
Chen Kuen Lee, House of Lin family, 1997, Taiwan; © AdK
House of Dr. Gärtner with garden design by Hannes Haag, Bretten-Sprantal, 1979-81; © H. Haag
Apartment house in Berlin-Schlachtensee, 1963-64; © A. Körner, bildhübsche Fotografie
Housing complex, Märkisches Viertel, Berlin, 1965-70, staggered roof (detail); © A. Körner, bildhübsche Fotografie