Blog / Culture

Studio Millspace: Beguiled by Taiwan’s Architecture

Studio Millspace, specialists in the field of architectural photography, was established by Lucas K. Doolan and Chia-Lin Sara Lee in Auckland, New Zealand in 2012. Since the 2016 the studio has been based in Taipei, where Sara was born and lived until the age of 14.

“We aim to represent architecture projects in the most natural conditions possible, to create timeless and considered architectural imagery,” says Lucas, who’s both an award-winning photographer and a passionate painter. “Our photography seeks to discover captivating perceptions in each project, while seeking to translate unique qualities between spaces, project relationships to site, people and the surrounding context into intriguing photographs that embody the architectural experience.”

While pursuing a master’s degree in Architecture at the University of Auckland, Sara researched the architecture of Taiwan between the 1950s and the 1970s. “Lucas and I therefore travelled to Taiwan a few times to photograph, draw and collect data. Among the buildings we looked at were the 1950s Japanese-style house built for sugar-factory workers that my mother grew up in, my father’s old 1950s Chinese-influenced house, and the 1970s shophouse, our first family home before we moved to New Zealand,” says Sara.

“We’re especially interested in the relationship between various modes of domesticities and urban activities in the cities, and how current domestic architecture operates between such diversities.  Hence, we’re interested in documenting new architectures to enhance our understanding of contemporary architectural approaches in Taiwan,” she explains.

Among the dozens of projects Studio Millspace has worked on, three are especially accessible to casual visitors. Two are in Taipei, while the third is in Taichung.

Kris Yao is one of Taiwan’s leading architects. Among the landmark buildings which bear his stamp are the National Palace Museum Southern Branch and Lanyang Museum. Another is Water Moon Monastery (top two photos), commissioned by the Buddhist organisation Dharma Drum Mountain and completed in 2012.

Sara outlines the monastery’s appeal to thoughtful urban explorers: “The interesting use of proportions, symmetry and linear details produce calming and peaceful qualities. Various grids, lines and horizons are utilised to bring different spatial experiences.”

“The long horizontal space behind the central monastery echoes the continuing ridgeline at the back, while the wide steps half submerged in the pond perceptively lead the eye toward the central monastery. The corridor space beside the lily pond was constructed with concrete panels evenly spaced so one feels a rhythmic spatial and visual experience when passing by,” she continues.

Beitou Public Library (third photo, on the left) was designed by Taipei-based Bio-Architecture Formosana, which specialises in green buildings. It is both a masterpiece of sustainability and a superb addition to a neighbourhood better known for its hot springs.

“This project reminded us a lot of New Zealand, and not just because we have a lot of timber buildings and use a lot of timber cladding materials in New Zealand. Its interesting interior/exterior flow and the way it was designed in consideration with nature and context is also reminiscent of New Zealand,” remarks Sara. “This project also shows the potential of materiality and demonstrates a very different type of public building in Taiwan.”

The first international project Studio Millspace documented in Taiwan was the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House (final photo) by Toyo Ito Architects and Associates. Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito has been well known in Taiwan ever since he designed the National Stadium in Kaohsiung, main venue of the 2009 World Games.

“We enjoyed seeing visitors playing in the water feature, singing in the ground-level public space and curiously investigating the curved walls and floors,” Sara says. “It’s important that architecture enhances local activities and includes ‘useable’ public spaces with good natural light and ventilation, so as to create interesting relationships to its context and the city. We think the opera house has successfully developed its conceptual idea into functional architecture form and spaces, something that’s never easy to achieve.”

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All photos copyright Studio Millspace.