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Chen House by C-Laboratory, Sanjhih, Taipei County, Taiwan

[COMMENDATION AR HOUSE 2010] Casagrande’s rustic house is raised on an elevated platform to avoid floodwater. Photography by AaDa

With its austere form and plain materials, Marco Casagrande’s house for a retired couple in northern Taiwan (AR March 2009) has an appealing rustic spirit that caught the jury’s eye. Yet despite the rural idyll, conditions here can be harsh, with overpowering summer heat and humidity, typhoon winds, periodic seismic activity and flooding from the nearby river.

Casagrande, a Finn now in partnership with Taiwanese architect Frank Chen, regards this building as a robust, responsive entity, capable of riding out the forces of nature ‘like a boat’. To avoid floodwater, the house sits on an elevated platform that also acts as a terrace, extending the living space.

The main volume, containing living and sleeping quarters, is a narrow single-storey wedge, buttressed by a smaller secondary structure housing a bathroom, sauna and kitchen. Neatly demarcating served and servant spaces, this arrangement also enhances stability in an earthquake, with the smaller structure bracing the main volume.

For the horizontally slatted cladding, Casagrande chose a tough tropical hardwood similar to Canadian pine, but more often used in Taiwan for formwork. ‘I wanted to make use of so-called disregarded materials,’ he says. Gaps between the planks encourage natural ventilation, deflect strong winds and permeate the barn-like interior with thin ribs of light. A freestanding brick hearth anchors the living space and strategically placed openings frame views of the landscape.

Architect C-Laboratory, Turku, Finland
Project team Marco Casagrande, Frank Chen, Nikita Wu, Shi-Ding Chen, Shu-Gi Bai

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