A Pioneer Who Inspired Modern Thoughts in Architecture

/ Pao-Teh Han / Founding curator of the National Museum of Natural Science

As a scholar of both Western and Chinese architecture, Pao-Teh Han is widely deemed as the pioneer of the trends of thought in Taiwan’s modern architecture and as the leader connecting architecture communities globally. He received the distinguished alumni award from his alma mater of National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) for his great contributions in a variety of fields, such as architecture, museum operations and management, the conservation of cultural relics, and arts education.

A Blended Traditional and Modernist Architectural Thought

Pao-Teh Han was born in Shandong province, China, in 1934. He was accepted into the then-Taiwan Provincial College of Engineering Technology, currently known as NCKU, the first college in Taiwan to set up a Department of Architecture. Thanks to a solid grounding in architectural drawing in class, he developed a keen sense of aesthetics in architectural space. After college, he continued his studies at Harvard University and Princeton University, respectively earning a master’s degree in architecture and art history. He dedicated his whole life to a broad array of causes: architectural education, publishing, the restoration of monuments, museum management, artistic taste and aesthetics, and various fields of cultural studies. In 2014, he passed away at the age of 80 in Taipei.

Out of his craving for developing Taiwanese talent in higher education institutions, he returned to Taiwan in the 1960s after completing his studies in the United States in the hopes of building more modern architectural views in Taiwan. When he acted as the chair of the Department of Architecture at Tunghai University, he sought to introduce the use of geometric perspective in Western architecture through a range of methods, such as classroom lectures, writing articles, and translating original books into Chinese, in order to incorporate the elements of Chinese architecture into the framework of orderly space and to explore more opportunities to define local identity and aesthetics.

As noted by the article titled Dream Builder: The Architecture of Pao-Teh Han in Tunghai Journal Vol. 45, Pao-Teh Han began from the 1990s to embrace a view of architecture that focused on humanistic concern and suited both refined and popular tastes because he started to recognize the role of architects when it came to serving society and creating a much-desired living environment for people in a secular way. This mindset was closely related to the zeitgeist in that period of time and could be seen as a turning point for his devotion to the conservation and restoration of historic heritages in Taiwan as well as to museum management and operations.

An Avid Writer Who Gave Voice to a Dream of Taiwan’s Architecture and Aesthetics

Pao-Teh Han won numerous awards and wrote many books during his lifetime. As a college senior, he was enthusiastic enough to start a magazine called Shutters followed by Architecture, Architecture and Planning, and The State and Phenomena magazines, all of which helped to profoundly enlighten and inspire Taiwanese students.

Honestly sharing his great insights on public policies regarding arts education over the course of his life, Pao-Teh Han penned articles on a broad range of topics, including architectural culture, aesthetics education, and art criticism. His contributions during his time as the president of Tainan Arts College (presently Tainan National University of the Arts) included establishing the Graduate Institute of Conservation of Cultural Relics and Museology, which set an example for giving an official master’s degree to museology, and later promoting the legislation of the Arts Education Act, which focuses on seven years of arts education (from senior high school through college). This has been recognized as an immeasurable contribution to Taiwan’s arts education.

For Pao-Teh Han, architecture presented a sense of stillness whereas thoughts were carried in flow. Architecture itself is a form of social art that flows. Starting different publications, writing columns, and publishing discourses and books are all effective ways to raise the awareness of Taiwanese people about arts education and aesthetic development. The reason that he named his first magazine Shutters was an ardent wish to inspire readers through words, just as a little ray of sunshine is filtered by shutters and sheds light on the path of future architects.

Providing Easy Access to a Museum Wonderland for Taiwanese People

Architectural design was what Han pursued as a career path, whilst education and culture were lofty aspirations for him.

In Memoirs by Pao-Teh Han, Han described how he was invited to be the dean of National Chung Hsing University College of Science when he was nearly 50 years old. In 1981, he was invited by the Ministry of Education to serve as the founding director and the first curator of the National Museum of Natural Science (NMNS). From that time onward, he devoted twelve years to alter its traditional architectural style while acting as an innovator for presenting creative exhibit designs in the hopes that children were taught in a fun way and that science education was better promoted. This museum immediately caught people’s attention and attracted more museum-goers, which was viewed as an unprecedented success for contemporary museums across Taiwan. He was also the one to recruit researchers at NMNS among its official personnel, similar to research fellows in Academia Sinica. This improved the museum’s research capacity and led to the exponential growth in museums in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pao-Teh Han was later appointed as the curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, in its earliest stages and as the first curator of the Museum of World Religions. It was his hope that museums as cultural carriers could share knowledge through exhibits in an entertaining way with the public, provide life education, and improve their aesthetic tastes through a variety of approaches. He attributed the higher quality of industrial products by German and French manufacturers, rather than their British or American counterparts, in the 19th century to aesthetic standards, which could also help Taiwan out of the OEM industry predicament.

As an architect, Han made great contributions to society through actions and words. In the opening ceremony of Building a Better World: Pao-Teh Han 80th Anniversary Retrospective Exhibition, he humbly said, “I act stubborn at work. In other words, I am self-reflective. I am not a smart man, and I need time to think things over. But I have persistence, and I know giving up is not an option under any circumstances.” His words still ring true to our ears, and his legacy continues to inspire us to innovate and push forward. (Picture courtesy of Chien-Ming Huang)

References:

1. Chao-Lee Kuo. Associate professor of Dept. of Architecture, Tunghai University. Dream Builder: The Architecture of Pao-Teh Han. Tunghai Journal Vol. 45 (2004): 89-102. Published in December 2004.

2. Pao-Teh Han’s View of Modern Architecture, edited by Chien-Ming Huang

3. Building a Better World: Pao-Teh Han 80th Anniversary Retrospective Exhibition, a news release by the Ministry of Culture

4. Pao-Teh Han’s Legacy: Learning from a Great Scholar’s Persistence and Stubbornness

NCKUer |
Class |
Achievements and Honors |

Pao-Teh Han

Department of Architecture Class 1958

・Won the Architecture Award under the Ten Outstanding Young Men Award in 1968. From then, Pao-Teh Han started to be known by other architectural designers across Taiwan.

・Received the first-rate culture merit badge by the Ministry of Education in 1994 in recognition of his special contributions to the promotion of cultural affairs.

・Won the 10th National Award for Arts in 2006 in recognition of his uniquely modern architectural designs. Han was the first architect to receive this most prestigious award.

・Awarded an honorary doctorate degree by National Taiwan University in 2008 in recognition of his excellent contributions to Taiwan’s architectural field.

・Received the 33rd Golden Tripod Award (under the category of magazines) in 2009 for his magazine column that featured a series of essays on different types of buildings and structures around the world.

・Won the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2nd National Cultural Heritage Preservation Award in 2012.

・Shortly before his death, Han was awarded the 40th Executive Yuan Culture Award in recognition of his accomplishments, contributions, and lasting legacy in Taiwan’s architectural cultures.

Pao-Teh Han / Department of Architecture Class 1958

・Won the Architecture Award under the Ten Outstanding Young Men Award in 1968. From then, Pao-Teh Han started to be known by other architectural designers across Taiwan.

・Received the first-rate culture merit badge by the Ministry of Education in 1994 in recognition of his special contributions to the promotion of cultural affairs.

・Won the 10th National Award for Arts in 2006 in recognition of his uniquely modern architectural designs. Han was the first architect to receive this most prestigious award.

・Awarded an honorary doctorate degree by National Taiwan University in 2008 in recognition of his excellent contributions to Taiwan’s architectural field.

・Received the 33rd Golden Tripod Award (under the category of magazines) in 2009 for his magazine column that featured a series of essays on different types of buildings and structures around the world.

・Won the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2nd National Cultural Heritage Preservation Award in 2012.

・Shortly before his death, Han was awarded the 40th Executive Yuan Culture Award in recognition of his accomplishments, contributions, and lasting legacy in Taiwan’s architectural cultures.

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Department of Architecture, Class of 1957

Ran-Chi Wu

Founder of the Ran-Chi Wu Architecture and Education Foundation
Class of 1959, Department of Mechanical Engineering (admitted in 1955 and enrolled in the first year)

Samuel Chao Chung Ting

Nobel Laureate in Physics
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