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identity vs subjectivity

Part 2 Project 2001
Jessy Yeh
University of British Columbia Vancouver Canada
The construction of human identity is initiated through the recognition of differences. However, this conception of identity is perpetually confused in reality as inevitable labeling and over-generalization occur. Thus, the representation of an identity becomes understood as adopting symbols or styles.

As a Taiwanese emigrant who had been educated in Canada, I have become more conscious of the burden from an imposed national identity and the cultural propaganda in the Taiwanese education system. This realization further generates questions of the objectivity and truth of a national culture in one’s perception. As an ethnic minority, this realization has embarrassed my personal emotion and confidence in trying to introduce that “difference” in order to help gain recognition for Taiwan, which still possesses an ambiguous national status. The rationalized conflicts create a complex ambivalence. The personal subjectivity is on one end, and the external national identity is on the other.

The ambivalence represents my view in the design of the Taiwanese Cultural Center in Vancouver. This intention is manifested by a series of deliberate contradictions that exist between the visual and experiential perceptions. While the cultural center is endowed with visual significance and monumentality, its role as a cultural advertisement is suppressed. In addition, the contradictory attitude of the sliding bamboo screens facilitates the interactive relationship between the users and the visitors. The ambiguity of the project speaks of a subtle sarcasm that is for the sensitive observers to decipher.

Jessy Yeh


This student emigrated from Taipei to Canada when he was 15. He undertook his thesis project with the “intention to convey a personal ambivalence,” one that manifest itself as a “conflict between my internal subjectivity and external national identity.” Taiwanese identity is volatile- lodged between the shifting context of the island’s historical bonds to China, and its contemporary independence.

Exported to Vancouver, Canada, home to immigrants from all Asia, this ambivalence is leavened with the gentle riddle of Canadian national identity. Together, these issues of identity, global migration and place catalyse some of the most dynamic questions facing globalized, post-colonial societies, and must be of interest to architects because they figure the daily lives and subjective realities of so many individuals.

The student's project, A Taiwanese Cultural Center, is well sited among the ordinary vernacular of residential and office towers in downtown Vancouver. The Center is contained within an office slab of standard proportion, glazed above with gray and below with clear glass, revealing the ramped galleries and offices of the Center. The ground plane is composed like a still life, a collection of artefacts not quite coherent enough to suggest the formal unity of a single complex- and yet too self-conscious to have coalesced from the pressing city. No singular compositional or visual strategy renders obvious the sequence through the parts, even if those sequences are present. The identity of the complex is manufactured by the engagement of the subject- a product of lived experience. The qualities of the Cultural Center’s interior are made evident by its programs, the artefacts it displays, and the always-present city beyond. The ubiquitous bamboo screens suggest another geographical realm or context while displacing, in a manner both mocking and fortuitous, the possibility of a nationalist iconography.

2001
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