Singapore Architect Magazine

Singapore Architect Magazine


In Taiwan’s Yilan County, the people still live in harmony with the land, and as an ode to this they have built the Lanyang Museum to share their way of with the world.Michele koh reports on the new project by Artech Architects.

Text by Michele koh

Photography courtesy of Lanyang Museum and Artech Architects

Opened in May 2010, the Lanyang Museum in Taiwan's Yilan Country is no ordinary exhibition space.It does not house classical paintings or modern art;the building itself acts as a gateway to the area's farmlands, wetlands, grasslands, and coastline,showcasing exhibits that help give its visitors a better understanding of Yilan's natural environment, history,and cultural heritage.


“When looked at from afar,” says Yao,” the water- absorbent darker colored stone cladding forms contrasts with the lighter color of the aluminium panels, similar to the contrasting hues in various stones layers of the cuesta which have been enhanced by the ocean’s erosion over a long period of time.”



YiLan is pretty remote and somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, but flanked by the most glorious mountain in Taiwan, the Chung-yang Mountain Range and the boundless Pacific Ocean, it is a place that is blessed with much natural beauty. Over the last few years, the county has undergone major transformations and infrastructure upgrades, making it more accessible to travelers and urbanites from Taipei. One major project was tile 13-kilometre-long Syueshan Tunnel, which reduced the travel time from Taipei County to Yilan from three hours to a mere 40 minutes. Such developments have led to an increase in tourism, which for the most part bodes well for the local economy. Recently, the number of tourism facilities like leisure farms, hotels, bed and breakfasts,restaurants, and hot springs have grown, upping the county's tourism revenue by a whopping 20 percent.

Located in the northeastern part of the county on the site of Wushi Port─a commercial port that was heavily used during the Qing Dynasty─the Lanyang Museum was built to serve as an anchor attraction for the steadily growing tourism industry here. Built at a cost of NT$1.02 billion, it is a collaboration between Taiwan's public and private sector and took almost a decade to complete. The museum hopes to attract 400,000 visitors per annum within its first three years of operation, not just with its one-of-a kind geological and cultural permanent exhibits, but also with joint promotions with famous local festivals like the Blue Rain Festival and the Green Expo. The museum also promotes the preservation of Yilan's ecosystem, which consists of wetland and forest reserves, as well as its cultural heritage. Whale and dolphin watching trips off the Yilan coast and the scenic Guishan or Turtle Island close by are bonus attractions that visitors to Yilan can enjoy.

Yilan County Government commissioned architect Kris Yao, founder of private architectural practice Artech Architects to design the museum. Artech, which was established in Taipei in 1985, was the principal designer for the THSR Hsinchu Station for Taiwan’s high speed railway in Zhubei, Hsinchu County and is known for its superb urban planning and technical expertise.

The brief from Yilan County Government was to create a space that would best showcase the local colour and spirit of Yilan County and offer a spatial experience of the geology, topography and culture of the area to visitors. They also wanted the museum to serve as a scenic viewing spot that would allow visitors to take in good views of the surrounding landscape.

A Reflection of Cuesta

The master plan was driven by the look and feel of the coastal black stone reef landforms of Yilan in low profile. The museum’s shape and texture were inspired by cuesta─a geological feature in which rock layers slope gently upward on an escarpment and lay exposed at the highest raised point. Cuestas, commonly seen along the Beiguan Coast, are some of the unique geographical features in this area. In fact, the name of the 39,426 square-foot site where the museum is built─Wushi, which means “black rock” ─could very well be a reference to cuestas. The 12,472.74-square-foot building composed mainly of reinforced concrete walls with hollow cast aluminum panels and IGU single low-E glass mimics the cuesta’s geometric shape. Its roof protrudes at an angle of 20 degrees from the ground meeting a wall that rises 70 degrees from the ground. This gives the museum the same fluid tilting motion as the cuestas, allowing it to blend in harmoniously with its surroundings. From a distance, the building looks like a sleek black rock emerging from the earth.

Four Landscapes, Four Seasons

A continuous exhibition space was created for the permanent displays, which are predominantly geographical recreations of the natural landscape of the region. The entrance of the museum is a replica of the Lanyang Plains where the mountain meets the sea. There is the Mountain Level, Plain Level, Ocean Level, and Time Corridor Exhibitions that are spread over four floors, which show the geography and people of the land. Yao and his team also extended the casting aluminum plate from the exterior walls to the interior walls using a physical separation method in order to bring daylight in and divide the interior sections. A crevice created by displacement brings into view Turtle Island and the shore reef landscapes. This crack in the mass of the building also brings in natural light to the interior and serves as a program-zoning device. Supporting the slanting roof is a 27-metre long steel truss and load bearing wall system, which allowed Yao and his team to construct continuous, columnless interior exhibition spaces.

Another source of inspiration for Yao was Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons violin concerto, which captures the movements of the seasons. Yao created his own architectural rendition of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in Yilan, articulating the rhythms of each season with different textured walls on each side of the museum’s exterior. This is achieved through the use of different stones and different types of aluminum plates of each side to illustrate the varied agricultural landscape and colours of the Lanyang Plain during each season. India Black, Caledonia, Rusteinburg, Verde Lava, Olympia White and Zimbabwe Black Granite were for variation.

One With Nature

The museum’s exhibits─spatial scenes of fish farms, faraway mountains, the Wushi Harbour, graveyards and wartime air-raid shelters─offer visitors an insight into the life of the communities in Yilan County in a quick and comprehensive tour. Symbiosis with nature is emphasized in many facets of the construction process and the museum’s green design has won it many awards, like the Taiwan EEWH Green Building Award, 1st Prize for the 7th Annual Far Eastern Architectural Design Award, and 1st Prize for the 2010 Taiwan Architecture Award and Quality Awards for Outstanding Public Architectural Construction.

The site was originally a wetland, and the location of the museum’s main building at the north-western portion allows for the preservation of as much of this wetland as possible. On the west of the main building is a dense forest that acts as a buffer that filters out the noise from the coastal highway. This forest also serves as protection for the wetland. These conserved areas are also part of the museum, which offers programmes and activities the allow visitors to explore the natural terrain of the forest, grassland and wetland around the main museum building. Taking on the role as custodian of the environment and culture here, the museum has implemented eco management plans that involve the restoration of native trees and the waterside habitat as well as designed education programs that teach visitors about eco-friendly practices.

Indeed, Lanyang Museum’s unique purpose to promote the indigenous culture and celebrate Yilan’s ecology is a noble one. And if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Yao and his team have certainly paid nature the kindest complement of all.