Lain Satrustegui is Partner Architect at IMO Creations. Until last year he also held the post of Visiting Assistant Professor at Taiwan’s Tunghai University and Tamkang University. He studied architecture all over Europe, beginning his education at ETSASS in northern Spain and ETSAM in Madrid, then moving to Denmark — studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts — and England.
Since he left Spain for Taiwan in 2009, his perspective on design practice has radically shifted. He regards the European practice as coming from two elements, one being the designer and the other being the engineer.
“One of the reasons why [Spanish architecture] seems pretty well known is because we look at the architecture practice holistically. We not only understand the structure, we are able to calculate it,” he explains.
“Now, everywhere, we use these two kinds of perspectives [designing and engineering], but it’s very interesting to me that no one talks about how the energy flows throughout the building. That’s what Asian people, Asian culture, has developed. It’s called fengshui, and in India they call it Vastu [shastra].”
Western thought is largely guided by ancient Greek philosophy, which led the advance of science. Eastern thought developed artistic practices such as acupuncture and fengshui, which are both associated with the idea of energy flow. According to Satrustegui, Eastern ways of thinking about space and the architectural environment cannot be scientifically proven nor dismissed, and he attributes the development to the “master-apprentice” teaching method.
In his Taiwan design practice, Satrustegui discovered that hierarchical relationships, like the “master-apprentice,” are apparent in business, too. When working with Taiwanese clients, he says, you need to adapt somewhat to their culture.
“There is a very big difference between the East and West in a [business] sense,” he says. “For example, in Spain the architects have their own professional precision. The projects are professionally guided and the clients will hear the architect’s advice. In Taiwan, it’s a very hierarchical society and the client is the one with the power: Whatever I want to do, you are going to follow.”
Although Satrustegui accepts the cultural difference and tries to be flexible with his clients, to an extent, IMO Creations differentiates itself from local architecture firms through their more European approach to the client-architect relationship. This gives IMO a unique market position in Taiwan.
“If [clients] are looking for us, it’s because they are trying to do something different. If they are trying to do something different then they know that they cannot behave in the same way as they’re used to. We are in a different position,” he explains.
Xiafu Activity Center is the latest IMO construction to be unveiled to the public. It opened its doors in July 2017 next to Hongfugong temple on the northeast coast of Taiwan. The community project was commissioned by the New Taipei City Government, and Satrustegui cheerfully admits that it takes a particular set of intercultural communication skills to work with a client on a project meant for the local community.
IMO’s design reinterprets the colors of the ornate Taoist temple through a series of striking vertical columns that surround the outside of the building. From inside the structure, you can experience all the vibrant colors of a traditional Taoist temple, but in a completely different context.
“For me, this project stands out because there is a playful element to it, so people come in and want to interact with the building, which isn’t something that you would see from the other activity center they had. People did interact with that one, but with this one, it is in a playful way where they feel connected to it somehow,” Satrustegui says.
The objective was simply to construct a building beside the temple where the local community could gather for events, celebrations, and festivals, however, IMO’s design concept pushes that relationship further, creating a landmark that attracts people from beyond the area.
This year, the project received a 2017 Design Mark from Taiwan’s Golden Pin Design Award, an international competition focused on design for huaren (Chinese-speaking) communities, confirmation that the project has attained its goal of connecting with the local community. It also attained the Quality Award from New Taipei City Government and the National Excellence Construction Award from FIABCI.
Coming from Europe, Satrustegui notes some challenges faced in terms of Taiwan’s humid, sub-tropical climate. In particular, materials and structural features like window size and placement are a key concern.
For example, in Danish architecture, large windows are commonplace as they let in the maximum amount of sunlight, making the most of short daylight hours. In Taiwan, where not only are the days longer and brighter, but there are also multiple typhoons affecting the island every year, windows are generally on the smaller side.
Wood flooring, which is relatively common in Europe, is rarely used in Taiwan because it is insulating. Instead, Taiwanese home owners often choose ceramic flooring to maximize on heat dissipation.
Satrustegui does, however, concede that the gap between European and Taiwanese preferences has narrowed somewhat.
“In the 21st century, there is a change in terms of how architecture and society has evolved. There is a pretty big difference in the way young people understand architecture and the notion they have about design according to their parents or grandparents. Nowadays, especially because of the Internet in Taiwan, [the younger generations] have access to all types of information. They have a different kind of experience now.”
About Lain Satrustegui
Lain Satrustegui is Partner Architect at IMO Creations. Until last year he also held the post of Visiting Assistant Professor at Taiwan’s Tunghai University, and previously at Tamkang University. Originally from Spain, by way of Denmark and England, Satrustegui set up the Taiwan branch of IMO in 2013. His Taiwanese clients include Onano Industrial Corp., Mingchi Public Works Ltd, Yuda High School of Commerce and Home Economics, Alinea Education, Tendril, New Taipei City Government and TEDxTunghaiU. The four languages he speaks allow him to understand the cultures of East and West and provide an integrated and holistic vision in the work he produces. In 2017, he received a Design Mark from Taiwan’s Golden Pin Design Award for his work on Xiafu Activity Center. It also attained the Quality Award from New Taipei City Government and the National Excellence Construction Award from FIABCI.