World renowned photographer Nicholas Fan was invited some years ago to visit the Le Corbusier-designed Le Couvent Sainte-Marie de la Tourette outside Lyon, turning his trip into the book The Convent on the Hill. After his return to his native Taiwan, he was surprised to come across a similarly important chapel built sixty years earlier on the east coast, attached to the Kung-Tung Technical Senior High School. The four-storey avant-garde structure was Taiwan’s second modernist building, built around the same time as Le Corbusier’s masterpiece was gaining fame around the world.
Kung-Tung Technical Senior High School was built under the leadership of Father Hilber Jakob. His intention was not in fact to open a school, but after living in Taiwan for some years he came to the conclusion that education was the most important catalyst for improving people’s everyday lives. He imported the German dual education system, with its equal emphasis on theory and practice, and inaugurated a new era in Taiwan’s technical education. The school trained many talented carpenters and technicians, laying a solid foundation for Taiwan’s furniture industry.
In the past decades, the chapel at Kung-Tung has been a site of pilgrimage for the island’s architecture students, though still a hidden treasure among a small select circle. Deciding that it deserved greater attention among the wider public too, Nicholas Fan resolved to document this remarkable building and its story in this book. Consisting of beautiful photographs and immediate and arresting prose, it is a love letter to a part of Taiwan’s history that risks being forgotten forever.