Xiu Zelan

Part 19 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Born in Hunan Province, China, Xiu Zelan (1925-2016) studied engineering and architecture at the National Central University in nearby Chongqing. After her graduation in 1947, she first found work as an engineer in the local railway bureau. After moving to Taiwan three years later she designed her first independent architecture project, a new railway station at Pan-ch’iao. Its success allowed her to found her firm, Tse-ch’un Architecture, under whose banner she designed such public projects as teachers’ clubs, libraries, and schools.

Blending modern conveniences with traditional motifs, her work caught the attention of Chiang Kai-shek, then leader of the Republic of China, who had established his New Life Movement almost thirty years before commissioning a project of her in 1965. The Chung-shan building on Yang-ming-shan was designed to house official state ceremonies for the National Assembly of the Republic of China. As a symbol of modern China, the sprawling hall of over 190,000 square feet, adorned with traditional hand-crafted lighting and furniture, manifest Chiang’s nationalism in the face of domestic, Western and Japanese threats; its design was recorded on the 100 New Taiwan dollar bill (above).

In later decades and with a rising profile as one of the first women to practice architecture in Taiwan, Xiu designed internationally, including extensive work in Saudi Arabia, as well as garden cities in the Taipei suburbs (the latter with her husband, Fu Chi-k’uan).