FEATURE — Summer 2005

C.P. Wang, M.Arch. '73

Architect in Tune with Culture

Alumnus C.P. Wang designs awe-inspiring landmarks, such as  Taipei 101, while considering the clients, inhabitants, and especially the building's cultural setting.

By Nancy Belt

Until his third year as an undergraduate at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan, world-renowned architect Wang Chung-ping, known as C.P. Wang, M.Arch. '73, wanted to be a musician. (Guitar was his major instrument.) So if there's some truth to the saying that architecture is frozen music, he did become a musician of sorts.

What inspired Wang to shift his primary focus from music by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to the visual art of architecture was his fascination with the tall, impressive buildings he saw on visits to New York City and Chicago when he was 24. "I wanted to create buildings as beautiful and strong as the ones I saw," Wang says. "I grew up in Taipei in the 1960s, so I was used to seeing tall buildings, but the architectural landscapes I saw in Chicago and New York were dazzling—and so diverse. Seeing these was a magical experience."

Wang, who was born in Beijing, China, grew up in a middle-class family. The entire family—including his father, a government administrator; his mother, a teacher; and two older brothers—moved to Taipei in 1949, when Wang was 2. After high school there, where he excelled in physics and music courses, Wang earned a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering from Tunghai, a Christian university. Then, after hearing a Tunghai graduate talk about his studies at Washington University, Wang applied to and became a graduate architecture student at the University.

"The lessons I learned at Washington University were many and varied," Wang says. "The atmosphere that Dean [Constantine] Michaelides created through his leadership, as well as the University's environment and people, shaped my attitude—a feeling of devotion and love of design that has been with me ever since."

"As a Chinese architect trained in the United States, I'm especially interested in architecture that synthesizes Western and Eastern cultures," Wang says.

Over the years, Wang, 57, has applied those lessons while designing some of the world's most famous buildings. For instance, Wang and his former teacher C.Y. Lee—who are partners in C.Y. Lee & Partners architects and planners, headquartered in Taipei—designed Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. Depicting a bamboo stalk, a symbol of youth and longevity, the 101-story office building, inaugurated in November 2003, is a unique blend of high technology and traditional Chinese design.

C.P. Wang is proud of the strong cultural characteristics of his buildings. Taipei 101 is the world's tallest building and depicts a bamboo stalk, a symbol of youth and longevity. (Photo courtesy of C.Y. Lee & Partners)

Owned by Taipei Financial Center, the $1.7 billion tower, which is designed to house up to 10,000 workers from the 9th to 84th floors and has a five-story mall at its base, boasts the latest in technology. For instance, it has advanced communications equipment, air conditioners, and special glass to keep the working environment comfortable. It also has 61 elevators, including the fastest in the world, and 34 double-decker elevators that can carry 62 persons at a time.

At the same time, the tower's interior has a circular structure with a square in the middle, the shape of ancient Chinese coins. The roof of the mall is in the shape of a ruyi, which literally means "as you wish" and is an ornamental form of the bamboo backscratcher, a symbol of contentment and satisfaction. In addition, dragons, the supreme spiritual power in Chinese mythology, appear in stylized form at the four corners of the building at the top of each of its eight sections, protecting the building from unseen dangers.

Having protection in many forms is wise, given that Taipei is in a typhoon region and is also on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a zone of frequent earthquakes. That's why it also has a tuned mass damper, which reduces the amount the building sways because of the wind. In this case, the damper is a 660-ton gold ball that diners in the restaurant on the 88th floor can observe as it sways.

Wang says the building's first 62 floors consist of giant steel columns filled with high-strength concrete. The higher floors are lighter, constructed mostly of steel and glass. "It is built to withstand a quake above seven on the Richter scale, the biggest typhoon in a 100-year cycle, and the most serious flood in a 200-year cycle," he says. "I'm proud to have had the chance to help create a landmark designed to last several hundred years."

Wang also is proud of the strong cultural character of this building and others he has designed. "It's rewarding to conceptualize a design that serves not only the client but also represents the culture and serves the needs of a building's inhabitants," he says. Accomplishing those goals has been important in all his projects—from the headquarters building of Hewlett Packard Taiwan in Taipei, which he helped design early on, to other projects such as the Formosa Regent Hotel in Taipei; the 85-story Tuntex Sky Tower, a.k.a. the T&C Tower, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan; and the Shanghai Bund Parcel 204, a current mixed-use project with offices, hotel, shopping, and condominiums.

The 85-story Tuntex Sky Tower, a.k.a. the T&C Tower, is located in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. (Photo courtesy of C.Y. Lee & Partners)

Wang's designs also reflect two other strong interests—serving the environment well and blending Eastern and Western cultures. "As a Chinese architect trained in the United States," he says, "I'm especially interested in architecture that synthesizes Western and Eastern cultures." The Shanghai Bund project, for example, features a Western classical façade, as well as Eastern spatial arrangements.

From the time he graduated from Washington University in 1973 until joining C.Y. Lee's Taipei office in 1980, Wang was a designer, architect, or principal for several St. Louis firms—Smith & Entzeroth; Murphy, Downey, Wofford & Richma; Sverdrup & Parcel and Associates; and General Engineering and Construction. When Wang moved back to Taipei, he began one of his most rewarding activities: teaching architecture. He became an associate professor at his undergraduate alma mater, Tunghai University, then began teaching at Tamkang University in Taipei.

"I get much pleasure in working with young architects," Wang says. "One of the things I try to help them with is balancing the business side of the profession with the creative side." Wang himself learned much about the business side in a business administration program he took at National Cheng-Chi University in Taipei in 2003, the same year he began teaching at National Taipei University of Technology. In 2004, he returned to Tamkang University as a professor of architecture.

Wang tells his students that both hard work and luck figure in success. "I also tell them that, to be a successful architect, one must develop a passion for good architecture," he says. "It's an acquired taste, but, once you learn to love it, your work becomes fun."

And Wang should know, because he seems to be having great fun ... and great success.

Nancy Belt is the associate editor of this magazine.

Wang's son, Alfred, A.B. '02 (architecture), also is with C.Y. Lee & Partners.