Architect Herng Tzou on MVRDV’s Popular Pavilion at Taipei

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Netherlands’ landscape combines ‘with a book display’ in Taipei International Book Exhibition’s guest of honor pavilion from MVRDV.

MVRDV’s Herng Tzou, architect, curator, and business development specialist talks about the Guest of Honor Netherlands pavilion at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition, a project co-curated with the Netherlands’ office in Taipei. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also:
Taiwan’s President Opens Taipei International Book Exhibition
Taipei Book Exhibition 2024: Professional Programming

The Netherlands in Taiwan: 400 Years of Shared History
Taipei International Book Exhibition 2024: A Market Profile

‘Three Panoramas’ of Taipei and the Netherlands
Like an aquarium rapidly filling with water and fish, the Guest of Honor Netherlands pavilion at  the Taipei International Book Exhibition (running through Sunday) quickly begins teeming with schoolchildren as Herng Tzou talks with Publishing Perspectives.

Tzou is a vivacious, articulate architect and business development specialist with Rotterdam’s MVRDV, a 31-year-old architectural and urban-issues firm. She’s part of the team that curated and designed the triple-barreled pavilion just to the left as you enter the sprawling exhibition floor at the 2024 “TiBE”—as the public-facing annual book show and its professional programs are known here in Taipei.

How does Tzou feel, as the president of Taiwan’s legion of cordial but firm security personnel is replaced by a much shorter squadron of the lucky kids who are at TiBE’s opening day? Charmingly out of breath, actually.

“In July, we kind of knew this opportunity was a possibility,” to co-curate with the Netherlands’ office in Taipei this evocation of “the past, present, and future of the Netherlands and Taiwan.” But, these projects being what they are, the green light for the design arrived only in September.

“You can imagine having only five months,” Tzou says, laughing. She’s been attached to the project “since the design had no concept.”

With her background in both Taipei and Rotterdam—and 10 years of intensive architectural training including five years at the University of Houston—she’s the perfect walking nexus for the needs and potentials of a project of this kind, speaking the right languages, knowing the cultural subtleties, and bridging the technical requirements.

The structure was made in Berlin, where the striking curtains that now gauzily utilize Dutch landscape imagery to partition the space became so obviously effective.

The Low Countries’ vistas of the old Zuiderzee and today’s huge, power-churning sleek windmills figure into watercolor-soft imagery between the Taipei International Book Exhibition’s Dutch guest of honor pavilion with its round settings for conversation, children, and presentations. Image: MVRDV

Within minutes of conversation, the curtain’s swaying serenity, Herng Tzou, and her interviewer are surrounded by kids who look to be between five and 12 years old, happily hopping onto the boxy but cushy seats, reading the Chinese and English texts describing the design and historical provenence of each room’s design, turning through books that are within easy reach, then dashing off to another of the design’s three spaces.

“I’m just happy that we have the pavilion up in time,” she says, sighing. She knows that while “I see only details” that might need work or should have looked a bit different from reality, the book fair’s attendees won’t notice those details—and clearly are liking their new environment.

‘Nothing So Touristic’

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, 2024 marks the 400th anniversary of the Dutch East India Company’s arrival on the shores of Ilha Formosa or Beautiful Island, as the Portuguese called Taiwan. While Amsterdam’s first interest then was building Fort Zeelandia at Anping, four centuries later, this evocation of that relationship is built around (a) that 1624 date, (b) diversity and inclusion, and (c) Dutch design and sustainable development.

“Instead of architecture that people have to talk a lot about, we tend to design things that are very direct.”Herng Tzou, MVRDV

The horizontal lines of the famous Dutch landscape “can be designed with a book display,” Tzou says, “and that’s why it can be very minimalist. This is something we realized we can really use.

“And the colors are another layer of Dutch” influence. “They’re known for using very dramatic color, from early ages, in their paper bills” and today in urban areas such as Rotterdam, her adopted home.

“When you close the curtains, you have a 360-degree” enclosure, “and that completes the panorama” formed by each of the circular spaces of the stand. “So we’ve created three panoramas” speaking to the presence of dark seas, bright skies, low land, and high expectations.

Tzou mentions that, of course, the delighted book fair attendees now gathering in the pavilion may not have the perceptive traditions that she and her colleagues to the work. Theirs might be the creative vocabulary of museum galleries. And while that’s not workable for a public display for all ages of this kind, they also knew they weren’t going to allow even a hint of wooden shoes and other such hackneyed imagery.

“Nothing so touristic,” she says, grinning. “But if you check our portfolio, we’re known for being like ‘Instagram architecture’—I see this as a compliment. Instead of architecture that people have to talk a lot about, we tend to design things that are very direct.”

Excitement over exclusivity, experience over explanation, MVRDV’s stamp is on this project and so are waves of enthralled book fair attendees in Taipei.

“In other instances architecture has to be explained,” Herng Tzou says. “Even a grandmother will take a selfie with our work.”

Reading historical and cultural notes to each other at the MVRDV-designed Guest of Honor Netherlands pavilion at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson


More from us on Taiwan and its market is here, and more on the Taipei International Book Exhibition is here, and more on the Netherlands is hereMore from us on international trade shows and book fairs is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.