Architect Annabelle Selldorf on her first venture in Taiwan


One of the five award-winning starchitects collaborating on The Master Collection

Annabelle Selldorf has attracted a global reputation for her assured designs and restrained style.

The German-born, New York-based designer is one of the five “starchitects” creating The Master Collection, the ambitious, multi-architect project in the lush green hills bordering Taipei.

Her studio, Selldorf Architects have designed five four-storey houses, each showcasing the ‘starchitect’s’ signature style, with expanses of glass, plenty of natural light and a focus on natural views.

As Part two in our series of exclusive interviews with the architects, (see Part one here), we asked Annabelle how she came to be involved in the project, her vision for the development, and her plans for the future:

How were you approached about the Master Collection, and what drew you to the project?

We were approached by Sam Chu of Phoenix Property Development to work on the project. A colleague of ours here in New York, Calvin Tsao of Tsao McKown, was already working with Phoenix on a master plan for the site and it was Calvin’s idea to bring a group of American architects together to each work on a particular part of the site.

I thought this was a terrific opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and I was impressed by the client’s commitment to bring an international perspective to the project and their commitment to design excellence. I was also drawn to the project because of the site itself, which is quite beautiful.

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You once said: “I always tend to think, even in residential projects, about what a space is being asked to do – where is it located, what are the circumstances, where can I attack the problem, so to speak. How can you create a narrative for people moving through it? How can you convey its character?”

Can you describe the narrative and character of the homes you are creating for the Master Collection? How did the circumstances inspire the final design?

Each villa is designed to take advantage of the site’s impressive views and to integrate indoor and outdoor living. Each home is organized around the perimeter of a narrow overlook, opening to expansive natural vistas on one side and facing a private drive on the other.

The villas are long and linear to maximize landscape frontage, while their vertical height allows for dramatic and commanding views. Glass walls along the private facade of each villa open to large outdoor terraces, allowing the home owners to move easily between indoor livings spaces and a series of outdoor terraces and gardens. The street-facing, public facades have more opaque cladding and punched windows to ensure privacy.

When there isn’t a specific client who has commissioned you for a residential project with their own individual lifestyle and requirements, you have to somewhat take on the role of that client yourself to test the design against various conditions and scenarios.

I think the design of the villas accommodates a sophisticated lifestyle that appreciates nature and beauty and that the spaces support a sense of calm and balance.

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The view over the Taipei hills from The Master Collection
The view over the Taipei hills from The Master Collection

How do you feel your design style has evolved over your career?

The scale of the projects I have had the opportunity to work on over the years has grown and diversified greatly but when I reflect back on my career I think my basic principles and priorities are still very much the same.

We seek to create buildings and spaces which are refined, elegant, and strong; each aspect of the design, functional or formal, is thoroughly conceived to serve utility or purpose such that nothing needs to be added or subtracted, ultimately making space dedicated to clarity, light and well-being. And those spaces are truly brought to life by the people who inhabit them.

More: See how landscape architecture is shaping developments all over Asia

Is Taipei a good location for your style of architecture?

Yes, I think our architecture works well in Taipei.

We believe in grounding our projects in their individual sites and respecting local traditions and materials. The easy flow between indoor and outdoor spaces works very well on the site as well as the natural materials of terracotta and wood. All crafted with carefully attention to details which I believe is part of the culture of Taipei.

PREMIA, the section within The Master Collection where Selldorf’s houses will sit

Can you give us any details about future exciting projects?

We are working on several exciting cultural projects right now.

In the south of France, in Arles we are working on a multi-phased project converting a series of historic large rail sheds into new spaces for the exhibition and production of contemporary art. It is called LUMA Arles and will be a new 21st century center for contemporary art in all its forms.

We are also designing a major new expansion to the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego which will start construction sometime in 2018. And here in New York City we just received the commission to expand and enhance the Frick Collection, which is one of my favorite museums, so it is a great honor to begin work on that.

We are also designing a new gallery for David Zwirner, a longtime client, for Hong Kong.

This is Part Two in a five week series where we will be publishing exclusive interviews with The Master Collection architects. Next week we will be profiling Richard Meier. Click here for Part One, interview with Jim Olson, and here for more details of The Master Collection as well as founding partner of Phoenix Property Investors.

Read next: See how landscape architecture is shaping developments all over Asia