Yìfāng Old House 義芳居古厝 is a traditional courtyard home, or sānhéyuàn 三合院, in the scenic foothills of southeastern Dà'ān District 大安區, Taipei 台北. It was built in 1876 during the Qing dynasty era by a wealthy branch of the Chen 陳 family. At that time it was far from the commercial centers of Monga and Dadaocheng, both near the other side of Taipei Basin, on an almost lawless frontier. Nowadays this old house is a stone’s throw away from some of the busiest streets in the city as it is located immediately behind the National Taiwan University 國立臺灣大學 campus, better known as Táidà 台大.
My knowledge of traditional architecture in Taiwan is rudimentary at best so I haven’t anything hugely insightful to say about the design. From the information I’ve perused on Chinese language blogs (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here) it sounds like this home is built in a style that reflects the Chen family’s ancestral roots in Ānxī County 安溪縣, located deep in the interior of Quánzhōu 泉州 in Fújiàn 福建, China. This should come as no surprise—Fujian was the source of most Chinese immigrants in Qing dynasty times and Chen is the most common surname in Taiwan.
One more interesting tidbit came up in my reading: this old house was designed with self-defense in mind. Qing dynasty Taiwan was a rough place—and home owners typically had to take matters of security into their own hands. Sometimes this took the form of walls and guarded watchtowers but in this case the house was built with gun slots beneath the two squarish windows on the front face of the building. These have been filled in over the years but you can still make out two long Jenga-like blocks on either side with noticeable gaps separating them from the rest of the facade.
The Chen family built three traditional homes in the area, this one being the last of the lot. Fānglán Mansion 芳蘭大厝, built in 1806, can still be seen further down a winding lane, but it’s in a sad state of disrepair. It is presently undergoing extensive restoration work and is likely to become a more popular attraction in the future. The other home, built second, was demolished after the university expropriated the land it was on several decades ago. If you’re curious to see Fanglan Mansion prior to restoration check out this post on The Daily Bubble Tea.
Yifang Old House isn’t all that special if you spend any time in the rest of Taiwan where traditional homes like this one are commonplace. What really sets this place apart is its surprising location, about 15 minutes walking distance from Gongguan Station in Dà'ān District 大安區, one of the most modern and upscale parts of the entire country.