Erenlai - Focus: Beyond the Pale, Architecture in Taiwan
Focus: Beyond the Pale, Architecture in Taiwan

Focus: Beyond the Pale, Architecture in Taiwan

In this month’s Focus on Architecture in Taiwan - Beyond the Pale - we search for the “improper” buildings, those beyond the reach of authority, those with humanity, character and impulsiveness; yet, despite this non-conformity, they appear to be in harmony with nature.

週五, 29 四月 2011

Beyond the Pale: Architecture in Taiwan

Visitors to Taiwan are often left wondering: why is the architecture so ugly? With its unbridled commitment to urban renewal, architecture in Taiwan does not respect the contemporary urban aesthetics of most 'advanced' cities.

週四, 21 四月 2011

Taipei Organic Acupuncture

Marco Casagrande is now principle at the Ruin Academy at the JUT Foundation's Urban Core Arts Block as well as professor at the Department of Architecture at Danjiang University, Taipei. After his group was given a studio on the block, his group built the Ruin Academy, and even produced a whole magazine on the groups theory, practice and projects - Anarchist Gardener - the rest of which can be viewed here. Their conception of space are wildly beyond the current mainstream practice bent on urban development, beautification and modernization at all costs. Here, Marco lays out some of his main ideas in Taipei.

Acupuncture is the procedure of inserting and manipulating needles into various points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes.

Urban planning integrates land use planning and transportation planning to improve the built, economic and social environments of communities.

Urban design concerns the arrangement, appearance and functionality of towns and cities, and in particular the shaping and uses of urban public space.

Environmental art is art dealing with ecological issues and possibly in political, historical or social context.

Sociology is a science of human social activity.

Anarchy is acting without waiting for instructions or official permission. The root of anarchism is the single impulse to do it yourself: everything else follows from this.

The community gardens and urban farms of Taipei are astonishing. They pop up like mushrooms on the degenerated, neglected or sleeping areas of the city, which could be referred to as urban composts.

These areas are operating outside the official urban control or the economic standard mechanisms. They are voids in the urban structure that suck in ad-hoc community actions and present a platform for anarchy through gardening.

For the vitality of Taipei, the networks of the anarchist gardens seem to provide a positive social disorder; positive terrorism. They are tuning the industrial city towards the organic, towards accident and in this sense they are ruining the modern urbanism. They are punctual organic revolutions and the seeds of the Third Generation City, the organic ruin of the industrial city.

Corners are windy

Claude Lévi-Strauss believes in the beauty of the human nature as part of nature. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno lost all the hope for the industrial development and said it has failed the promise of the Enlightment - it had corrupted humanity. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalke (Mosfilm, 1979) is taking sophisticated people into the Zone, where their deepest wishes may come true. The Zone which is the organic ruin mirroring the surrounding mechanical reality. For the Strugatsky brothers (Arkady & Boris) the Zone was a Roadside Picnic (1972, Moscow).

casagrande_02

Missis Lee in the Gongguan community garden, an illegal garden farmed by National Taiwan University professors and staff.

The community gardens of Taipei are Roadside Picnic. Grandmothers can take us there, like Stalker. The honorable Lévi-Strauss could be happy to start new ethnographical research between the parallel realities of the cultures of the urban compost gardens and the surrounding city – the reversed modernization and focusing in Local Knowledge. Horkheimer’s & Adorno’s graves should be moved in one of these urban acupuncture spots of Taipei. Here even they would find hope, surrounded by the valueless modernity and hard industrialism. Prof. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila has said: “The valueless void of the society of today will be filled with ethics: the corners are windy.” With the recognition of the urban farms and community gardens Taipei has found its corners.

What is the ethics then pushing through these corners into the city? It could be called Local Knowledge, site-specific reactions building a bridge between the modern man and nature. The gardens of Taipei, these acupuncture points, are penetrating through the industrial surface of the city and reaching the original ground. The self organized community gardens are the urban acupuncture needles of Taipei. Local Knowledge is in connection with the first generation city, when the built human environment was dependent on nature and regulated by nature. Now the anarchist gardeners are regulating the industrial city.

Dominate the no-man’s land

The community gardens are taking over abandoned construction sites and ruined housing areas, empty city-blocks waiting for development, flood banks of the rivers and even grave-yards out of fashion. In many cases the gardens are flourishing on spots of land where the land-owner issues are unsettle or complicated. Sometimes the garden will stay in the spot for only a couple of years, as in the cases of soon to be developed areas and sometimes the urban farming has decades long traditions as with the river flood plains or on the island in-between Zhongxiao and Zhongshing bridges. The smaller urban farms are flexible and eager to overtake the empty spots of the city, eager to dominate the no-man’s land.

Treasure-Hill_Organic-Layer_Marco-Casagrande

Treasure Hill in 2003 (Photo: Stephen Wilde)

One of the more famous urban farming communities of Taipei was the Treasure Hill settlement, originally an illegal community of KMT veterans. During its legitimating process Treasure Hill became so famous that eventually the original community was kicked away by the city government and the houses were taken over by artists and art related organizations. All the farms were destroyed on the process. Sounds like urban warfare against urban acupuncture. Treasure Hill was powerful and self-sustained when it was illegal. The community built its own houses and its own farms and it made its own rules. The official city wanted to eliminate this unofficial organic rival. NGOs found the issue sexy and stepped in to protect and legitimize the settlement. In the end the NGOs and artists took over the now-famous community and hooked up with the city government. The original urban farmers didn’t fit the picture anymore and had to leave. Now you can listen gansta-rap in a yellow plastic tent where the gardens used to be. Local knowledge died.

But Treasure Hill is not alone. Urban farming happens through different social classes and through out the city. The socially disordered citizens are ready to occupy land and start the community farms over and over again. Some acupuncture spots get hot and benefit the surrounding urban tissue while others fade away. The industrial surface of the city keeps constantly being broken up and herbs and vegetables are planted into the cracks. People are ruining the industrial city. Ruin is when man-made has become part of nature.

Urban Editors

Compared to Western cities Taipei plays in quite different rules. The aesthetics of the city is dominated by the functionality of a big collective machine and the urban mechanism is constantly being edited and rendered as with changing the micro-chips or other parts of a super-computer into more powerful ones. The urban data is people and this is what the machine needs to process. Mostly it goes smoothly, but also people get viruses – they get together to spontaneous demonstrations, they do tai-chi in improvised city-corners, they launch ad-hoc night markets or under-bridge sales on temporarily occupied streets or city corners. And they do farms – they are squeezing organic material into the machine like a creeper crawling into an air-conditioning box. Why they do this? Why does the nature want to break the machine?

Developers are the true urban editors. They are linked with the city authorities and necessary political powers and they make the urban editing. Architects are in a secondary role – something like the hyenas after the lions have made the kill. Money is a good consultant and the generating force of the developer run urban editing process. This is not urban acupuncture though; it is more like a western style medical practice – operations on the body removing, changing or maintaining parts – or even plastic surgery. (Oh, Shanghai has bigger tits than Taipei.) The body is not necessarily seen as one big organism.

In this rough editing process the anarchist gardeners seem to act as micro-editors, parasites benefiting of the slow circles of the big-scale development. They occupy the not so sexy areas of the city and they jump in the more sleepy parts of the development cycle. For example – the developer buys a whole city block with originally many land-owners. The process is slow because he has to negotiate with all of them. While the process is dragging behind the urban farmers step in and start farming the area. The developer doesn’t want to cause any more fuss and let it happen. It takes 3-5 years before the developer has got all the area to his possession and those same years the site acts as the community garden. When the actual construction starts the gardeners have already occupied a next vacant spot in the city.

Third Generation City

First generation city was the human settlement in straight connection with nature and dependent on nature. The fertile and rich Taipei basing provided a fruitful environment for such a settlement. The rivers were full of fish and good for transportation and the mountains protected the farmed plains from the straightest hits of the frequent typhoons.

The second generation city is the industrial city. Industrialism claimed the citizen’s independence from nature – a mechanical environment could provide human everything needed. Nature was seen as something un-necessary or as something hostile – it was walled away from the mechanical reality.

Third Generation City is the organic ruin of the industrial city. The community gardens of Taipei are fragments of the third generation urbanism when they exist together with the industrial surroundings. Local Knowledge is present in the city and this is where Ruin Academy focuses its research. Among the urban gardeners are the local knowledge professors of Taipei. Third Generation City is true when the city recognizes its local knowledge and allows itself to be part of nature.

101-Garden_Isis

The 101 Community Garden besides the Taipei Word Trade Center. Photo: Isis Kang.

Photos courtesy of M. Casagrande


For more information on the Ruin Academy and their projects in Taiwan, you can read the full content of the magazine Anarchist Gardener here

 

週四, 21 四月 2011

Questioning Individual Expression in an Urban Context: The Example of Treasure Hill

Suggesting that every society have their own ideas of what is authentic and what is not, might strike most people as too obvious to require re-iteration. However the charismatic contemporary ideology which suggests that authenticity and self expression are things to be encouraged by their own right, needs to be re-considered if it is to avoid contradiction with this basic principle.

The case of Treasure Hill artist village is illustrative of how these two suggestions are fundamentally opposed to each other. Treasure Hill is essentially a squatted community on the border of Taipei City and Taipei County. The neighbourhood has been preserved under the Cultural Preservation Act and turned into an Artist Village, where artist's can rent the emptied houses to use as studios or as living space. The complex includes various exhibition spaces and a cafe.

The current state of the neighbourhood has been settled after continuous negotiations involving various municipal departments and the residing activists/artists. Although the project has been motivated with all the best intentions and overall can be considered as a step in the right direction, it is still far from being an ideal template for future plans of urban regeneration.

As is the case with most heritage programs, the Treasure Hill project has not been entirely successful in incorporating the views of those who have used the space for non-heritage related purposes. It is this failure that has caused the neighbourhood to be stripped of it's prior residents and turned into a space which celebrates individual expression and artistic creativity at the expense of housing lower income families.

This is not to say however that Treasure Hill used to be an ideal place to live and should have been left untouched for eternity. In fact the view of the few residents who have kept their houses in the area range from indifference at worst, to approval at best. However a lot more residents have been moved out of the area, presumably further out into Taipei County or even beyond.

It would be tremendously unfair to criticise any particular organisation for the removal of residents out of the area. What has to be criticised however, is the global trend that grants notions like 'self realization' a cult-like status. The idea that if arts, culture and creativity are allowed to flourish, then urban problems of crime and housing will just magically untangle. It is unquestionable, of course that artistic and cultural institutions are extremely valuable to both local and global communities. Nevertheless, the suggestion that we can just add culture to an environment and stir, then proceed to statistically document the improvement of 'general well-being' is absurd.

This very same problem has been noted by London Mayor Boris Johnson's (whom I have to say without restraint I personally detest) Advisor for Arts and Culture, Munira Mirza. Although the Tory party's political motivations are far from being admirable, they are nevertheless making a good point about the instrumentalisation of culture under the previous administration. The problem in fact dates back to much earlier, to the slow but steady erosion of the Labour party's post-war settlement. In terms of housing this has been mostly concentrated around waging a war on council house projects. It is worth remembering after all, that the prioritization of home ownership and the rise of customisation often gloriously portrayed on television hour after hour, has been at the expense of collective, affordable housing.

To conclude, the twin subjects of culture-led urban regeneration and alternative building, need to be urgently re-evaluated. With as much emphasis payed to the residents who inhabit sites of cultural regeneration as the projects themselves. It is clear that the effect of cultural/architectural policy over the urban landscape needs to be studied far more rigorously and understood fully to be able to make healthier projections regarding the role of culture over the contemporary metropolis.

Photo courtesy of Marco Casagrande

週五, 22 四月 2011

Urban Archaeologist

Chen Bo-I, aka 'The King of the ruins' doesn’t necessarily come across as glamorous as his nickname sounds. Currently, working on his PhD in Hydraulic and Ocean Engineering, a most realistic and practical trade, yet beyond his advanced studies in man-made structures on the ocean, he is also avid reader of the fascinating marks of history left on landbased structures. In the interview below he tells us how he got into this underground culture, how he works with the ruins in his photography and what he values about these decaying remains.

Hongmaogang Juancun (紅毛港眷村)

Why is this world...why is it so messed up? Because of typhoons, because of rains, those types of things, and floods, and mudslides, that's what normally causes it. But this is all caused by ships, and excavators. Why do they have to destroy our homes?

A young boy and resident of the Hongmaogang Community before it was destroyed - speaking in the documentary film Homeless (紅毛港:家變)

OutLooK-02
 
In 2005 Chen Po-I (Bibi) started shooting some fishing villages or military dependents’ village where intensive city regeneration was underway.
 
Hongmaogang community, lying off the coast of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan was perhaps the best example of a juancun or military dependants’ village, a phenomenon unique to Taiwan. These juancun are particular to Taiwan in that they were made for the families of KMT soldiers who had come over from the mainland following the civil war . They were built as temporary settlements, since the prevailing idea at the time was that Taiwan was a temporary base for re-conquering of mainland China, thus the houses were put together with great haste, there were no regulations on how they were built and as such impulsive building of extensions and additions was the norm. This allowed a very natural human feeling to develop in the area. Eventually however, juancun residents would begin recieving notice that they were too leave the buildings, the moment residents have left the excavators get demolishing. Bibi, tries to get there first - like he did to take these photographs at Hongmaogang.
 

In 1968, Hongmaogang was declared land for building a port. However at the time they didn't have the funds to move all the people and instead time was frozen as the government declared new building or work on their current houses was banned. This strategy was not enough to suppress the residents will to build and throughout the 1970's the residents did all their building at night, while the police were off duty, so as not to be discovered. It was often the case that on waking up in the morning, a house would expanded a metre or two. It wasn't until 1986 that this provoked a government response in which they took aerial photos and stated that from then on the residents buildings were not allowed to change from the way they were captured in the aerial photos. Eventually in 2004 the government had sufficient funds and began moving the residents. In 2008 as the government evacuated the final inhabitants of the harbour, Chen Po-I took to action to make sure that there would always remain a poetic memory of the Hongmaogang Settlement, where for him life stories were the traces engraved in the walls. He also brought these photos together as part of his exhibition 'Outlook', giving the community the chance to share in these memories.

Walking the wires

On a more sober note one of the raiders nonetheless reminds us of the dangers of visiting ruins. The majority of these buildings are uninhabited and unkempt, some of them are as the name suggests, in ruins - states of devastation, with pieces of metal, wood, glass and sometimes even needles littering the floor, others are private property and guests are unwelcome. Be careful and aware when inside and only go into ruins with unlocked doors. If you listen to this advice however, everyone can be touched by the poetry of these ruins.

 

週二, 26 四月 2011

Returning Humans to Nature and Reality

Since attending drinks and bbq session at the Ruin Academy, Urban Core, Taipei City in fall of last year, I gradually became more and more familiar with Marco Casagrande’s C-lab and the offshoots (ruin academy, third generation city, local knowledge, urban acupuncture, anarchist gardener). I also became convinced that Taipei has great need for these ideas and the very soul of the city may well rest in these decaying ruins.

Rolling at the Ruin Academy

"There is no other discipline than nature. There is our pub."

It was a Friday night, in light winter rain when I was told to come along to the Taiwan Contemporary Art Centre, Taipei for free drinks and barbeque, and the opening of the ‘Ruin Academy’. I knew little of what to expect – except for free alcohol, Ruan Ching-yue (one of Taiwan’s top 3 authors) and rumours of a Sauna on the 3rd floor. It sounded like a lethal combination…

Entering the 4-storey building I felt a strange aura, something distinctly un-Taipei, at least as I knew it, a vomit stain on the clean, white bed sheet of the Taiwan urban development dream. A tree growing off the side of the building, its roots implanted only in drainpipes, large and potentially hazardous holes drilled into the cement floor, allowing you to see from the top to the bottom of the building.

As the whisky flowed, my thoughts were disturbed as Ruan demanded I read his story with him. After playing the role of mother in the story twice over, I took advantage of a brief moment of distraction to make my great escape to the sauna.

While housemate and figure model, Showzoo, raced to strip and leap into the sauna the minute the steam rolled of the imported Finnish stones, I strolled in rather conservatively five minutes later with my undersized towel slightly revealing my buttocks. I had inadvertently placed myself in the gaze of Showzoo’s glaring nakedness on one side and two fully clothed, shy Taiwanese youths on the other, a contrast perhaps comparable to the awkwardness of much architecture in Taiwan. I looked up from this amusing but unnerving position, searching the room for the validation required before I could throw in the towel; and there, beyond Showzoo, was a man with Viking features calmly being, breathing and occasionally stoking the coals. An essence of rapprochement with nature shone through and overcame the tendencies of a somewhat Victorian prudence and shyness that I had seemingly developed during my time in Taiwan. I flung away the towel, and sunk into the steam. This was the man had built the sauna – Finnish architect and anarchist gardener Marco Casagrande.

"We focus on local knowledge and stories. The Academy is more like a pub than a university – or like a public sauna in Finland, where everyone is stripped naked from the President to the police."

Pot-naked in a sauna perhaps isn’t how most of you envision your first meeting. However, fully revealing your body, as the day you were born, is certainly a load off your mind and shoulders. Pretensions are dropped, nothing is hidden, and all the while nothing is intentionally revealed. It wasn’t until several months later that I discovered the sauna was also a gathering place, a school and a forum for the natural revolution of human impulsion that is brewing here.

Third Generation City

Marco and associates have been working on a whole new architectural philosophy in Taiwan and a multitude of projects to put into action the Third Generation City - the organic ruin of the industrial city. Third Generation City follows the first generation where humans' peacefully coexisted with nature and the second generation built walls and stone structures everywhere in an attempt to shut out nature. In the third generation however, nature, which can never be truly shut out, grows back through the ruins, through the cracks in the wall, sucking human nature back into the wider nature. Third Generation City concentrates on local knowledge and urban acupuncture. Gardens should be built in all the corners of the city. The walls shutting off the city from its river and life source should torn down.

"The Ruin Academy sends an open call to think on the urban environment - the city, the people and the nature. We want to understand the ruining processes in Taipei."

Architecture and human structures are something I had never profoundly contemplated. To get a clearer idea about what they were doing, I attended a lecture given by Marco Casagrande at the NTU Department of Sociology. The lecture was partly an admittance of the limitations of architects, who he says "only chill with other architects". It was a call for sociologists to take part in a multitude of projects – like Taipei Organic Acupuncture and Taipei River Urbanism - to combine their humanist expertise in peoples' interactions with society & nature with the design skills of the egotistical architecture trade. For example, since the city only exists because of the river, the river is thus the indicator of how healthy the city is. So in order to have a complete and humanistic interaction with the river, the sociologists would need do the local research - with drawings, photographs and interviews. They would ask: How was the river before? When did the fish start dying out? Who will live there in the future? What will there attitude to the river and the city be?

One question raised by the sociologists, was whether or not this ideal for a Third Generation City was feasible. Marco replied "If it works in my family, then in their community, in their society, in the whole city - then that's enough". Marco feels that the government actually needs this impulsiveness, they are unable to enact under the stringent controls of bureaucracy. In fact Marco and Ruin Academy is just saying what the government wants to say. When questioned about the rebuilding of post-tsunami East Coast of Japan, Marco reflected: "Will they just rebuild what was there before? They have capacity for so much more."

Frank Chen was another architect with C-lab that I first met at the Ruin Academy. In April he took me too visit some physical manifestations of the Third Generation City. Frank also made a beautiful film of his own, documenting a full day for the Chen House, from sunrise, amongst the constant calls of the insects and birds:

Living in the ruins

Finally Frank took me to see where the Ruin Academy's own principal, Marco, had lived 4 years earlier. The guru himself, seemed to live by the principles that are found throughout his work. Indeed, when I arrived at the site in Sanzhi nature was growing through the gaps in the walls, the doors, and the windows of this former tea factory; there existed no clearly defined inside and ouside, instead merging into one seamless flow of nature; rather than trying to keep the trees and shrubbery out, he instead built his trademark sauna amongst the trees. There were still the traces of Marco's previous inhabitance there: a pile of clothes, a wooden mattress, a small stove and a couple of pans which acted as his makeshift kitchen overlooking a stream with an ants nest sitting comfortably in a tree above.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/focus_architecture_may2011/marcohouse/*{/rokbox}

As the academy makes organic ruin of our industrial city, perhaps these ideas can infiltrate our minds, permeate through our ears, eyes and noses and vibrate our flesh down to our toes, degenerating and making ruins of defunct structures of thought.


For a fuller look at the whole range of projects C-lab has previously worked on please browse the Anarchist Gardener Magazine (mainly Chinese) for the main thrust of Anarchist Gardener philosophy as when it was originally presented at the Puerto Rico Biennale in 2002. The Ruin Academy building can be found in the Urban Core Artsblock near Ximending in Taipei.

 

週四, 21 四月 2011

Taipei Organic Acupuncture

Marco Casagrande is now principle at the Ruin Academy at the JUT Foundation's Urban Core Arts Block as well as professor at the Department of Architecture at Danjiang University, Taipei. After his group was given a studio on the block, his group built the Ruin Academy, and even produced a whole magazine on the groups theory, practice and projects - Anarchist Gardener - the rest of which can be viewed here. Their conception of space are wildly beyond the current mainstream practice bent on urban development, beautification and modernization at all costs. Here, Marco lays out some of his main ideas in Taipei.

Acupuncture is the procedure of inserting and manipulating needles into various points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes.

Urban planning integrates land use planning and transportation planning to improve the built, economic and social environments of communities.

Urban design concerns the arrangement, appearance and functionality of towns and cities, and in particular the shaping and uses of urban public space.

Environmental art is art dealing with ecological issues and possibly in political, historical or social context.

Sociology is a science of human social activity.

Anarchy is acting without waiting for instructions or official permission. The root of anarchism is the single impulse to do it yourself: everything else follows from this.

The community gardens and urban farms of Taipei are astonishing. They pop up like mushrooms on the degenerated, neglected or sleeping areas of the city, which could be referred to as urban composts.

These areas are operating outside the official urban control or the economic standard mechanisms. They are voids in the urban structure that suck in ad-hoc community actions and present a platform for anarchy through gardening.

For the vitality of Taipei, the networks of the anarchist gardens seem to provide a positive social disorder; positive terrorism. They are tuning the industrial city towards the organic, towards accident and in this sense they are ruining the modern urbanism. They are punctual organic revolutions and the seeds of the Third Generation City, the organic ruin of the industrial city.

Corners are windy

Claude Lévi-Strauss believes in the beauty of the human nature as part of nature. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno lost all the hope for the industrial development and said it has failed the promise of the Enlightment - it had corrupted humanity. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalke (Mosfilm, 1979) is taking sophisticated people into the Zone, where their deepest wishes may come true. The Zone which is the organic ruin mirroring the surrounding mechanical reality. For the Strugatsky brothers (Arkady & Boris) the Zone was a Roadside Picnic (1972, Moscow).

casagrande_02

Missis Lee in the Gongguan community garden, an illegal garden farmed by National Taiwan University professors and staff.

The community gardens of Taipei are Roadside Picnic. Grandmothers can take us there, like Stalker. The honorable Lévi-Strauss could be happy to start new ethnographical research between the parallel realities of the cultures of the urban compost gardens and the surrounding city – the reversed modernization and focusing in Local Knowledge. Horkheimer’s & Adorno’s graves should be moved in one of these urban acupuncture spots of Taipei. Here even they would find hope, surrounded by the valueless modernity and hard industrialism. Prof. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila has said: “The valueless void of the society of today will be filled with ethics: the corners are windy.” With the recognition of the urban farms and community gardens Taipei has found its corners.

What is the ethics then pushing through these corners into the city? It could be called Local Knowledge, site-specific reactions building a bridge between the modern man and nature. The gardens of Taipei, these acupuncture points, are penetrating through the industrial surface of the city and reaching the original ground. The self organized community gardens are the urban acupuncture needles of Taipei. Local Knowledge is in connection with the first generation city, when the built human environment was dependent on nature and regulated by nature. Now the anarchist gardeners are regulating the industrial city.

Dominate the no-man’s land

The community gardens are taking over abandoned construction sites and ruined housing areas, empty city-blocks waiting for development, flood banks of the rivers and even grave-yards out of fashion. In many cases the gardens are flourishing on spots of land where the land-owner issues are unsettle or complicated. Sometimes the garden will stay in the spot for only a couple of years, as in the cases of soon to be developed areas and sometimes the urban farming has decades long traditions as with the river flood plains or on the island in-between Zhongxiao and Zhongshing bridges. The smaller urban farms are flexible and eager to overtake the empty spots of the city, eager to dominate the no-man’s land.

Treasure-Hill_Organic-Layer_Marco-Casagrande

Treasure Hill in 2003 (Photo: Stephen Wilde)

One of the more famous urban farming communities of Taipei was the Treasure Hill settlement, originally an illegal community of KMT veterans. During its legitimating process Treasure Hill became so famous that eventually the original community was kicked away by the city government and the houses were taken over by artists and art related organizations. All the farms were destroyed on the process. Sounds like urban warfare against urban acupuncture. Treasure Hill was powerful and self-sustained when it was illegal. The community built its own houses and its own farms and it made its own rules. The official city wanted to eliminate this unofficial organic rival. NGOs found the issue sexy and stepped in to protect and legitimize the settlement. In the end the NGOs and artists took over the now-famous community and hooked up with the city government. The original urban farmers didn’t fit the picture anymore and had to leave. Now you can listen gansta-rap in a yellow plastic tent where the gardens used to be. Local knowledge died.

But Treasure Hill is not alone. Urban farming happens through different social classes and through out the city. The socially disordered citizens are ready to occupy land and start the community farms over and over again. Some acupuncture spots get hot and benefit the surrounding urban tissue while others fade away. The industrial surface of the city keeps constantly being broken up and herbs and vegetables are planted into the cracks. People are ruining the industrial city. Ruin is when man-made has become part of nature.

Urban Editors

Compared to Western cities Taipei plays in quite different rules. The aesthetics of the city is dominated by the functionality of a big collective machine and the urban mechanism is constantly being edited and rendered as with changing the micro-chips or other parts of a super-computer into more powerful ones. The urban data is people and this is what the machine needs to process. Mostly it goes smoothly, but also people get viruses – they get together to spontaneous demonstrations, they do tai-chi in improvised city-corners, they launch ad-hoc night markets or under-bridge sales on temporarily occupied streets or city corners. And they do farms – they are squeezing organic material into the machine like a creeper crawling into an air-conditioning box. Why they do this? Why does the nature want to break the machine?

Developers are the true urban editors. They are linked with the city authorities and necessary political powers and they make the urban editing. Architects are in a secondary role – something like the hyenas after the lions have made the kill. Money is a good consultant and the generating force of the developer run urban editing process. This is not urban acupuncture though; it is more like a western style medical practice – operations on the body removing, changing or maintaining parts – or even plastic surgery. (Oh, Shanghai has bigger tits than Taipei.) The body is not necessarily seen as one big organism.

In this rough editing process the anarchist gardeners seem to act as micro-editors, parasites benefiting of the slow circles of the big-scale development. They occupy the not so sexy areas of the city and they jump in the more sleepy parts of the development cycle. For example – the developer buys a whole city block with originally many land-owners. The process is slow because he has to negotiate with all of them. While the process is dragging behind the urban farmers step in and start farming the area. The developer doesn’t want to cause any more fuss and let it happen. It takes 3-5 years before the developer has got all the area to his possession and those same years the site acts as the community garden. When the actual construction starts the gardeners have already occupied a next vacant spot in the city.

Third Generation City

First generation city was the human settlement in straight connection with nature and dependent on nature. The fertile and rich Taipei basing provided a fruitful environment for such a settlement. The rivers were full of fish and good for transportation and the mountains protected the farmed plains from the straightest hits of the frequent typhoons.

The second generation city is the industrial city. Industrialism claimed the citizen’s independence from nature – a mechanical environment could provide human everything needed. Nature was seen as something un-necessary or as something hostile – it was walled away from the mechanical reality.

Third Generation City is the organic ruin of the industrial city. The community gardens of Taipei are fragments of the third generation urbanism when they exist together with the industrial surroundings. Local Knowledge is present in the city and this is where Ruin Academy focuses its research. Among the urban gardeners are the local knowledge professors of Taipei. Third Generation City is true when the city recognizes its local knowledge and allows itself to be part of nature.

101-Garden_Isis

The 101 Community Garden besides the Taipei Word Trade Center. Photo: Isis Kang.

Photos courtesy of M. Casagrande


For more information on the Ruin Academy and their projects in Taiwan, you can read the full content of the magazine Anarchist Gardener here

 

週四, 28 四月 2011

From Derelict Granary to Cultural Treasure Trove: The decline and revival of Yilan County's Erjie Granary

Amidst the tide of modernization how does a granary that has stored countless quantities of rice become a derelict building, and then from this dereliction rise again to new life?

Can older buildings that are invested with many of the community's residents' memories bring about a new cultural vitality in a locality?

週四, 21 四月 2011

The Cultural Inheritance Behind Illegal Architecture

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 

週二, 03 五 2011

An Architectural Dream

Recently I have had many architectural dreams, I remember two of them in particular: one was taking place in a European city, probably Paris or London, I could easily recognize the white stone buildings 6 or 7 stories tall, representative of the Haussmann style. But only because I was dreaming, they were also displaying new decorative items: attached to their sides were the flying saucers that you can ride in amusement parks. I could hear the passengers’ shouts fade in and out as they were whirling fast in the air.

My second dream featured a village in the south of Taiwan. I remember having wondered why I hadn’t known that place before. Actually I was amazed by the architectural style of the village houses: they were combining the white “pierre de taille”, proper to the buildings developed in France in the 17th century, and the grey slate used in traditional Bunun villages in Southern Taiwan. This unexpected mixture created a pleasant impression of a quirky elegance.

In fact, I have noticed that the houses, apartments or buildings that appear in my dreams are mostly of European style, sometimes of colonial style too. Although I have been living in Taipei for more than five years now, I rarely dream of its architectural landmarks; even if the action takes place in some place on the island, its frame is more likely to be a Parisian flat or a western interior.

In 6 years in Taipei, I have lived in three flats and one house. It is frequent indeed to move in and out here because it is not easy to find a place where to feel “at home”. New buildings are not necessarily pleasant to the eye and, most of the time they are massive and aggressive. Old apartments have the charm of being queerly-shaped but they can feel unsteady and, on top of not being environmental friendly, they rarely conform to the basic rules of safety.

Maybe the place where we live, where we sleep, eat, work and play, does not only define the frame and the boundaries of our living space, but concurs to shape our being and our mental structure. And vice versa. So let’s just imagine that the chassis of my brain is built on the model of the flats in which I have spent most of my childhood life, my brain would be a Parisian bourgeois apartment with a creaking wooden floor and a moquette ocre. The stairwell, too tight to install an elevator, would smell like wax wood. In fact, the whole building just reminds me of an old lady, a little bit patched up, but dignified and full of memories. Then what kind of place would my brain imagine for me to live in Taipei? I dream of a place that would shelter me from the tropical weather without losing my intimacy with nature, an affordable place with a history that goes beyond the shady speculations in the housing development.

Photo: C.P.

週三, 20 四月 2011

Ruin Raiding in Tainan

Ruin Raiding

Strolling down crumbling alleys of all shapes and sizes, all the woes of the busybodies are forgotten, in between colourful temples and Japanese-era colonial buildings, under the moonlight, an exercise in escapism.

Tainan, the ‘first’ capital of Ilha Formosa, sidesteps the prevailing metropolitan global cities view; Mediterranean in its fiery temper - emotive and irrational. Quirky cafes, extra sugar with all orders, and a endless temples are all associated with Tainan, but one less known hobby is that of ruin raiding, empassioned urban exploration in derelict buildings, where the dust has fallen….

People often come to Tainan to escape the dog-eat-dog mentality of Taipei, Taichung & Kaohsiung. While there sometimes seems to be an assumption that to be anyone in Taiwan you need to first slave away in Taipei, barely scraping by, just to payoff your landlord-masters; those who can make their way in Tainan seem to appreciate the lighter side of life. While Taipei tries all to compete with Shanghai and Shenzhen in urban brutality, attempting to destroy the last forces of architectural humanism and connection to nature, Tainan (comparatively) seems to let the buildings flow beyond the pale as romantic smatterings of diversity in destitution, deterioration and degeneration.

I begin my journey at Tainan’s Lutai (台南小露台), in itself a ‘ruin’ of sorts. The 3-storey building overlooking the train-tracks has been renovated into a vintage store and art space and gathering point for the nostalgic. On the first floor, it’s filled with old collections of miniature Vespa bikes, as well as several obsolete full-sized vehicles, and a selection of bike horns to accompany (I left with the yellow rubber ducky – nothing says ‘get out the way’ with more authority). Meanwhile, on the second floor they have continuously evolving photography exhibitions, this time I visited it was all about cats – hungry + diseased kittens, patrolling cat gangs, sleepers, blindcats, Persian – even through this cat exhibition you're given snapshots of Tainan mentality. Finally, after getting past the three resident cats, all rescued (Yes, Lutai is also a part-time cat rescue and home finding centre). I make my way to base camp; a room on the third floor with my host Gao Pu-chi.

It’s fitting, that this hub of nostalgia for the class of the past is the base of explorations for Tainan’s underground culture of ruin raiding. Indeed, much of the stores wares are treasures recovered from derelict buildings, long abandoned. This is where I will discover the underground world of ‘space’ raiders, snappershot-storytellers and hopeless romantics hunting down traces of unwritten history.

Xinglin Hospital

The walls were stained with the screams of bleeding patients. The stone slabs were carved with doctors legacies, the deserted medical cabinets stunk of junky, and every shard from the shattered windows was a testament to the will to survive.

The first ruin I am taken too – is a long abandoned Hospital. The Xinglin Hospital Complex (xinglin zonghe yiyuan 杏林綜合醫院). It’s a fitting first destination since Gao Pu-chi started out studying hospital management at university in Taipei before deciding to escape Taipei and spend almost a year working random shifts and focusing on his photography.

When Xinglin Hospital ceased to run, it was the days before Taiwan had National Health Insurance. At the time it was split into workers insurance, farmer's insurance etc. The worker's insurance meant that the worker would pay an annual sum, guaranteeing an allowance for medical costs; however, if you had not spent these costs by the end of the year, the credit was lost and the money dissapeared, never to come back. At that time the hospital started having some deals with the triads in order to profit from this system, cooperating with them to falsely recieve the insurance money. Eventually the boss of the hospital was caught for his dealings and sent to prison. This meant he was no longer able to give a salary to his employees, so everyone left the hospital, it became derelict, and has remained this way all the way until today. Nonetheless all of the drugs, beds and other equipment remained. Eventually anything that could be sold or used has been taken - including the metal and wood holding together windows.

remain_13crop

Photo by Chen Po-I from his collection 'Remain'

When I arrived there in broad daylight, at the centre of Tainan city from outside the building looks like the remains of a blitzkrieg. Not a window was still standing, nonetheless these vacant walls were stained with poetry. Poetry of the past patients, doctors, nurses and corpses that inhabited these now barren and broken walls. Reading the stone slabs above the different doctors office, I realised that from explorations into a 30 year old building – untouched apart from lootings – that you can sometimes learn a lot more about history than any museum.

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This stone slab above a doorway gives praise to the ingenuity and skills of the doctor who occupied the room. Traditionally a grateful patient may contribute one of these slabs, this one details the remarkable recovery from a horrific car accident in which the author had  fractured his skull.

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wangziReliving the Blitzkrieg

“I dreamt that you had come down south”

Love letter dated 1981 (民國70年)

The ‘Today’s Showings’ board at the Prince Theater (王子大戲院) is empty today. I feels like its been empty a long time too, a couple of slightly ripped and faded posters remain outside – on one of them you can make out a western film perhaps from the 80’s that I never knew. At some point in the 1980's this complex suffered from a great fire leaving much of the building destroyed and pushing the variety of entertainment businesses out of the building. After the fire it suffered another form of destruction, torn apart for its wood, nails and ladders – anything that could be sold or reused. This however doesn’t bother Bibi (B-Boy), people don't loot the things that he is interested in - the pictures, the posters, the marks left on the wall from the posters, and loveletters - everything that tells a story.

The building used to be at the heart of Tainan's more controversial entertainment scene. The second floor used to be a karaoke joint and had hundreds of old VHS videotapes. The 4th floor - a strip club. While Bibi explained to us that all the seats had bins underneath to throw away your issues, we found an abandoned G-string, used perhaps 25 years ago and the posters that they used to use to promote the club. There were three theatres in the building in which all the seats had been ripped from the floor, at the back of the theatre were a set of couches, these were the more expensive seats where you could take a partner and engage in more questionable business. Perhaps the most beautiful moment, however, was when Bibi found a 30-year old love letter and its reply. The story was of a girl from Tainan in the south of the country and a boy form Taipei in the north. Reading the handwritten letter we could almost feel the emotions from the two lovers, their dreams and their life pressures and their chances for a future together. We were only able to speculate on how the relationship concluded.

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After the dust settles...

During my few days exploring these ruins in Taiwan, I gained a great affinity for these independent spaces. I was left wandering, what memories would I leave for someone exploring my ruins 50 years into the future. This touches on our very permanence, and sustained being. After the dust settles, what mark would you leave on this world?

週三, 27 四月 2011

Tracing Stains in Namaxia

Chen Po-I (Bi Bi) won his first photography award in 1996, the Hua Deng Young Photographer’s Award in Tainan, and since then he has won almost a dozen others. Due to his passion, Bibi eventually suffered from CTS (Carpal tunnel syndrome) in his wrist, brought on by long-term holding of cameras for which he had release surgery in 2008 to get the compressed wrist nerve removed. Yet, following his surgery he was still obsessively engaged in photography and his interest turning towards Taiwan after the hit of Typhoon Morakot, from which he says "I find the unbeaten vitality of Taiwanese society."

While most young people go to the ruins for a sense of thrill, danger and the freedom privided by these independent anarchic spaces with no owners, Bibi prefers to approach the buildings as an archaeologist. He explains that accross the globe there are several types of ruin: Chernobyl style, where due to manmade disasters, a whole area is evacuated and left for generations; New Orleans style, caused by natural disasters, where after a few years humans begin to rebuild; finally, the temporary ruins which emerge during the process of urban renewal are the most common type of ruin.

One tyoe which is more common in Taiwan than elsewhere are ruins caused by natural disasters. In 2009, during Typhoon Morakot, the great storm, a mountain mudslide left the community of Nansha-lu (南沙魯) or Namaxia (那嗎夏) in pieces, with 10 people confirmed perished and 32 missing in the mudslides. After the accident, the government began cleaning out the houses in preparation for the excavators being brought in. Before they were demolished Bibi went with his camera to capture the remains. In the resulting photo collection, Bibi was particularly interested by the traces, the mudstains left on the wall and the story this interprets. For example he asked, why did the original owner not return to live in one of the houses? Because four neighbours corpses were discovered in the living room of their house. There were ten people in the family, nine of them drowned in the disaster. The only survivor was a 5th grade child, who was thrown on to the roof of another building further below, where he was stuck before eventually the slides relinquished. The family could thus not return because the spirits of their neighbours were trapped within these walls.

Though the mud in Namaxia was eventually dug out by the military, his photo records show the depth of the mudslides in the house.  Even Bibi was far shorter than the level the mud reached on the wall. If he had been there at the time, he probably would have perished as well. Bibi feels that questions of social justice are also raised here. The governments reaction to these type of accidents is to opt for the easy way out, but also the least respectful and culturally understanding. They decide that the best way is purely to move all the aborigines to the cities, where their culture would simply be overrun and lost in the urban sea. The mountain community is their home, their culture and their way of life. The government should instead help these communities find safer ways to continue living as communities in the mountains.

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The photos in this article were a part of Chen Po-I's work 'Morakot Nanshalu'. Text by Nicholas Coulson.

 

週二, 03 五 2011

The Beauty of Decay

Hubert has been living in Taipei for seven years. Every week, he spends in average six hours to stride along the streets of the city looking for the perfect snapshot which will yield the atmosphere that he feels and perceives himself. He is also a long time contributor of eRenlai where he has already published several photos. Here, he explains us why Taipei attracts him so deeply while showing us the hidden beauty of the city.

週二, 26 四月 2011

Taipei from the River

Taipei is here because of the river. The clear, drinkable water of the Keelong, Danshui and Xindian Rivers is still in the living memory of the communities along the rivers. For these people and for Taipei the rivers have been the everyday source of life. This is time before the flood walls and time before the city was separated from its natural environment. Taipei still carries the river in its collective memory and so the city has not yet become a total industrial fiction. But new memories need to be made and fast. The rivers must become again the lifeline and nerve system of the urbanized Taipei Basin. A new kind of urbanism must be created living in straight dialog with the river nature; landscape urbanism from the viewpoint of the river: Taipei River Urbanism.

Local Knowledge

The Jiantai fishermen have been operating on the Keelong and Danshui Rivers for generations fishing, crabbing and transporting cargo and people on the rivers. They used to carry their Local God with his temple to higher grounds when the river was flooding. The river was so clean that they could drink the water. Floods came every year, the boat building master told us, but it was not so bad since there were no flood walls: the water had plenty of space to spread around. He showed the level below his knee where the water used to rise during the typhoon.

Then one time the dictator’s home was flooded, he tells us, referring to Chiang Kai-Shek. The dictator got mad with nature and built the walls. The Jiantai fishermen remained with their shrinking settlement close to the river while  the mad dictator with his city was walled up from the river. Still today the fishermen don’t see a reason why the walls were built. “The Japanese had better ideas for the rivers. They for example thought of digging the Keelong River deeper. When the KMT came the river got polluted and then came the wall.”

Mrs. Chen has been living together with the Xindian River all her life. She and her husband used to work for a construction company that harvested sand from the river bottom. Mrs. Chen participated in the work and she also cooked tea for the working men. These working men founded the Treasure Hill community together with the KMT veterans from Mainland China.

The illegal community by the river built their own houses and farmed all the flood plain from Treasure Hill to the river. The water was so clear that at low tide they could walk to the other side of the river because they could see the bottom and where to step. Children used to cross the river on top of buffaloes. All the families also had to have a boat according to Mrs. Chen, to visit their relatives and to go to markets to sell their vegetables. “Sometimes an uncle was so drunk that we didn’t know how to send him home in the dark to the other side of the river with his little boat.”

Because of the flood the Treasure Hill settlers did not build valuable properties in the flood area down the hill, but used that for secondary buildings such as pig houses and storages, but even then the government wanted to “protect” them and bulldozed the houses away and in the end forbid them from farming.

The pollution comes from the up-stream, Mrs. Chen says. Suddenly the river got so dirty that they could not eat the fish anymore. Even the dogs don’t eat the fish today.  Before the pollution they drank the river water, washed their clothes and vegetables in the river and ate the fish and crabs. The river was their everyday life.

The Amis spokesman of the Xi Zhou village is a representative of a very brave riverside community.  The descendants of the original three families from the Taidong Amis community have been fighting for their rights to live along the river. First the government destroyed their riverside farms and built a bicycle track instead. That is the same pattern as with Treasure Hill.

Then the officials tried to kick the Amis from their homes and “resettle” them, as they did with the Treasure Hill’s original community. The Amis refused and have been fighting ever since. Now they are in a dialog with the government, who have proposed to move the village a bit further from the river and build to them new homes. The Amis think that the government houses will be nothing compared to their self built houses that form a unique organic community that is as much a garden as it is architecture. The Amis prefer to build their new homes by themselves too in the same organic way as the community is built now and keeping the same dialog with the neighbors and collective spaces.

The Spokesman is 37 years old and tells us that he spent all his childhood with the river, who provided the community its everyday food. The collective farming along the river was as essential to the community sense as the river itself and those two cannot be separated in the Spokesman’s childhood memory. Then: the river got polluted.

Official Mistake

The Official aims in coming in-between human and nature; also in-between human and human nature. The official city is modern and inhumane. It wants to clean up the back-alleys of Taipei and beautify them.

It prevents people from farming on the river banks. In fact it forbids any kind of plantations on the river banks, because they belong to the flood protection area. Mrs. Chen has been farming all her life on the Xindian River flood plains. So have the Amis settlers. For them the floods are natural and they kept on farming until the government came to “protect” them, as the school head-master came to protect naughty Alex “from himself”. (Stanley Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange) In  official point of view when human gets close to nature including human nature, he approaches danger. He can get out of control.

The river can get out of control - at least out of human control. It is almost as if it supposed not to be controlled by humans. The industrial city is an ultimate manifest of human control, a machinery to regulate human life. This machine and the hydraulics of nature seem to be in some sort of conflict trying to fit together in the same Taipei Basin.

The river is flooding, which is something that the city doesn’t want and the city is polluting which is something that the river doesn’t want. An easy, almost fast-food solution was to build a wall between the city and the river. The flood and the rest of the water is supposed to stay on the other, “organic” side of the city-river coexistence and the wall also keeps the stinky and polluted water out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind.

The wall has been up already a couple of generations. For the young Taipei citizens the river hardly exists, nature has become a fiction. Now the city government has admitted that building the wall and polluting the river has been kind of an “official mistake” and tries to find strategies to make this up for the citizens. They build bicycle ways to the river banks and paint official graffiti on the wall. Riverside parks are being created and citizens are encouraged to cherish the “blue highway”. At the same time, citizens are not allowed to create spontaneous community farms along the rivers and the wall has not moved anywhere. The river is allowed to exist only under the official's control as the citizens are only allowed to be with the river under the same official control.

Taiwanese nature, as any nature, is against any kind of control. The only rule of nature is existence maximum, to produce maximal life in the given conditions. This goes for the jungle and this goes for the communities in the Taipei Basin. Organic human settlements can find a way to coexist with the rest of the nature. This has been the reality  in Taipei before the hyper-industrialism.

With the industrial-economic growth the co-existence with nature has been forgotten and the people and communities living along the environment are seen as garbage. Now that environmental consciousness has become an “international trend”, Taipei has come to realize that it is actually a river city.

Now the big question with this urban ecological awakening is whether urban nature (river, mountains, jungle, wetlands…) is continued to be seen as an almost virtual ecological amusement park, or can the official Taipei accept nature to be real? Can the river be real and are the citizens allowed to do real things with real nature? Is a grandmother allowed to establish a vegetable garden along the river and take clean water from the stream?

RIVER-GARDEN_WAYNE

Participatory Planning

A lot of water needs to go through a city in order to keep it alive. In Taipei it goes like this:

  1. Fresh water from the mountains is collected to the sweet-water reservoirs of Wulai and Taoyuen from where it is directed to the purification plants in a couple of points around the city. From these water centers the drinking water is then directed to the households and other water consumer units.
  1. After the consumption dirty water including sewage and grey waters are collected to the Dihua, Neihu and Bali sewage treatment plants from where the clean water is again released either to the rivers or into the Taiwan Strait.

Officially 63 % of the Taipei Basin is connected to the sewage treatment system. The rest 37 % is still released straight into the rivers and these are “official numbers”. The un-official real volume of river pollution is higher. According to the Dihua sewage treatment plant “there is a lot of small factories in the mountains who release their pollution to the rivers at nights.”

The natural river restoration in Taipei’s urban conditions requires knew kinds of socio-ecological knowledge building and decision making. The different river related departments of the city government (river, hydraulic, environmental protection, urban development, urban design, public works etc.) admit that they are lacking cross-disciplinary co-operation and that they don’t see any participatory planning around the urban river restoration issue, but that they want this. They want to get out from their corners and also give space for the other department to come to their territories. They want to co-operate, but the problem is: every corner has a king.

These kings lay down the disciplines and official power hierarchies that cannot tolerate any changes and that feel every spontaneous move as a threat. These kings make sure their officials protect their territories against the other department. “No, you cannot plant here anything: the river banks belong to the river department.” And to make things even more complicated around the river is not only all the Taipei City departments but also the Taipei County and the Central Government fighting for their rights to control. Meanwhile: nothing happens.

In the middle of the Danshui River should be set up a boat. A new Noah’s Ark where the representatives of the shareholders of the river would gather for participatory planning. Besides the different city, county and central government officials there would be scholars, scientists, NGO’s and the representatives of the Local Knowledge. Mrs. Chen would be there, the Jiantai fishermen and the Amis.

This participatory planning would lead to decision making concerning the river restoration and the relationship between the city and the river. Maybe the participatory planning would be chaired by United Nations? The UN-HABITAT is looking for an urban river case that could be used as an example for other similar kinds of cases around the world. Taipei could lead the way. Cleaning the river and creating sustainable River Urbanism is not a technological question, it is a question of communication and participatory planning.

Five Elements

The Taipei River Urbanism will be cooked up with five elements: Local Knowledge, Collective Ownership, Environmental Technology, Natural River Restoration and Architecture.

Local Knowledge anchors the future of Taipei's sustainable development to the real memories and site-specific knowledge of living together with the river nature.

Urban farming and community gardens have always existed together with the river. This Taiwanese phenomenon should be encouraged as a vital part of the River Urbanism. The gardens can be connected to more complex systems of citizen initiated constructions and even alternative communities along the rivers following the examples of the Amis and  Treasure Hill.

Fishing, crabbing and aquaculture will restart automatically after the water quality reaches an acceptable level as will boating, swimming and other physical activities with the rivers.

Jiantai-Fisherman_Marco-Casagrande

Collective Ownership binds the citizens to the restoration process by taking them into the development as shareholders. The ownership sense is critical to the reunion of the city and the river. In case the citizens do not feel as the shareholders of the future river nature the city will remain behind the wall and the river as drive-in amusement park.

Environmental Technology will provide solutions for various sectors of the River Urbanism with sustainable energy production, pollution control and treatment and flood management.

Different sustainable energy solutions will be examined in the river corridors. Small scale wind energy can power local installations such as community gardens and alternative communities. Tidal energy can be an alternative in the river mouth area where the tidal pulse effects the river all the way to Zhuwei-Guandu. Fast growing bio-mass can be grown on the river banks and harvested from boats to fuel bio-energy plants in selected locations. The Taipei climate and the fertile river banks are optimal for bio-mass cultivation. The biomass and tidal energy must be tuned together with the free flooding plan. Taking steps too fast may increase the flood level while the flood-walls still exist. Solar energy can be produced also on floating installations.

Environmental technology will increase the effectiveness of the existing sewage treatment plants and help to take care of the remaining sources of pollution. Local purification installations and dry toilet systems can be offered to the areas still out of the sewage grid.

Natural River Restoration will apply the existing knowledge of river restoration but in urban conditions. The River Restoration is based on free flooding which will eventually mean the removal of the flood walls after the community scale flood control infrastructure is completed in Taipei.

The sedimentation pollution will be removed from the river bottoms and treated. The river bank soil will be either removed and treated or the pollutants will be tied into vegetation as for example part of the biomass production. Wetland areas will be introduced together with riverbank vegetation and eventually connected to the mountain jungles as green corridors in order to increase bio diversity and to treat the water and soil.

Probably the most challenging part of the natural river restoration will be the element of free flooding. Community scale underground storm water reservoirs will be built in the flood areas of the Taipei Basin mirroring the Tokyo underground typhoon reservoir mega-structures but as a de-centralized system. After the underground storm water capacity is in function the flood-walls will be removed; city and the river will be reunited.

Architecture will still define the human built environment of the Taipei River Urbanism, but in closer connection with the organic growth and the water movement. The Local Knowledge will give solutions into more organic construction and community sense.

The free flooding will present new challenges for housing and infrastructure where also the static and industrially built architecture has to give up in order to let nature to step in. The urban environmental conditions will not be aimed to be fixed and controlled, but flexible and Open Form.

Taipei and Taiwan has a high standard of illegal citizen built architecture. This spontaneous culture or gardening buildings should be encouraged and supported. The River Urbanism will step back from the developer or official initiated construction and make more room for citizen architecture. The DIY architecture can start in small scale on the river banks as part of the community gardens and it can also start building mediating areas over the flood wall connecting the city to the organic side.

The presentation at the Ruin Academy, Taipei 26.3.2011 is a result of research and workshops conducted in co-operation between the Aalto University, SGT Sustainable Global Technologies, Finland + Tamkang University Department of Architecture, Taiwan + National Taiwan University Department of Sociology.

Sincere thanks to all the researchers, students and professors – especially Professor Chen Cheng-Chen from Tamkang and Professor Tseng Yen-Fen from NTU.

The Taipei River Urbanism research and workshop is kindly supported by the JUT Foundation for Arts and Architecture.

Photos courtesy of the Ruin Academy


Original text appeared in Marco's blog 26.3.2011 and was published by the Ruin Academy. For more about C-lab and the Ruin Academy read Taipei Organic Acupuncture or Nick's explorations of other C-lab projects.

 

週四, 21 四月 2011

Snappershot & Tainan Lutai

Cars, cameras and cats

Tainan's Lutai was established two years ago by Sam Wu (吳山姆) and (廖脆麵) as an exhibition space, and a gathering space for lovers of novelty model cars, photography and cats. While intially they were just content that they could provide this space, eventually they opened up a small vintage store inside, with the hope that in the future they could break even.

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Snappershots Troupe (亂拍團) meet one Sunday every month. A group of people with similar interests – photography, exploration and anarchic spaces – meet at Tainan Lutai before gathering in a pre-selected block, with ruins a plenty and pearls waiting to be discovered. Lutai have even created a map (see right) of their favourite ruins in Tainan. In line with their passions the perimeter of the map is metamorphosed into a camera lens.

When was the first time you went ruin exploring? What stimulation do you get from these regular urban excursions? When I asked Gao Pu-chi what he likes so much about exploring these ruins, he said it was a house with no one inside, no one was looking after the house, but it ferments its own flavour, its own character and its own life as a ruin. What keeps him going still now he summed it up as 'danger'. Here are some of the photographic treasures Gao Pu-chi has brought back from these trips.

Cuimian (脆麵), one of the founders of Lutai, told me that above all Snappershot was for fun, the loose group had no strict rules and little responsibilities. They didn't go to shoot the classic tourist places, they searched out the wilder places in a state of decay such as shut down factories, unwanted houses and ruins. Originally there was 7-8 people participating. They would blog their photos and explorations and neventually people began to ask where these places were. Those who enjoyed Snappershot Sunday would come again and again, those who didn't wouldn't come a second time. Cuimian feels that ones outlook on the world can definitely be changed and enrichened by urban exploration. You will begin to search for the stories left over in the ruins, to appreciate the life and death of these constructions. The capturing these places on camera is different every time since everyone's eyes are different.

Images by Gao Pu-chi (高菩祁)

 

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Visual tours of recent architectural history are something that anyone can do by just wandering the streets and alleys… However if you want to try your hand with Snappershot you can contact Lutai and find out the dates of the next Snappershot excursion or alternatively if you are interested in having your own guided tour of the most marvellous of ruins in Tainan you could negotiate your own personal tour. If you can read Chinese you can also check their blog and facebook for updates.

Sam Wu: Email住址會使用灌水程式保護機制。你需要啟動Javascript才能觀看它 0925094096      Gao Pu-chi: Email住址會使用灌水程式保護機制。你需要啟動Javascript才能觀看它 0985091236

 

週四, 14 四月 2011

Formosan Futuro Village

Travellers and photographers everywhere are constantly searching for that unique experience. That unique shot of that unique place that gets the respect and awes from friends and magazine editors. With the ever-expanding tourism industry, these places are becoming harder to find everyday, especially if you aren't friends with a local. Traveling to unfamiliar places, it is easy to carted around to the typical tourist sights and being charged handsomely for it. Getting to those untouched gems off the trail takes research and effort. Most of the time, its because of these two requirements these places remain so beautiful in the first place; and make it that much more rewarding for those who actually get there.

Taiwan being an undiscovered gem in East Asia it-self, it is full of these uncharted areas, making it a brilliant destination for those in search of a unique experience. This weekend I rediscovered one of these destinations in which I've labeled the 'Formosa's Futuro Village'. Below is its colorful story, I hope you enjoy it.

History

The 1970's was an interesting time for the entire world. New fashion trends, music styles, and lifestyle perspectives were emerging like never before. People not only had ideals now, but the money to buy them as well. Trends were also emerging in the architecture design industry, attempting to satisfy the thirst of those in search of a unique home to match their new unique views on life. In an era where it was believed robots and machines will eventually cure all of humanities inconveniences, a Finnish architect Matti Suuronen designed a new house he christened the 'Futuro'.

This new house was designed to eventually be the world wide standard of all houses, to enable worldwide travel and living for everyone. Built out of reinforced fiberglass, this 16-piece 'pod' or 'flying saucer' like shape house was designed for easy transport and to be sustainable in any environment. The basic idea was, you buy one house when you live on the beach in Hawaii, and when you want a change of pace and move to the Swiss alps to live in a skiing village, you simple fly your house over piece by piece to be reconstructed. All that was needed were four concrete pillars as the base, and the house could be placed on top of them, enabling it to be positioned almost anywhere.

Besides the unique transportable design of the house, the interior was also designed with ultimate convenience in mind. The living room had a series of reclining chairs, on which people could sit comfortably or even pull down n' out to make into sleepers for guests. These chairs were along the outer wall facing the center of the house where the kitchen and bar area were located. This would have made for a great conversational dinning and living room area all in one compact space. Along the backside of the house, the master bedroom and bath were kept tucked away with privacy and intimacy. An interesting environmental appeal to this house was that using the electric heating system, it could go from -20 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in only 30 minutes. Incredibly sustainable.

Sadly, there were less than 100 of these houses constructed worldwide, which is commonly blamed on the Exxon Mobile Crisis and the dramatic price increase of oil. The domino effect of the increase made the plastics for these homes more expensive to produce and naturally people began to loose interest. Matti Suuronen dream of a futuristic world with traveling flying saucer houses whizzing through the air under helicopters died hand in hand with his design in the 1980's.

Business Venture

Before the Futuro's fate ran its course however, one savvy Taiwanese businessman shared Matti Suuronen's dream and took action with it.

Mr. Su Ming was a Taiwanese businessman with a vibrant past in the military during his earlier years. One of his first ventures was a now popular brand of Sarsaparilla soda sold throughout Taiwan. In its beginning days, it wasn't very popular with the local's taste buds and got off to a slow start. However, with the American establishment of military bases in Taiwan as a post for the great East Asia, western tastes for both culture and foods began to develop in the country. Along with this, Mr. Su Mings' carbonated beverage sales exploded and he established a new factory, becoming a new rich member of high society.

With his new money, Mr. Su Ming was anxious to invest and decided to aim for an up scale market of Taiwanese citizenry shopping for vacation homes. He decided that water sports and beach living were the appeals he needed to create a beach side community for the high class Taiwanese. With this in mind, he picked out a beautiful beach front location along the North Eastern coast of Taiwan, made a property investment, and began to construct a futuristic housing community filled with Futuro design houses as well as Square shaped beach villas. His market was the super rich of Taiwan, as these beach villas were originally priced at around what today is equivalent to $94,000 US Dollars.

Informed by the local property manager, I was told that eventually investors lost interest and the project ran out of money. He explained that many of the investors could afford to go abroad to other exotic locations and private villas, leaving little desire for a simple vacation on home turf beach property.

Moreover, in an interview with a local dance instructor at the neighboring spa and hotel, I was informed that the weather conditions of the area were extreme year round; Summers being unbearably hot, and winters bringing intolerably strong winds and crashing cold waters to the beach. She explained how it was a less than ideal placement for vacation homes and that the neighborhood had been vacant for 20-30+ years.

The current day result is the ruins of a once futuristic beach side villa neighborhood, deserted and unsettling, giving us a small window into what was once a successful business mans dream.

futuro_02

Shooting Experience

Trying to catch the morning magic hour for the shoot, I headed out around 5:00 A.M. to catch the first bus over to the now abandoned beach resort. This was only possible because Taipei's transportation system is resilient, making life easy for those who choose to avoid the danger of driving scooters in the hectic traffic. Winding through the mountains and watching while the scenery changed from high rise apartments to jungle covered green hillsides and temples, I couldn't help but begin to appreciate how easy it was to get out of the mess in Taiwan. In only about an hour, I was already coastline. DSLR and tripod in hand, I got off the coach and spotted the first Futuro.

The morning was overcast, as it usually is on the Taiwan coastlines, which brought a whole new feeling to the scenario. With rolling grey clouds, dispersed sunlight, and the Futuro house on approach, I felt like I was literally about to be abducted. The eerie weather and abandoned structures really worked well together, giving me a hair-raising sense that I should get in, shoot, and get out.

While wandering through the planned community lined streets, the color contrasts and random objects of the ruins presented an amazing window to into the past. All of the Futuro style homes were either a dull orange or faded light yellow color, indicating their age and rough past life. There were rust stains running down the sides of each home resembling bleeding scars caused by years and years of the harsh environment pounding down on them. The wind canopy's steel poles on each of the square homes front porch had been mangled by the intense winds, as if they were pipe cleaners bent by a child.

Overgrown, most of the homes had clearly been deserted for a long time. Remarkably however, there were still some in which had rusted padlocks on the doors, television sets inside, and appeared to still be inhabited. This gave me the sense I was in some sort of abandoned town horror film and continually checked the shadows to ensure there was nothing creeping behind me to put an axe in my back.

I did venture into a few of the homes that weren't barricaded with wooden pole and barbed wire locks for a better look. I found Japanese influenced tatami rooms, twin beds with sheets still on them, and even toothbrushes alongside a bottle of head and shoulders shampoo in one bathroom.

Kitchens with stoves, refrigerators, and air-conditioning units still hung on the wall all screamed at the modernity the entire project was aimed at back then. What I did find quite appealing, was that in front of the beachfront square villas, and underneath many of the Futuro designed homes, there were tables and seating along with barbeque pits and gardens. It resembled what I thought of as a camp ground, where families could get together and cook outside to enjoy nature and the company of their loved ones. An interesting contrast of feelings and mood for such a place.

Overall, the energy was a bizarre mix of extreme creepiness countered by that of an feeling that it actually could have been a very pleasant community to live in had it succeeded. The villas interior design along with the quaintness of the community could have been a very nice place for a camping vacation getaway right only a short drive from the capital.

futuro_03

Lessons & Enlightenment

The beach side villas established by Mr. Su Ming provide a unique and interesting view into the past of Taiwan and world trends in general. The place is a not-to-miss opportunity for any traveler or photographer coming to Taiwan searching for a one of a kind sight. Fortunately, it has so far been able to avoid the bulldozer, unlike its unlucky West coast brother Pod Houses in SanZhi, but its impossible to know when their day will finally be numbered.

Just a short time out of Taipei, it also is a nice reminder of how incredible of a travel destination Taiwan is. Being one of the undiscovered gems of the east, Taiwan's scenery and culture remains rich and unique, yet the modernity of the country makes it all very accessible. The undiscovered Futuro Village of Taiwan is an amazing travel experience and I would highly recommend it as a day trip for those who are interested in a place that is off the beaten path, has a unique and rich story, and is all in a very photogenic package.

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Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/6146741

週三, 06 四月 2011

Adjusting to the Past Lives of Buildings

Last Month Treasure Hill (Baozangyan) hosted an exhibition called Lumintree House by a group of young designers and architects called the Tien Tien Circle.

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