Remaking Taiwan

I came across an interesting exhibition on Taiwan’s New Landscape Movement when I was visiting the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts  (KMFA) yesterday. Since the 1940-50s influx of refugees escaping the Chinese Civil War, Taiwan has struggled with the haphazard development of its housing, transportation and cultural centers. (I was once struck by how at the similarity of parts of Taipei and Athens, a city which once saw a similar influx of war refugees.) However, it seems that government and cultural leaders (for instance, those in architecture and landscape architecture) are now working in concert to develop more lasting and meaningful structures, while also figuring ways to blend them into the landscape. That includes reworking the country’s transportation gateways (renovation of the international airports, developing a bullet train that will cross the island from north to south) and seeking to attract more tourists to the island.

Predictably, the rather dry newspaper articles I have seen on the projects do not do them justice. Much better is viewing the KMFA exhibit, where you can see the drawings, computering renderings and models of the architects. The island is expanding its offering of cultural centers, and there seem to be a panoply of projects on the table.

Part of the KMFA’s current exhibition space is devoted to the design finalists for the planned National Palace Museum Southern Branch. Jurors asked that the teams come up with ideas that would be pan-Asian, while also retaining a regional flair.  A Japanese design team came up with the bizarre "idea" of building the museum in the shape of an old Chinese coin. (Was money the first thing that popped into their head when they thought of Taiwan culture!?) A Taiwanese team’s design was more subtle; they wanted to "hide" the museum in the landscape and allow the structure to surprise museum-goers as they approached the structure. (Maybe too subtle for the jurors? It seems like architects often want to find ways to leave a signature on the land.) One American  team’s design struck me as near imitation of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao. In the end,  American architect Andrew Predock,  came out on top with his "Yu Shan" (Jade Mountain proposal). The proposed structure rises above the otherwise flat landscape, its centerpiece a "crystal" mountain that pays homage to Taiwan’s mountainous geography.  I was struck by Predock’s additional nod to local sensibilities, since his design proposes details like incorporating Taroko marble in the museum’s foundation.

Taiwan is also looking to redesign many of its university campuses (which were damaged during a recent earthquake) and reclaim certain rivers. Dialogue, Taiwan’s magazine on architecture, design and culture, also
has a good article on both the National Palace Museum – Southern Branch
International Competition and the Taiwan New Landscape Movement in Issue #87.

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