Beyond Big Project is aiming to discuss Taipei’s urban renewal issue. Based on current renewal policy, the government plays a relatively passive role, using floor area ration preference as an incentive for contractors. However, the monetary incentive nature in this urban renewal policy has also caused a series of urban problems.
Within urban renewal as an urban scale movement: instead of promoting the rebuild of old buildings, this project demonstrates a renewal process that starts from infrastructure. By deconstructing the paths above, which are crossing the old area of Taipei using an algorithm tool, there is more space in between paths for locating new public programs.
What prompted your interest in urbanism?
This has to do with the teaching and curriculum at my undergrad school Tamkang University in Taiwan. The first three years focused on architecture scale, and the fourth year became more about the larger scale approach. The two projects in the fourth year went from housing design to high speed railway station and urban regeneration. Our scope was expanded, shifting from building material and programs to development criteria, ecopolitical dynamics as well as policy making. I was deeply influenced by the fourth year design studios, and found myself strongly interested in performing architecture design with the respect to the urban context.
What defined Taipei as testing ground for the project?
This is directly related to Taipei City’s urban renewal approach and policy. For a low-tax based city like Taipei, it’s hard for the government to invest large amounts of resources on urban renewal for a long period of time, making the private sector development necessary. The FAR credit approach successfully attracted developers to short-term small scale projects, which is essentially renewal in the building scale. The inevitable result is that the old areas have little chance to attract investment. They are usually characterized as areas with low housing price, inconvenient transportation, declining local industry and joint ownership of properties. Therefore in the initial stage of this project, I decided to set aside the existing urban renewal plans and look into the issue from a new perspective.
What was your work process in terms of research- gathering and translation of data? How important was the photograph as medium in this initial phase?
I was able to choose or even propose my undergrad thesis topic, so at the beginning I decided to propose a project for Taipei City. In 2014, the most well-known architectural and urban issue in Taipei was urban renewal. It appeared under a serie of controversial policies, including demolition regardless of residents’ opposition, leading to further social injustice. During the one-year project, I spent about one third of the time doing in depth research on the urban renewal process in Taipei. I gathered the outcome of the current urban renewal plan then traced backwards and found how impractical and short sighted it is. Later on this became the starting point for my design.
There are two parts in the photo section in my project. The first part shows a protest movement. I want to use this photo illustration to point out that this is a serious issue that deserves public attention. The second part is a set of site pictures. I used these images to make my statement: urban design should be considered as a redesign process in the context instead of starting with a blank canvas. Meanwhile, the picture set shows the audience that Taipei has the base and the capability for designers to build a different reality.
What role does the initial collage hold?
Actually I don’t usually use collages or renderings to demonstrate my projects, but as the design and narrative became more and more complex to iterate, I realized that I need something more straightforward. I came up with this idea at a later stage of this project, to characterize the old districts and the new development as two boxers fighting on a stage. It unfolded the narrative in a visually powerful way, which is why I put it on the first page of this project.
What tools did you use throughout the project? How fundamental are programs as grasshopper or other parametric design tools for the discipline?
For most of the time I used Autocad, Rhino, Grasshopper and Adobe Illustrator. I hold a relatively conservative attitude about parametric design tool. I believe parametric tool can create many different possibilities, yet without a clear mindset and a precise methodology, parametric tool can only guide us to nowhere, same as the other tools. Based on this understanding, I set my design logic first and used grasshopper for just one critical thing, the calculation of the slope ratios for each lane and all the possible combinations of them. Therefore I was able to find the biggest volume in between the lanes, in order to provide enough spaces for potential public programs in the proposal.
What is your take on ‘exhibiting architecture’ how did you choose to represent your project within this format?
This is a great question, as a fifth year architecture student, this complicated issue was very challenging to me. After one month research at the beginning, I realized that urban renewal is a highly political and policy related topic. Architecture design and buildings themselves are merely the outcomes of the series of controversial policy practice. So I asked myself, if there’s one thing I could contribute to solve this issue as an architecture student, what would it be? The answer for myself was a new standpoint of view, a different vision for Taipei’s urban renewal.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you interested in developing issues of urban renewal further, maybe within different contexts?
After graduation, I went to Columbia University for the urban design master program because I deeply realized that I need to learn something beyond architecture design in order to have a better understanding of urban scale project, which is not only about buildings. I learned a lot about data, mapping and urban systems during the year in Columbia GSAPP. Currently, I’m working at KPF on a tower design project to learn to practice architecture design in the real world. Urban Renewal will always be one of the topics of my focus, and I’ll continue to find my way to practice what I believe in urban and architecture design.