Monday, May 22, 2006

Thinking about space

Before I came to Taipei for the first time I was living in Berkeley, where I began my Chinese studies. Once I had made my decision to continue my studies in Taiwan, people were telling me all sorts of bad things about living here--about the weather, about the traffic, about the pollution, etc. Then, a Berkeley architecture student from Hong Kong living in my building said: Taipei is a really nice city. I asked her if she meant it had really nice architecture. Her reply came to mind as I was roaming the city yesterday: "I wouldn't just focus on the structure or appearance of the buildings; you should consider the way that space is utilized." I don't know much about architecture theory, so perhaps someone who does (you know who you are) could explain this.

Now, after my arrival in Taipei in 1996, it took me quite a long time to really appreciate the city. Notions of American urban skylines and European city facades were too embedded in my thinking. When I thought, as I still tend to do, about architecture, I pictured structures. And to be honest, I never found the appearance of most buildings here to be that spectacular, that is, except for the temples (but even there, they are for the most part of the same mold.) Many buildings don't even seem to be meant to serve as permanent structures. I mean, watching down below from the metro traveling from Xinbeitou to Beitou, you can't help but notice that many of the roofs are constructed of that toughshed material, probably the quickest, easiest roof to throw on.

Yesterday, as I was walking in the metro station mall, under the Taipei Train Station, I was thinking, and this likely won't come as a deep thought to experienced architects, but architectural design here, has one function in mind--that is, to utilize space so that the maximum amount of people can congregate. You see it in the metro station, in the parks, in the night markets, in the temples, in the walk from the City Government metro station to 101, and in the building itself. It is all about people congregating.

I eventually came to see the beauty in this city, and it wasn't in my mind, in the structure of the buildings. It was in the people moving about within and without them.

Of course, building like 101 serve a greater function than that. 101 is an emblem of this place. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city. It won't always be the world's tallest building, but for a long time to come, it will be Taipei's tallest building.


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