Illegal Architecture in Taipei
March 31, 2011
China has been vilified by the global community for destroying ancient parts of its oldest cities to make way for new building: the hutongs that made up the dense, pre-medieval Beijing, for example, have been almost completely destroyed.
Is neighboring Taiwan negotiating some slightly less destructive path towards what Taipei officially calls “beautification?” A loosely affiliated team of architects — Wang Shu, Marco Casagrande, Hsieh Ying-Chun and Roan Ching-Yueh (sometimes called WEAK! Architecture) — have become stewards for this “Instant City” movement, organizing and building in non-government-mandated spheres in Taipei. On March 11, “Illegal Architecture,” an exhibit at their headquarters, opened to the public. The show focuses on what they — at different moments, depending on the context — call Illegal Architecture, Orchid Architecture, the People’s Architecture, or Weak Architecture.
Click through to read more about the movement that’s gaining major momentum.
Here’s the basic lexicon of what this crew is talking about: There’s an Official City – i.e., the city beautification and modernization project. Then there’s an Instant City – a much older project tied directly to human nature, motivated by basic human instinct and mandated only by desire and availability. The Instant City, or Instant Taipei, is an architecture that uses the Official City as a “growing platform and energy source, where to attach itself like a parasite and from where to leach the electricity and water… [The Instant City's] illegal urban farms or night markets is so widespread and deep rooted in the Taiwanese culture and cityscape that we could almost speak of another city on top of the “official” Taipei, a parallel city – or a para-city.”
They’re far from advocating complete spatial anarchy. In fact, both cities need each other. Instant Taipei and Official Taipei, says Casagrande, can and should exist together: “Let the city rotten, ferment and compost itself. Recognize the illegal architecture as the true force of Taiwanese architecture.”
WEAK! projects often take “lost” crafts — forgotten in the rush to immigrate into urban cores for higher-paying jobs — and resurrects them to engage the city. For example, a 2009 project for the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Biennale, built an “un-official social club for illegal workers coming from the Chinese countryside to the city. This small pavilion was constructed mainly by some very sensitive guys from rural Guangxi, true masters of bamboo. The Bug Dome is insect architecture merely reorganizing natural materials into a nest or cocoon.”
Bug Dome at the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture & Urbanism, 2009. WEAK!
In a more recent project, architect Wang-Shu’s created an illegal “cucoon” on the roof of the Ruin Academy in Taipei – using no nails, only the wood beams you see below. Says Casagrande, “His understanding of three dimensional tension is on the level of the insects.”
You may be familiar with Wang-Shu’s Ningbo Historic Museum – it’s facade is made completely from scavenged stone from the area:
Wang Shu, Ningbo Historic Museum, Amateur Architecture Studio.
We’ve actually featured a project from the team’s headquarters before: the Ruin Academy, an ode to the beauty of decay in the form of an architectural research center. Ruin Academy seems to serve as a kind of laboratory for whatever project they’re working on – including the ”Illegal Architecture” show.
The Ruin Academy in Taipei.
Hsieh Ying-Chun, left and Wang-Su, illegal architects. Images (c) Marco Casagrande and Ruin Academy.
If you’re in Taipei, go check out the show and report back. Here’s what you’ll need to know:
Illegal Architecture @ Urban Core
Curated by Roan Ching-Yueh
The exhibition opens on March 11th 2011, and closes on April 17th 2011, at the Urbancore gallery (12.30 pm – 8.30pm) Taipei City, Zhonghua Road 1st Section, No. 89-4, First floor. FREE ENTRY