Taiwan is renovating its military-industrial heritage, between institutionalization and counter-culture. The ex-military base of Treasure Hill was turned into an artistic village where the Taipei OpenLab is blossoming.
Taiwan, correspondence (text and photos)
The story of Treasure Hill is linked to that of Taiwan, this State-archipelago caught in a vice between China and Japan for a long time. End of the Second World War: Tchang Kaï-chek’s Kuomintang, banished from the newly communist China, settles in Taiwan, where it will remain the only party of the island until 1986. Treasure Hill then serves as an air defense base. Soldiers and veterans of the Kuomintang will eventually settle permanently and build their houses there.
Until the early 2000s, Treasure Hill is a small island well away from the development of the town, an autonomous village populated by these soldiers and their descendants, by artists and activists who are making it a nearly independent experimental area, dedicated to ecology and permaculture in an urban environment.
In 2007, Taipei city council decides to turn Treasure Hill into an “artistic village”. The residents are evacuated, protest marches organized. The project preserves the spirit and the ecological moves initiated by its previous occupants, particularly thanks to the work of the Finish architect Marco Casagrande, in charge of the renovation of the site.
The architect, who is designing the town “as a multidimensional and sensitive energizing organism, a living environment,” will take this opportunity to implement his theory of urban acupuncture, developed as part of his research within the Ruin Academy. The built heritage is almost spared from any alteration, except for several reorganizations of public areas: creation of shelters to play mah-jong in case of bad weather, but also steps and ladders to make access to certain areas easier…He opts for decentralized town planning and optimizes the circulation and management of the different existing natural resources: recycling and filtering grey water, reusing natural waste from shared gardens…
OpenLab Taipei: bastion of the open-maker resistance
Nestled on the upper parts of the village, on the hillside, OpenLab Taipei presides over Treasure Hill. More open than a mill, as narrow as an industrial container and organized like the attic of an antique dealer, OpenLab Taipei remains committed to the original philosophy of makerspaces.
You immediately feel at home, a bit like in the cabin of your aircraft model maker uncle. You can spend hours exploring and rummaging through the shelves, in search of tinkered objects of all kinds: 3D print of Ma Ying-jeou’s bust, former president of the State-archipelago, replica of Manneken-Pis, sailor’s knots in silicone, or still anthropomorphic aircrafts hanging from the ceiling…
Here too, you don’t judge a book by its cover: these 25m2 host and mix together a community of…8,000 members.
Connected to the big names of the maker world (Make Magazine, Wired, Fab Foundation, Smart Citizen…) as well as the main Taiwanese actors of the sector (g0v, Taipei Hackerspace…), OpenLab Taipei affirms and defends the original values of the maker culture.
Honki, generous organizer of the community, welcomes members but also curious people who get lost in the upper parts of the village. He says he is worried about the present trend in Taiwan: “The maker spirit, that relies on values such as accessibility, sharing and DIY, is petering out.”
It must be said that Taiwan is not immune to the international trend consisting in involving makers in commercial projects contrary to the values of the community. It is the case of two creative and cultural spaces that saw the light of day on the island these last few years, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park, set up in a former tobacco and alcohol factory, and the Songshan Cultural Creative Park, that also took up residence in an abandoned tobacco factory.
These two renovations, lead by public institutions, are representative of the syndrome Honki evokes. The two centers gather concept-stores, organize exhibitions and concerts on a large scale, have trendy cafés… and in the end clearly resemble shopping centers. In short: places of passage, and not life.
There is also another dynamic, linked to the technology and entrepreneurial sectors. Stronghold of electronics made in Taiwan, Taipei, that is riding high in terms of connected objects and robotics, is logically seeing new actors appear who do not hesitate to mix different activities (fablab, cafés, co-working, incubators…) within a same space, thus contributing to the dynamism and economic attractiveness of the country. It is the case of CIT (Center for Innovation), of Garage+, of Impact Hub Taipei, of Futureward, or still of Fab Café.
Treasure Hill is different
Today, Treasure Hill is an amazing mix within which young and elderly, artists, inhabitants or tourists, coexist in the midst of workshops, educational gardens, independent bookstores, cafés and galleries. More or less official events come one after another all over the village, from repair workshops, to readings and open air performances, cooking workshops or still collective vegetable harvesting, not forgetting more traditional celebrations.
Admittedly, the village is no longer independent or autonomous. Admittedly, the institutionalization of the activity has clearly broken the charm and authenticity of the place. Notwithstanding, Treasure Hill has a very specific spirit, and remains an oddity in the Taiwanese territory, even in Asia. Its entity constitutes a nice balance, mixing public spaces, intimacy and both private and shared spaces. All in all, a place to live and produce in the open air, and on a large scale.
More information on OpenLab Taipei