6 Nov 2018
There is nothing that immediately whets your aesthetic appetite in Taipei, however scratch the surface and a fascinating place emerges. There is an order and calmness that counters the chaotic urbanity. Taiwan is a tech savvy country, and it is rare to see a local under the age of 50 without a smartphone in their hand. The MRT (underground system) is an eye opener, orderly queues; spotlessly clean, air-conditioned with food and drink banned it is in stark contrast to the often-miserable experience of the London Underground. This is a well-educated courteous and tidy society. It is a very different place to either Hong Kong or Singapore; it is not as showy, not as polished, perhaps because its colonial past is Japanese rather than British.
It was occupied by the Japanese from 1895 to 1945. After the Communist takeover of mainland China, Chiang Kai-shek set up the Republic of China on the island of Formosa, modern day Taiwan. It was a brutal period of martial law with a one party state, the industrialisation and technological advances of the 1960’s moved Taiwan into a period of prosperity that culminated in the democratisation of the 1980’s.
With a population of under 3 million, Taipei is the capital of Taiwan; the greater metropolitan area is around 7 million, which is about a third of the islands total. Architecturally it would not be high up the list of places to visit; the few quality buildings are vastly outnumbered by the mediocrity of recent commercial and residential architecture. There is however a vibrant and fascinating street life, and this generates a buzz that is captivating.
Taipei 101 is the iconic tower that was from its completion in 2004 until 2010, the worlds tallest building. It was designed by the prolific if unremarkable local architects CY Lee & Partners, and its form, referencing the pagoda or perhaps as the locals more accurately say stacked noodle boxes, is certainly iconic and it forms a marker for the new city centre that has shifted to the west.
Just down the road from 101 is the recently completed “55 Timeless”, by Richard Meier and Partners, a rather better building in every way, well detailed with a convincing public realm around it. This residential tower is an elegant addition to the skyline.
The old centre of town is to the east on the riverfront, and this has a very different character and scale, and there are a smattering of older buildings here. Dihua Street dates from the mid nineteenth century and still has an air of authenticity about it, alive with traders and craftsmen.
If the architecture is mediocre, the food scene definitely isn’t. Taipei is well known for its night markets and street food vendors. Open fronted restaurants, their kitchens directly adjacent to the pavements, line many of the secondary roads. One of the more organised venues is the oddly named Addiction Aquatic Development, a cross between a wet fish market, a food hall and a street food festival.
There is a thriving art scene in Taipei, and the feeling is that this will only strengthen as Hong Kong becomes absorbed into mainland China. There is a wealthy collector base, and that is no doubt why there has been a huge enthusiasm for the new art fair that we are working on. The first edition of Taipei Dangdai will run during January 2019, and will comprise of 90 galleries from around the world including Gagosian, David Zwerner, Hauser and Worth and Lisson.
2019 will be a busy year for the S+T art fair team with four international shows. As well as Taipei, we will be designing fairs in Hong Kong, Sydney and Singapore.
Taipei Dangdai 18th20thJan 2019 https://taipeidangdai.com