At first glance, there is little to distinguish the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park (彰濱工業區) from Taiwan’s other manufacturing complexes. Towering power-generating windmill turbines hover nearby, but the spaciousness of the 3,650-hectare industrial park — Taiwan’s biggest — seems to dwarf everything else, including the factories that dot the wind-swept landscape.
The park, however, has one relatively small oddity that could soon turn into its most important landmark. A new temple devoted to Matsu, the widely worshipped Goddess of the Sea, is currently under construction there, and the building’s structural frame has already been erected.
The western coast of central Taiwan is peppered with Matsu temples, so the addition of one more in the Changhua industrial park should in itself barely cause a stir.
This one, though, is unique, the only Matsu temple among hundreds in Taiwan built almost completely of glass.
Beyond that, however, it is intended to become a symbol of the resilience and creativity of the country’s glass industry, which had been eroded and nearly driven out of Taiwan by cheap Chinese competition.
“It will not just simply be a temple,” declared Jackson Lin (林肇睢), the CEO of Taiwan Mirror Glass Enterprise Co (台明將企業), the company that designed the glass temple and has been working on it since 2007.
If the temple aspires to become a shrine to the local glass industry, Lin could be seen as its unofficial deity.
Nicknamed “big brother” in the glass sector out of respect for his accomplishments in preserving the industry in Taiwan, Lin was the driving force behind the creation of a glass cluster in the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park, which now has annual sales of more than NT$20 billion (US$652.5 million).
Lin’s vision originated in 1998, when he received an order from IKEA that was too big for him to handle. Instead of expanding his own factory’s capacity, he mobilized dozens of glass makers and other related wooden furniture and metal component manufacturers to band together and supply IKEA and other clients.
“If individual factories expand production to absorb rising orders, they face the risk of having to maintain idle production lines once overall output surpasses demand,” Lin said.
Though motivated as much by minimizing risk as by rescuing Taiwan’s glass industry, Lin’s “cluster strategy” successfully kept many local producers at home at a time when cost pressures had them thinking of moving offshore.
To further promote the glass grouping, Lin also established a glass gallery in 2006 to serve as a marketing platform for between 140 and 150 local artists and glass businesses around Taiwan.
“My boss wanted to have a place where domestic and foreign buyers could see all of Taiwan’s glass brands and glass art creations in one trip,” said Paggy Shih, Lin’s secretary.
And how does the glass temple fit in to the gallery?
“You could call the gallery a data bank of information on the glass industry, and the temple its concrete manifestation,” Shih said.
The new temple, called “Hu Sheng,” will provide a place where people can worship Matsu as well as two other important local deities — Wangye and the Land God — but it also will showcase Taiwan’s glass industry.
The 1,000m2 glass temple, a copy of the historic Tianhou Temple in Changhua County’s Lugang Township (鹿港), is being built at a cost of NT$70 million and will consist of 70,000 pieces of glass from 132 glass makers and other related manufacturers around the country, Lin said.