Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Reuse of old buildings reflects new social ideas

By Lee Yung-jaan李永展

Taiwan's growth-driven industrial policies not only influence its economic layout, but also its spatial arrangements. As a consequence of replacing tradition with modernity, a new industrial order has become an urban norm.

In the 1990s, many buildings that represented collective memories were destroyed to make way for urban development. Many of the demolished buildings are now neglected vacant lots on the sites of many people's childhood memories.

Other vacant spaces have been put to new uses, and these formerly neglected spots have acquired completely new images. Linking emotional memories with future prospects, these spots are "time capsules" that put history in a nutshell.

Some distinguished examples of reusing unoccupied spaces signify that successfully releasing and transforming public spaces for reuse allows them to become a response to globalization. Reusing vacant spaces is not merely an alternation of spatial functions, but it also bears the mission to conserve and represent a cultural heritage.

Taiwan underwent major transformations in the 1980s that were closely linked to globalization and which changed -- and continue to change -- many facets of Taiwanese politics, economy, culture and technology. Under pressure from globalization, consolidating regional specialities and cultural superiorities are immediate priorities. Therefore, many projects to restructure dilapidated spaces have been launched to build cultural landscapes that can reach out to larger audiences.

Despite a uniting ideology of reusing neglected spaces, different restructuring teams may have contradicting opinions about the definition of regional identities. Which cultural spirit should revived spaces represent?

Some spatial restructuring teams may have financial burdens, and thus their management of spaces can shift from an original emphasis on regional specialities and cultural uniqueness to a capitalistic business-consumer orientation. Public spaces should fulfill their fundamental social and cultural functions, but the phenomenon of "gentrification" with business-oriented values is something to avoid.

Globalization brings quotidian conveniences and blurs social, economic, technological and political borders. Yet when emphasizing the comprehensiveness of globalization, one should also consider its complexities and emphasize each culture's uniqueness, our difference from others.

When thinking about the globalization phenomenon of a "world without borders," it is necessary to incorporate it with local life experiences. As projects for the reuse of unoccupied spaces have their inception in a particular historical time and place, they comprise a double heritage of history and culture.

A consequence of urban development might be the dilapidation and neglect of old architectural spaces. The reuse of unoccupied spaces reveals the trail of a city's development. It incorporates historical memory, cultural bloodlines and a huge amount of energy, and this can serve as a foundation of local development. Reusing a vacant space not only makes its re-emergence possible, but in interpreting its re-emergence and understanding its symbolic value, we can better consider the effects of globalization. It makes us better able to read our own history and culture, and to develop interactive and experiential social and cultural spaces based on core human values.

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