Wed, Jul 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Design has never been Taipei’s main focus

By Lu Ching-fu 呂清夫

The government in February launched an online public design competition for a new national identification card. After it was announced last month, the winning design came under severe public criticism and the selection panel was enraged by the reaction.

The differences in opinion lie in focus. While netizens focused on national identity and the panel stressed design, the Ministry of the Interior never specified what the focus should be.

The winning design received only 46 votes online, while the design that received 97,498 votes was only given “the most popular” award. As the campaign was only to serve as a “reference point” for the card’s design, people said that perhaps they were just trying to keep themselves busy.

If the government really wanted to focus on design, it would have its hands full.

Taipei’s eastern area is a good example. More than 90 years ago, Germany developed a special urban design plan: Worried that roads would become blocked if everyone in skyscrapers came down at the same time, planners designed intersecting pedestrian overpasses five floors above ground to separate pedestrians from the high-speed traffic below, ensuring the safety of both.

Such designs have been realized in many bustling Japanese cities.

Years ago, I asked Taipei City Government officials if they had similar plans. They said yes and pointed to the numerous pedestrian overpasses connecting Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department stores and the Vieshow Cinemas Xinyi complex.

However, those overpasses were built by the businesses to keep customers in the shopping area, not by the city government.

In addition, there are no plans for even a single park in the area.

Admittedly, there is the park surrounding the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall at the end of Keelung Road, but that is not new, as it was Taipei Park No. 6 during the Japanese era.

Neither does Daan Forest Park (大安森林公園) look well designed. When construction began, a statue of Guanyin was preserved, so other religious groups asked for the same treatment, resulting in strong public protests.

By comparison, a team led by Frederick Olmsted, the father of US landscape architecture who was also responsible for the design of the Niagara Reservation at Niagara Falls, won a competition for their design of New York City’s Central Park.

Olmsted took great pains in planning the sculptures in the park, which boasts a great variety of sculptures and monuments, including Cleopatra’s Needle, a bronze Alice in Wonderland statue and a Strawberry Fields section in memory of John Lennon, which provide an artistic getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.

There used to be two sculptures in the Taipei Botanical Garden: a bronze bust of Urbain Faurie — a French missionary who traveled extensively around Taiwan collecting a large amount of plant samples before dying in Taipei in 1915 — and a monument to Bunzo Hayata, the father of Taiwanese botany. Both statues went missing after World War II.

It was not until 2016 that the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute started looking for the two statues ahead of the garden’s 120th anniversary. Only the plaster cast for Faurie’s bust was found, which was used to make a replica, while the Hayata statue had to be redesigned and reforged.

If the government started to do such things, that would be worthy of praise.

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