Zhongshan Bridge at Yuanshan (圓山) was counted among Taiwan’s eight landmarks until it was dismantled. Many people were sad to see it go.
The warden of the borough where the dismantled parts are being kept has been trying to have them relocated, as the more than 300 slabs are occupying recreational grounds.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has said that the previous city administration had perhaps not been serious about having the bridge reassembled, and that it would be problematic to put it back together, as the stones were cut vertically during dismantling, rather than at an angle, making it almost impossible to reconstruct the arch without using steel girders.
As a result, it would be impossible to reassemble the bridge in its original form.
Taiwan has always had a difficult relationship with the maintenance of its historical monuments and has not really paid sufficient attention to their relocation. This has been evident in past projects, from the moving of the Lin An Tai Historical House (林安泰古厝) to, more recently, the Xinbeitou train station.
The former was originally located on Taipei’s Siwei Road, and had to be dismantled to make way for the widening of Dunhua S Road.
Unfortunately, as the dismantled pieces were left lying around for too long, when the structure was relocated to the grounds of Xinsheng Park (新生公園) and reassembled there, it no longer resembled the original sufficiently to count as a historical monument.
There were similar problems with the work carried out on the Xinbeitou train station, which was relocated to an unsuitable site using historically inaccurate materials, with the dimensions and construction techniques departing from the original to such an extent that, again, it would be hard to claim that the new structure was a historical monument.
The construction company responsible for the reassembly had carelessly left the materials outside, exposed to the elements.
The Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs had not officially accorded the structure cultural heritage status, and commissioned a company with no experience in historical building restoration, leading to what cultural heritage experts called “the biggest farce in the history of Taipei’s cultural heritage.”
Compare this with cases of the Japanese colonial-era Jiantan Temple (劍潭古寺) and the Qing Dynasty-era Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall (欽差行臺), both of which were moved far from their original locations, to Taipei’s Dazhi (大直) area and the Taipei Botanical Garden (台北植物園) in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District (中正) respectively. The temple is designated as a municipal monument, while the hall is designated as a Class 3 national historical monument.
Jiantan Temple was originally built in the foothills of Jiantanshan north of Zhongshan Bridge to make way for the Taiwan Grand Shrine. It was moved to the hills near today’s MRT Jiannan Road Station along the Wenhu line.
The Grand Hotel on Yuanshan was later built on the shrine’s original site, and the Zhongshan Bridge was on the road that led up to the shrine. Although the bridge was designated a historical monument in 2002, by the end of the year it was decided that the bridge had to be dismantled due to traffic and flooding precautions.
The Taipei City Government at the time said that the bridge was not actually being dismantled, and was just being readied for relocation the following year. People are still waiting for that to happen.
There are three proposals on what to do with the dismantled bridge. The first is to relocate it to Xinsheng Park; the second is to turn it into a “forest of steles” art installation; the third is to move it to the Dajia Riverside Park (大佳河濱公園) along the Keelung River in Taipei.
Is Xinsheng Park really a suitable site for the bridge? The bridge is 120m long and there are no river banks in the park for it to straddle. There were complaints about the relocation of the historic Xinbeitou station, which was not even moved that far; certainly not as far as the park is from the bridge’s original location.
Now the city government wants to repurpose the bridge as an odd land bridge, sticking out like a sore thumb and with absolutely no decipherable function.
The city government seems to have set its heart on the forest of steles art installation idea, perhaps because it would cost the least. This option would only use some of the slabs, leaving the remaining ones homeless.
The slabs stored under the new bridge are reminiscent of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, although not one of them fulfil the original function of heritage conservation.
A preferable option would be to reassemble the bridge in the Dajia Riverside Park, where it would be set against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains and the river: This would at least return it to its former glory as one of Taiwan’s eight landmarks.
Unfortunately, as cultural heritage experts know only too well, the city government does not like to spend money, which is why people speak of the “Republic of China [ROC] aesthetic” — that is, a complete disregard for aesthetics — that has bequeathed Taiwanese the shop-sign cacophony that Ko has so little time for.
If the city government cared at all for aesthetics it would fix the unsightly cut marks on the stones and would have commissioned cultural heritage conservation specialists to work on the historic Xinbeitou station.
In other nations, aesthetics is the first consideration when it comes to the conservation of monuments; in Taiwan, the authorities do not care about historical monuments, let alone their aesthetic effect.
Ko has said that he wants to sort out the mess of billboards and store signs in Taipei, but people have yet to see any evidence of regulations to address the poor aesthetics in the city.
If you look at how authorities handle this in Japan, the city with the most stringent regulations is Kyoto, where stores are not allowed to place signage or neon lights on their roofs, and strict regulations are in place governing the size and color of signage.
For example, all store signs must conform to a “Japanese style,” which essentially involves the use of muted browns and off-whites, with no large expanses of reds or greens, informed by principles of color science.
These regulations are strictly enforced, and any offending signs are to be removed, the burden for the cost of doing so being borne by the store owner, coupled with a fine of up to ￥500,000 (US$4,583). There is also an award to encourage conformity to the standards and help preserve the appearance of the ancient city, and keep the scourge of ugly signs at bay.
The unsightly cut marks on the stone slabs are, unfortunately, a harbinger of the bridge’s likely fate, just as they are a metaphor for Taipei’s ROC aesthetics.
Lu Ching-fu is a professor in Fu Jen Catholic University’s applied arts department.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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