Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Putting local literature in its place

With the opening of the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature it is hoped that anyone will be able to discover the country's rich literary heritage

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

"As Taipei is the capital and the place where larger numbers of people live and visit, I reckon they should have possibly thought twice about putting it in Tainan," said the Tamkang University professor. "It's too far to go simply to look at a museum and I think this will certainly limit the number of visitors."

Acknowledging that Tainan is not the first choice of destination for day-trippers who wish to wander the corridors of a prestigious institute of

learning, Lin remains adamant that the choice of Tainan as the museum's locale was the correct one, especially when looked at historically.

"The city could be considered the birth place of Taiwan. So it was thought that there was really no better location for a museum that celebrates our literary culture from its earliest roots to the present day," the director said. "And then of course, there was this fantastic building that we were able to use."

The Mansard-style colonial building the museum now sits in has long been one of Tainan's showcase pieces of architecture and has enjoyed a long history as one of the city's most instantly recognizable structures.

Designed by Japanese architect Moriyama Matsunosuke, who also designed the Control Yuan building in Taipei, the building was completed in 1916 and was originally used by the Japanese for regional government offices. The building served as the headquarters for the ROC Airforce from 1949 until 1968. From the late 1960s until 1997 the building was the seat of power for Tainan City Government.

The job of transforming the original 1,300-ping building into the present 6,500-ping structure while maintaining its original appearance was not an easy or cheap undertaking. Its classification as a historic building by Tainan City Government in 1998 meant that the structure could not be altered.

Since renovation and building work began six years ago the Council of Cultural Affairs under the auspices of the Central Government has spent upwards of NT$1.1 billion in order to transform the decades-old building into an eye-catching piece of architecture that encompasses both classical and contemporary styles.

To provide the site with the additional space needed while not marring or altering the building's original interior and exterior, renovators were forced to construct a second building in what was originally the building's rear forecourt. And in order to expand the site even more they also went underground, building three subterranean levels that now house a car park, an auditorium and the museum's mammoth library.

The new structure that sits in the rear courtyard has been carefully designed so as not to be visible from the sidewalk. Only when visitors enter the museum is it clear that what was once one building is now two contrasting structures linked by walkways.

"It's contrasting yes, but that was part of the overall plan. As a place where the classical and the contemporary are explored it was felt that such a design typified what the museum was trying to say," explained one rather harried worker putting the finishing touches to one of the huge columns that sit in the museum's spacious reception area.

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