Tue, Nov 26, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Taipei Guest House reveals secrets

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A reporter enjoys the view from a window of the Taipei Guest House during a media visit of the historic site yesterday.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

One year after restoration work began on the 100-year-old Taipei Guest House, built during the Japanese occupation, architects and restoration experts have made an unexpected discovery -- Victorian-era tiles

"These Victorian-style glazed tiles were believed to be imported by the Japanese from England more than 100 years ago," architect Hsu Yu-chien (徐裕健) said as he pointed to the ground floor of the building -- which was built in 1901 -- during a guided tour of the building yesterday morning.

The subsequent addition of carpets and adhesive glues to the floor had disguised the tiles for decades until restoration work at the historic site, which began in September of last year, uncovered the European tiles.

Hsu, who was in charge of the restoration work at the site, has sent the uncovered tiles to INAX Corporation, a Japanese manufacturer of tiles and wares established in 1924, for further examination.

"The manufacturer said that the Victorian-style tiles are not only unique in Taiwan but also in southeast Asia," Hsu said.

Countless fireplaces decorated with the then expensive marble and various tiles imported from overseas stood out as another prominent European feature of the site.

"Theoretically speaking, people in Taiwan, because the country is sub-tropical, didn't need any fireplaces. So why were there so many fireplaces here? It definitely reflected the architects' original intention to imitate the English way of life," Hsu said.

Hsu said the countless European features found in the Japanese building reflected the ambition of Japanese rulers to shake up influences in Asia while looking to Europe for inspiration.

Despite the architectural treasures found at the site, the team will face difficulties with the rest of their restoration work, Hsu said.

Improper materials added to the building before the mansion was classified as a historic site by the Ministry of Interior in 1998 have created obstacles for the architects involved.

"When we sent the samples of the mortar and coating added to the facade of the building back in 1992 to a German specialist, he asked us `How could you [Taiwanese] add such a material to a historic treasure?'" Hsu said.

Experts from Japan, Belgium and Germany have gathered at the site recently for an international seminar on how to remove the materials without damaging the underlying structure, Hsu said.

The site was originally built as the Japanese governor's residence and was used to entertain guests. Ten years later, in 1911, the building underwent a major restoration after the structure was severely damaged by termites, Hsu said.

The venue, located on Ketagalan Avenue, was given its current title in 1950 by Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) KMT government and was later turned into a state property belonging to the Presidential Office.

The property, surrounded by gardens, ponds and dense foliage, also housed foreign ministry officials before the ministry built a new building just opposite the site.

Hsu said he plans to complete the restoration report by the end of this year.

Subsequent restoration will begin early next year after the historic site committee under the interior ministry finishes reviewing the report, said Lee Fang-cheng (李芳成), director general of the foreign ministry's department of general affairs.

The estimated cost of the restoration work, which is expected to be completed by May 2004, is around NT$300 million, Lee said.

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