After a three-year restoration effort, the Former British Consulate at Takao (打狗) in Greater Kaohsiung has taken on a new look, with officials giving their endorsement to a faithful reproduction of the building’s original design and appearance.
However, the most interesting aspect — the historic site’s refurbished redbrick facade — has inspired both admiration and criticism.
Project director Lin Shih-chao (林世超) said the restoration was carried out using a unique method, painstakingly repairing by hand the facade’s 4,500 red bricks, one brick at a time.
“When the place was reopened, people thought we put in a new exterior. Actually, the workers labored by hand to rotate each of the 4,500 bricks. The exterior, weathered side of the brick was turned inside out, and now the inside, which is unweathered, faces the outside,” said Lin, who is also assistant professor at Kao Yuan University’s Department of Architecture. “We recorded each phase of the restoration, and every element was based on history and original design.”
Standing on a hill with strategic views overlooking Greater Kaohsiung’s harbor coastline, the Former British Consular Residence at Takao was built by the British in 1879.
“Takao” was the original name for the Kaohsiung area, meaning “bamboo forest.” The word came from the Makatao tribe, the lowland Pingpu Aborigines of southern Taiwan.
A hiking trail going up the hill to the building was also revamped to its original form, with new paving composed of coral rock and limestone.
The site was reopened in November last year after renovation was completed, becoming a must-see place in Greater Kaohsiung for visitors, tourist groups and anyone interested in historical and cultural sites.
Lin said the project took eight years, including research and documentation.
However, some people have questioned the restoration, saying the building facade and the hiking trail are not the same as they remembered from the past.
“All the restoration work has a real basis. Through the whole process, we made verifications with old photographs and the original building plan and documents from the UK’s National Archives,” Greater Kaohsiung’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs Deputy Director Kuo Tien-kuei (郭添貴) said.
The project team also solved a long-time puzzle regarding the location of the original British consulate. As it turned out, the redbrick building on the hill was the consular residence, while another complex at the base of the hill was the original British consulate.
The problem was compounded during the Japanese era, when government officials built over the consulate at the base of the hill and turned it into a marine research station.
The project team had to carefully remove the Japanese research station’s exterior of concrete and wooden frames to reveal its original redbrick facade and found it to be of the same material, size and manufacturing design as the building on the slope.
They also uncovered a ventilation system, a chimney, an office design, a water well in the backyard and other relics to verify that the research station’s original building was the actual consulate office used by the British.
Lin’s wife, Chang Yu-tung (張宇彤), an associate professor in the Department of Architecture at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taoyuan County, worked in tandem with her husband on the project.