The Ministry of Culture on Thursday said it has found a site for its long-planned national photography culture center — the old office building of the Directorate-General of Highways (DGH), which has been designated a historical site.
The building is on Zhongxiao W Road Sec 1, near the Taipei Railway Station and Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store. Given its proximity to the nation’s largest railway station and its central downtown location, the land on which the building sits is among the most expensive in Taipei.
According to the ministry, part of the building was designed by Japanese architect Setsu Watanabe. Built in 1937, it served as the Taipei branch office of an Osaka-based shipping company.
The highway regulator moved to a new office in March after the Executive Yuan said that using the building solely for a government agency was “inefficient use of the property.”
Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), along with several cultural experts and architects, inspected the building on Thursday.
Lung said she was ecstatic to finally find a location for the national photography culture center, calling it a “gift from heaven.”
The ministry has been looking for a suitable location for the center for about a year.
“Images captured through photography serve as important witnesses to the nation’s history, both of people and the government,” Lung said. “Once we have this photography center, the works of photographers from different locations can finally have a home. I believe that this home can also be an important base for photographers.”
The ministry added that it already has the budget to conduct a comprehensive survey of the nation’s photographic archives as well as to salvage, restore and preserve these national assets.
To educate the public about the significance of the building housing the archives, the ministry said the center would exhibit photos related to highway transportation.
DGH secretariat director Yuan Kuo-chi (袁國治) said the property is under the management of the National Property Administration, which had other plans for the site after the DGH moved out.
“The Executive Yuan had determined that it would be inefficient use of such a high-value property if it is used solely by a government agency. The administration originally planned to put the property into more efficient use by giving the developer the ‘above-the-ground right’ for a certain period of time, meaning that the government would retain ownership of the property,” Yuan said.
Yuan said that some residents in the area who have studied the history of the building had petitioned to keep it as soon as they heard that the DGH was moving out. The city government designated part of the building on the corner of Zhongxiao W Road and Huaining Road a historical site. That means the four-story building cannot be torn down or damaged in any way, he said.
While Lung described the building as a gift from heaven, Yuan said he had mixed feelings about it.
“We were asked to leave because they told us it would be a waste of a high-value property if it were used solely as a government office. Otherwise, we did not want to move at all. Now, we have to spend more time commuting to work,” he said.
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