Taichung the Waiting Metropolis and its Campaign Forward A World Class City:
A Case of Glocallision, Gloc(o)alition, or Glocalization?
Professor, Department of Architecture, Tunghai University
Introduction: A Displaced Conception of Urban Imagineering
Rutheiser describes Atlanta as paradigmatic of ageographic and generic urbanism, a phantasmagorical landscape characterized by fragmentation, near-instantaneous communication, privatization public spaces, highly stylized simulations, and the subordination of locality to the demands of a globalizing market culture (Rutheiser, C. 1996: 4). It seems that Taichung has been confronted with somewhat the same trend and, even intentionally, boosted to be as such by the public and private sectors over the past some two decades. The very dramatic operation marketing the city during the period of 1995-2007, through international competitions inviting and sorting out the global elite architects to design the new civic buildings, was peculiarly unprecedented attempts forwarding the city to be among those of the world class.
Borrowed from Rutheiser’s notion of “urban imagineering”, addressed specially to the 1996 Olympic preparation in Atlanta, seems to be a helpful concept for elaborating those moves of international city boosterism in Taichung. The concept implies the intangible dimension self-consciously promoting and marketing a city by citizens, politicians and investors (ibid: 4, 9-15). This also conforms to what Soja contends as one of his trialectics of city space: the real, the imagined and the lived, reflected from Lefebvre’s theory on the production of space (Soja, E. 1996); whereas, for Soja, the imagined space is pertained more to the conceived perspectives, like that of urbanism.
In this article, the idea of imagineering denotes the collective imagination guided through organized public events and mass media by urban agents, particularly by the public sector. While confronted with Taichung’s often delayed and substituted modes of development, this idea seems to be able to encompass the anxious but conservative, and, the fictitious but practical process of city marketing. Building a world-class city through mobilizing global brand architects has become the key strategy for imagineering Taichung over the past four terms of mayoralty.
The main targets for elaboration are concerned with three international architectural competitions and invitation, and their consequential potentialities. They were held for the New Civic Center (1995), the Guggenheim Museum (2003) and the Opera House (2006). The local government staggered along with such global city marketing strategies and boasted itself as of an internationalized city. This seems to be a common practice for those in developing context yarning for world-class status.
However, imagineering a city in the sphere of global culture economy should maintain cautious, especially for a fringe city like Taichung. To elaborate stories about the city’s self-marketing, maybe tentatively summed up as a “city glocal movement”, Appadurai’s idea of trans-locality and Soja’s real-and-imagined spatiality can be taken as theoretical starting points and references. Between dynamics of the local and global sectors, there subtly embedded in the mean time their oppositions and conspiracies. The campaign to become world-class always means a city evolving from a naïve mode to the more sophisticated one of city governance, and this process may also be a must, judged upon nowadays’ omnipresent global/local interaction.
The main argument of this paper lies that to open door is unavoidable in current world, but global elite architects sorted out to take charge of local practice do not guarantee a sustainable way of urban development. Such mode of imagineering city often turns out to be capitalist-lopsidedly rather than environment-friendly, and the local government like that of Taichung tends to weaken its critical role in balancing the private speculation and the public welfare, and unawares catalyzes the commoditiz- ation of public spaces. Such observation may not only be helpful for continuing attention to the aftermath of what have been going in Taichung, but also be applicable to those of non-Western contexts, which often deem world-class status as a success.
The Substitutive Urbanity
Taichung is currently the third largest city in Taiwan, with its population about 1.5 million. As a matter of fact, however, if including the adjacent townships, which already form together a metropolitan life circle centered at Taichung, the total population is more than 3 million.
It was once appointed as the provincial capital by Ching government in 1887, taking into account its advantage of being in the middle of Taiwan Island. A walled city was then built for the capital, but eventually only partly completed. Due to the urgent situation in the north of Taiwan, which was confronted with covetous threats from European and Japanese empires, the constructive effort could not help but being concentrated on Taipei.
During the colonial occupation (1895-1945), Taichung was almost built as a brand new city by Japanese, while the other important cities built upon the old Chinese walled urban entities. Taichung then was dubbed as “Little Kyoto” in the period of Japanese rule. However, in the late 1930s, under the Southbound Move Policy for the militarist dream of Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, Japanese constructed Kaohsiung---the southern port-city in Taiwan---as the invasive and logistic base toward the Southeast Asia. The urban development of Taichung was thus put aside again by the ruling power.
Therefore, historically, Taichung’s advantage had been substituted for, first Taipei, and then Kaohsiung. It has been the third biggest city in the island, with Taipei as the capital and Kaohsiung the heavily industrialized center. When Taipei acted as an international city in politics and business, and Kaohsiung an international port, Taichung was relatively a local city in the middle of Taiwan. In last two decades, the distinctive feature of regional development in Taiwan was the transformation from a polarized pattern of Taipei (in the north) and Kaohsiung (in the south) to a triple- centric structure, in which Taichung played a role of parvenu. It boosted itself quite lopsidedly as the city of consumer culture, and in academic circle it was viewed as a speculative city, after so far twelve phases of land consolidation projects from 1965 on and thickly implemented during 1987-93.
In 1980s, while the real estate business prevailingly bloomed, Taichung turned from a city of culture, a long lasting fame, to a city of erotic. The seventh land consolidation area (335 hectares in total) was announced the first district to be subjected to floor area ratio regulation and subsequently it became a waiting area, exploited mostly as short-lived and instant-profit businesses, especially of entertainment and catering. The area was fantastic at night, with omnipresent neon lights and twinkling signs, and was often associated with impressions of Las Vegas.
In the early 1990s, Kenzo Tange’s team from Japan won the Gan-cheng Redevelopment Project on the site of some two hundred hectares previously settled by military dependents in row houses ( Fig.1). This project was to attract intensive commercial, business and residential investment. But it met the sudden decline of bubble economy in Taiwan and the project was thus suspended from then on.
Taichung was a waiting metropolis, and was successively substituted its opportunity for another reason out of its own control. However, the city government kept organizing significant international competitions for the large-scale urban redevelopment in Taichung since1995. No matter how alien the result might be, these imagineering works seem to justify the emerging significance of Taichung, which is located at the middle of the west side of Taiwan just run through by the high-speed train system (Fig.2). Taichung must be internationalized to boost itself as the new nucleus in the west Taiwan and to form, together with Taipei and Kaohsiung, a corridor metropolis in the East Asia. Such a polycentric structure of mutually complementary functions can thus facilitate Taiwan---itself a metropolis proper, to be competitive enough to cope with the rising situation in the East Asia, specially in terms of its economic growth. Taichung as a waiting metropolis may finally turn out an acting metropolis!
New Civic Center Project
In order to move the city government and council out of the old city center, where streets and blocks were not wide enough for motor vehicle movement, the New Civic Center Project was initiated with an international competition organized in 1995 during Mayor Lin’s tenure. The new site was located about 3 kilometers to the north-west of the old city center. This project was boasted as the first international architectural competition in Taiwan and it showed off the ambition of Taichung to be a world-class city.
The project was located at the one end of crossed parkways, and the National Music Hall (later turned to the National Opera House) presumably at the end of another parkway (Fig. 3). The site for the project, including two buildings and the parkway in-between, was 6.6 hectares in area. The area for the Music Hall was 5.77 hectares, linked by spacious parkway to the Municipal buildings (including municipal government office and municipal council). This golden trio formed the very core of the Seventh Land Consolidation area.
The New Civic Center Project drew much attention from abroad. The Swiss team Weber + Hofer AG Architects won the competition with their controversial scheme---of two clean and prism-like glass boxes---which was criticized by the local juror as not fit for the tropical climate of the city and could result in waste of energy (Fig. 4,5). It was only in October 1997, at the last moment of Mayor Lin’s term, the both sides signed the contract of planning, design and supervision for the project. However, over the next two terms of mayoralty, the project was almost shelved.
The main reason behind the reluctance for the authority to implement the project was worrying about the decline of the old city center due to the existing city government’s moving out once the new project was fulfilled. Another reason was that the financial condition then did not seem to support the project of 180 million US dollars. During the first term of Mayor Hu (2001-05), he was enthusiastic for his campaign promise to promote Guggenheim Museum project and left the New Civic Center project stagnated again. It was not until the end of 2005 when the Mayor Hu ran his second electoral campaign for mayoralty, the project was resumed and then put into construction (and he won the election again). It was scheduled to have its completion in 2009.
Very obviously, it was the real estate sectors, which would harvest the profit from the City Civic Center project. They would be expected to boom along the parkway in the area designate to the project. But the whole situation for implementing the project, even the contract was signed, was halted after the mayoral election in 2001. And the site for this project would somewhat unexpectedly yielded to the new program of marketing the city---the Guggenheim Museum, which was never imagined by the large before then.
Guggenheim Museum Project
The Guggenheim Museum Project was so far the most sensational international event for the city’s international campaign. This was also part of Guggenheim Foundation’s global maneuvering of cultural economy.
In 2001, Mr. Hu Chi-chiang was elected as mayor of Taichung, one of his campaign policy was to build Guggenheim Museum. He signed feasibility assessment agreement in June 2002, with Thomas Krens, executive in chief of Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, in Bilbao, Spain. In July 2002, accompanied by Krens, Jean Nouvel and Curator of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao visited Taichung for site survey, and the site projected for building the New Municipal Center was assessed as an ideal choice.
Soon after that, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid visited Taichung in December 2002, via Guggenheim Foundation as a go-between. And the Guggenheim project was proposed to be extended to include Opera House(by Nouvel), New Municipal Center(by Gehry), and the Museum (by Hadid). A project of 12.4 billion US dollars, designed by Two Kings One Queen, was proposed---a dream for Taichung linked to the world!
In July 2003, Hadid came to Taichung with her design model of Guggenheim Museum, which was published in January 2004 issue of A+U magazine (in both English and Japanese)(Fig. 6). Hadid’s design demonstrated a 50m deep cantilever feature marking the entrance of the museum. The streamlined free form of the museum was certainly a brand new landmark to the city.
Mayor Hu briefed Guggenheim Taichung Museum Project to President Chen, of the opposition party to Hu, in August 2004, who was running his second national election campaign. In September, 2003, the Executive Yuan approved 170 million US dollars subsidy for Guggenheim Taichung Project. Because of the presidential election to be held in the end of the year, no one in the high rank of contesting parties dared to stop the Guggenheim project. This was the most optimistic moment for the project’s realization. However, soon after the presidential election, in January 2004, the budget of the subsidy was cut in Parliament together with “Five Years Fifty Billion NT (about 1.7 bil. US dollars) Special Budget”. Although the Executive Yuan pre-empted some 10 million US dollars for the down payment to Guggenheim Foundation after all, Taichung City Council decided to turn down the Guggenheim Project by the end of 2004. The reasons were worrying about the after-cost for operation and maintenance, especially under the condition lopsidedly dictated by the Guggenheim Foundation---by contract the operation and management were almost all at Guggenheim Foundation’s disposal.
As a matter of fact, the Bilbao model was far from the case of Taichung, where the MRT system and other urban infrastructure were none in planning or capitalizing. The Guggenheim Project was such an isolated and instant “vision-eering”, and outplayed by malfunctioned politics, that finally it is no wonder proved an abortion.
Metropolitan Opera House Project
In early spring of 2006, Toyo Ito won the competition of the Metropolitan Opera House in Taichung. Other super stars participants were found Z. Hadid, C. de Portzamparc, R. Rogers, and H. Hollein. The design contract was signed in August 2006 and the project was scheduled to completion in 2009. It seems that this time the project can be expected more smoothly to come true than previous cases. After controversial precedent projects of New Civic Center and Guggenheim Museum, this time the city government should grow mature enough to host such an international competition and its subsequent implementation.
This is a project of 100 million US dollars budget, located at the end of the parkway perpendicular to the axis of the New Civic Center (Fig. 7). Ito’s work was a cheese-like solid-void composition in a rigid profile of rectangular glass box, revealing an inside- out and outside-in transparency. It was virtually the same model as the Gent Music Forum, with which Ito failed to win the competition in 2004. This practice just witnessed the global game played by the elite architect to peddle around the world his fantastic idea, despite the local differences and particularities.
The key concept of the Opera House is the “Sound Cave”, a horizontally and vertically continuous network, which is not only interior, but connects seamlessly with the outside (Wen, W-h. 2006:12)(Fig. 8,9). It is really a work of epochal talent, but it can be put everywhere anytime in this world. Also seemingly absurd enough, just because this is a universal scheme, worked out by the global brand architect, with which the city is expected to step in the spotlights gaining worldwide gazes.
The edge-cutting spatial experience offered by Ito can indeed bring forth an excellent arena for global culture economy. The configuration of space flowing-in- and-out can expectedly result in technological innovation and then worldwide thrilling fame. Nevertheless, does this guarantee the quality of a public space? The inside-out or outside-in space flow is only in conceptual and visual effect. In actual condition, the seemingly non-existing glasses form a barrier for to and fro movement between the interior and exterior. There are no intermediate space (like arcade, a popular urban space element in Taiwan) for the public staying or lingering about without exposed directly under sub-tropical sunshine and rainfall.
In the beginning of February, the Premier Su, of the opposition party to Mayor of Taichung, promised to increase the subsidy for this project. The overtone was very clear that he was preparing his own way to the presidential election next year and starting his warm-up campaign to forward favors. Again, thanks to the election, the Opera House may very hopefully slide into its home base.
Conclusion: A City of Glocallision or The City Glocal Movement?
Finally there will be three sharp rectangular glass boxes stood at the ends of the cross parkways. They are not the last cases for globally marketing the city. Taichung airport was moved away in 2004 and left 247,22hectares area for redevelopment. “The Former Taichung Airport Site Redevelopment International Planning Contest” was organized in Jan. 2007. This can result in another run of global architectural competitions in the coming years. Now should be a right time to reflect on those competitions held before and their consequences in the past and coming decade.
What this paper discussed about are the Guggenheim Project and The New Civic and Cultural Project. The latter was a real project of three public buildings and was put into implementation legally by the city government, while the former was virtually a speculative operation for both Taichung City Government and Guggenheim Foundation. For Taichung, the failure of the Guggenheim project was justifiable. It was a practice deprived of the local subjectivity because of having almost no way to steer the future museum management but bearing the whole costs and risks. The price for marketing the city globally as such with international brands-architects was too high to afford
As for the real projects---the Civic Buildings and the Opera House, some differences could be found between the two within a little more than ten years. The local jurors of competitions increased, from two in seven of the previous to three in six of the later. It sounded the local subjectivity had somewhat strengthened. In addition, the jurors of the latter competition were one generation younger than the previous. However, the argument of the local condition against the international style, like the issue of tropical climate versus energy consumption, didn’t appear among the jury members of the latter competition.
The developers harvested the profit resulted from the aggressive promotion through these projects by the public sector. Along this New Civic and Cultural Center Zone, elegant high-rise apartment buildings emerged within the last decade, and now, very odd though, they stand by and wait for the completion of the three alien, brand new box-objects (Fig. 10). The area, the very heart of the new city vision, is to be fed with the global fashion fodders (refer to “knowledge fodder” in Appadurai, A. 2002: 32-47), not mention the tremendous cost to maintain their actual operation. It will be further upset if reminded of the existing city government building’s being a colonial legacy, an alien construction too, built by the Japanese governor near a century ago!
Taichung had been built by “others”, like most cities in Taiwan, over different regimes. It might first seem out-of-place with those alien buildings, but eventually look in-place some time afterward. In fact, beyond narrow nationalism or immediate autochthonous concerns, there is a subtle clue implying Taichung’s own agenda set for the near future. To think in a bigger or extra-urban scale, the global brand operation for marketing Taichung may not necessarily be irritating to the local identity. It may probably be a fair strategy taking into account its role-playing in a trans-urban and even a trans-regional development across Taiwan Strait. The high speed train system (Fig.11) just started to run may make the West Taiwan a belt-metropolis, of which Taichung becomes a middle city as a new center dealing with the cross Strait mobility, together with Amoy, Fu-chou in coastal Fu-chien, China, where both sides shared the same dialect. The belt-metropolitan Taiwan restructured with Taichung as a new hub, backed up by over ten million educated man power, should join in the thriving momentum in the southeast China and hopefully build up a cross Taiwan Strait co-prosperity circle. The alien buildings of global fashion may therein provide cosmopolitan capacity for a more vital city to come.
Indeed, they bring revolutionary visual impacts with prism-like neat zeilenbau, streamline amorphous form with deep cantilever, and interior/exterior transparent continuum. All these bring a new sense of capacity. Through them people can expect a metropolitan mode of urbanity and the way of life respectively. However, with such homogeneously global look, these objects of nowhere can cultivate less sense of here and now, concerning the placeliness identifiable for a particular city.
Today, what does the world-class city mean? In contrast to the global production of locality, as what contended by Appadurai (2002), the case of Taichung reveals a particular process of “the local production of globality”. The strategy imagineering the city with global brand architects has not yet proved a win-win consequence. It has been so far more like a global-local-collision (glocallision) than a global-local-ization (glocalization). The opposition can be found not only between isotropic boxes by global elites and snobbish high-rise towers by local developers, but also between the city government (led by the former minister of foreign affairs) and the city council (represented by fraction-minded powers), and further between the real city and the imagined city.
Here I would argue that, more concerned with “the restructuring- generated crisis”, Soja’s contention of the real-and-imagined city is mainly addressed to the “spatiality” (Soja, E. 1996). Whereas Taichung alters itself from a waiting metropolis to a developing metropolis, and its “becoming-generated possibilities” seem instead to be the key concern. The point is that Taichung has been in its own transitional state, ever evolving with interventions from outside its proper capacity. “Time” should be taken into account, and time-space, or tempo-spatiality---different from Giedion’s definition implied with zeitgeist idea, should be the theme to be more addressed.
Temporality here is concerned with the problematic about how well the new civic building will be if the administrative efficiency or even corruption not improved with the city government and council? And it is also about how if there will still be no good local team to host appealing performance regularly in the new opera house? And, furthermore, how if there will still be no convenient mass transportation system for local residents to come here? In general, how to make people feel having a good “time” during the developing process of those projects, and then enjoying a good “time” to come, to work, to handle business, and to enjoy cultural activities? When the city has a world-class hardware eventually, how if it still lacks the world-class software, which always takes much longer “time” to be in place?
The subjectivity of a city like Taichung does not seem to lie in any fixedly defined category, but in its ever-changing mode of urbanity, always subjected to alien and global influences. For Appadurai, the global horizon can become material part, through media, imagination and migration. He suggests that the global is a sort of expansion of the local horizon (Appadurai, A. 2002: 32-47). Here and now Taichung is striving with its momentum more for the middle-class’s affluence. This is fully demonstrated in the brilliant and decent high-rise apartments getting to rise in the New Civic and Culture Center zone. The three glass-boxes designed by the global brand architects look quite in accordance with the middle-class aesthetics. They are clear-cut boxes without much shading or overhanging space to shed the strong sunshine and rainfall, and for the mass to stay in comfort, neither do they show welcoming gesture to the unprivileged underclass. In fact, they are public only in a selective sense.
In terms of the middle-class publicity, those three boxes of civic and cultural architecture are in a conspiracy with the local developers alongside. They both engage in a gloc(o)alition---global-local-coalition. In this sense, the civic buildings and the opera house become commodities in themselves, and they join to increase the exchange value of the surrounding land lots without having enough care for or feedback to the true public.
Today, the idea of the local is not an inert backdrop, nor is it a given condition. The local is a process and a project, just like other things (Appadurai, A. 2002: 32). Therefore, the world-class city discussion should not just be limited in an intra-urban sphere. Networking in global or regional sphere is getting to be irresistible. A globally elite-driven mode of marketing the “real-and-imagined” city, borrowed from Soja’s terminology, must be criticized in the trans-local and/or trans-regional context.
Just here, William Lim’s lament based on his radical postmodern perspective is so genuine to the situation happened in Taichung: “The essentiality of local creative energy and dynamic interaction to anchor architectural discourses and practices has yet to be fully understood or developed.” (Lim, W. 2005: 33) In the case of Taichung, it proves a great pity that the local public sector was not self-conscious enough to envision potential opportunities released from the “city glocal movement”, or, was not alert enough to the highly capitalist-driven nature of the glocalization, and then missed to make maximum profit for the general public through negotiating the glocallision and gloc(o)alition dynamics.
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Fig. 1 Main Sites in Taichung City
(source: drawn by Wnag, C-y.)
Fig. 2 High Speed Rail Line
(source: drawn by Wang, C-y.)
Fig. 3 Site Model of Taichung New Civic Center Project
(source: Wen, M. 1995: 25)
Fig. 4 Model of Taichung City Government Building
(source: Wen, M. 1995: 20)
Fig. 5 Model of Taichung City Council Building
(source: Wen, M. 1995: 27)
Fig. 6 Model of Taichung Guggenheim Museum
(source: A+U, 2004/1)
Fig. 7 Site Plan for Taichung Civic & Cultural Center
(source: Wen, M. 2006: 13)
Fig. 8 Model of Taichung Opera House
(source: Wen, M. 2006: 11)
Fig. 9 Perspective of Taichung Opera House
(source: Wen, M. 2006: 13)
Fig. 10 View along Parkway
(source: Lo, S-w.)
Fig. 11 HSR Taichung Terminal
(source: Lo, S-w.)
 As quoted from the most updated source, the glass curtain-wall system may probably be changed to stone slate wainscot system, due to the consideration of energy consumption. The debate is still undergoing by submitting this paper.