architecture

Building of the week: Tainan Spring

What do you do with an obsolete shopping mall? The city of Tainan, in southern Taiwan, asked themselves this question recently. The early 1980’s China Town mall was obsolete and partly derelict. It was due for demolition as part of a regeneration project that was opening up the waterfront. Rather than razing it to the ground, it has been transformed into an imaginative public space by the Dutch architects MVRDV.

The building was carefully dismantled and recycled, leaving behind the subterranean car park level. This was landscaped into a series of pools and lagoons, and islands with trees and greenery. This ‘artful deconstruction’ leaves lots of reminders of what the space used to be, and there are a variety of nooks and overhangs and collonades that can be adapted into shops or facilities later.

There are lots of photos at MVRDV, and the project has been covered in more detail by many of the architecture blogs, including Inhabitat and Dezeen. The reason I wanted to mention it is that it combines so many features of sustainable architecture and place-making that I’ve written about before.

For instance, this is another example of creative water management, like the water plazas in Holland or China’s sponge cities. Flooding on the site was one of the reasons that the old mall was derelict, and it was always going to be a risk for any building that replaced it. The water levels of Tainan Spring can rise and fall with the seasons, making it adaptable to weather conditions.

The pools and water features will also help to reduce the urban heat island effect, and will provide a cool meeting place for events or social gatherings during the hot summer. It’s not obvious from the photos yet because the plants are new, but this will be a very green park once they get established – reminiscent of the verdant spaces in this hospital in Singapore, which uses water and trees to create its own cooler micro-climate.

I wrote recently about waste in construction, and so it’s interesting to learn that across this project and the wider Tainan Axis masterplan that it is part of, 99% of construction waste is reused. The old mall has been dismantled rather than knocked down, with materials separated on site so they can be processed correctly as part of a circular economy.

Finally, shopping centres are private spaces for those with money to spend. Parks and plazas are public spaces for everyone. High quality public spaces create democratic leisure opportunities, and are an often overlooked way to improve the wellbeing of a city. See Eric Klinenberg’s wonderful book Palaces for the People for more on that.

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