Create a great public space

View of Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, formerly known as CKS Memorial Hall

The issue of renaming CKS Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂) to Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (台灣民主紀念堂) and tearing down the walls surrounding the park seems to have faded a bit from the news now. Rather than looking exclusively at issues regarding the name of the park I want to consider ways the space could be redeveloped to maximise its potential.

The park around CKS Memorial Hall is already well utilised. Within its grounds are the National Theatre and National Concert Hall (part of the National Chiang Kai Shek Cultural Center) which host over 800 performances each year. The grounds are also popular for practicing martial arts and other recreational activities. There are also exhibitions and special events held throughout the year. The space is hardly going to waste, but its potential is still not being fully utilised.

Great cities are often defined by famous landmarks and the spaces around the them. Times Square in New York, the Champs Elysees in Paris, etc. There is no reason why Taipei cannot create a similarly famous landmark. This would be a place that people would think of as a vibrant heart of the city.

An example of a very well planned public space is Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia. It combines a mixture of attractions with innovative and unique architectural design (photo). A comment on the Great Public Spaces website by Donald Bates says:

Federation Square has had more than 6 million visitors in its first year. This is several million more than the Sydney Opera House. The project has received many state, national and international architectural and design awards. After the first year, Federation Square is truly centered in the public consciousness of Melbourne and has become the major public meeting and gathering space. It has re-defined how Melbourne operates.

I met Singaporean architect William Lim in Taipei several years ago and he said he thinks it will one day become a more significant landmark than the Sydney Opera House.

panorama of the grounds of Taiwan Democracy Park, formerly known as CKS Memorial Hall

The Project for Public Spaces website contains a lot useful ideas about what makes a great public space. It identifies four key criteria. These are:

  • access & linkages
  • comfort & image
  • uses & activities
  • sociability

I will look at these briefly as they apply to CKS Memorial Hall.

Access & Linkages

This involves both visual and physical access as well as links to public transport. CKS Memorial Hall is well positioned for access to public transport. It has its own MRT Station and several other MRT stations are within walking distance. In addition two of Taipei’s main east-west thoroughfares (Ren’ai and Xinyi Roads) and one of the major north-south thoroughfares (Zhongshan Road) border the park. Both visual and physical access to the park is hampered by the surrounding walls.

Comfort & Image

This takes into account both the functionality of the space as well as perceptions of it and how it is used. Some good points about the Hall in its current form is that it is free of vehicular traffic and it is clean and well maintained. A bad point is the large amount of dead space surrounding the park created by the presence of the walls.

Uses & Activities

As already noted the space is utilised for a wide variety of events. Consideration needs to be given to what activities are suitable for the area. I suggest encouraging busking. I also think limited commercial development of cafes and restaurants could have a positive impact.

Sociability

This is a little difficult to quantify. It means things like is it used as a place for meeting friends, are there a diversity of groups using the space and do people feel a strong sense of attachment to the place. These are not things which cannot necessarily be developed directly, but build over time.

And here is a list of why many public spaces fail. I have selected only those which I think apply to CKS Memorial Hall.

  • Lack of places to sit
  • Lack of gathering points
  • Poor entrances and visually inaccessible spaces
  • Dysfunctional features
  • Paths that don’t go where people want to go
  • Blank walls or dead zones around the edges of a place

The three main buildings that are in the park now are too overwhelming and dominate the space. Something needs to be done to soften their presence. More public art could be installed in the park. Distinctive artworks in the park could serve as landmarks for people to meet and gather.

The walls have to come down. Any arguments that these are of heritage value are weak. The park has less than 30 years of history. Removing the walls would open up the park a great deal and also help to overcome the problems of too much dead space.

Another issue to be considered in the renaming of the park and redevelopment of the space is public consultation. If the park is to truly represent democracy in Taiwan then there should be some degree of democracy involved in any changes to it.

While I will be happy to see the name CKS Memorial Hall changed, I don’t think adequate consideration was given to other possible names. In particular consideration should be given to local names that were used for the place, especially names used by aboriginal people. This could help to engender a greater sense of place and better understanding of the site’s history.

I also don’t see why it is vitally important for the hall to specifically function as a monument or museum for democracy in Taiwan. There is already the Taipei  228 Memorial Museum (台北二二八紀念館) nearby and the  228 National Memorial Museum (二二八國家紀念館), also not far away, will open in a couple of years. These museums can adequately serve the function of documenting the development of democracy in Taiwan.

Among other possible uses for the space I suggest special consideration be given to specifically developing spaces for children. There is already a large traffic free area making this a safe place for children. Having some kind of special centre for children would bring many children and their families to the area.

These are just my thoughts. I welcome your comments and opinions on this topic.

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26 thoughts on “Create a great public space

  1. An interesting issue.

    Although 228 is related to Taiwan’s democracy, I don’t see how those museums will address the need for a national symbol/space for democracy.

    When visiting the CKS memorial hall I was both extremely uncomfortable with the CKS worship and completely overwhelmed with the space and architecture. I think that taking this and converting the theme to democracy is an important move. I do hope they’ll use the site so that it would be relevant for the Taiwanese people, and what you’ve suggested is a good start.

    What’s great about this site is that it conveys something that’s special about Taiwanese/Chinese architecture, and there aren’t many of those around Taipei (National Palace Museum and even the Grand Hotel are another interesting sites in this regard).

  2. fiLi, thanks for your comments. Personally I don’t think much of the Chinese architectural style used in CKS Memorial Hall. It seems out of place to me, but I know many people like it.

    But this is why everyone needs to talk about it more. I don’t think either the DPP’s or KMT’s vision for the site necessarily matches what people want.

  3. Interestingly, most architecture historians considers CKS memorial hall as the Chinese version of the Fascist ideology.

  4. CKS Hall is not Chinese architectural design. It’s a simulacra of late Ming style government building in the same way Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland is an European architectural design. For example, the choice of blue color is decidedly not Chinese as emperors’ monuments are traditionally red and gold. The blue color was chosen precisely because it is a KMT color – in another word, it’s a quasi post-modernist interpretation. People who say that they like its Chinese architectural style either know nothing about architectural design or just like big monuments of questionable taste. We can drop that pretense of preserving its Chinese ‘character’ in the debate about what to do with the open space.

  5. Agree to you. Actually, the traditional Chinese mausoleum has no characteristic of palace architecture in term of the interior layout. For instance, the main gate of the Ming tombs are of the earth mount, instead of the timber structure.

  6. Does the DPP want to tear down the ornate gates as well? I’ve heard that they do, but I could be wrong. That, to me, would be a travesty just as bad as tearing down the walls.

  7. Nice article David! Here are a few misc. comments to add:

    Another common mistake of Taipei urban designers is that they never plan to build antiquate shading over seated areas. As we all know, you can fry an egg on any open space in Taipei during the majority of they year. I know the CKS park wall has shading, but if they take down the walls, it will be like an oven to sit anywhere in the park.

    Actually, I’d like to see a cool water fountain built in the middle of the park. You know, the type that is built into the sidewalk and water shoots up, like a walk-in fountain. I think that would be most enjoyable for everyone. This alone would attract thousands of people. The Waterpark in Guanguan is a bit small and not well designed, plus it cost NT$120 or so to get in. I am not advocating turning the place into a waterpark, just one area where people can cool off. (By the way, I heard some rumors last year that the city is planning restore the old city waterway underneath Chungshaio Sec. 4/Anho Rd/to Nanjing area ~ like the Cheonggye Stream project in Seoul.

    In line with the water fountain idea above, the city can also place a large solar panel over the huge kmt party symbol that is now in the middle of the main staircase to the CkS hall. This way, it can generate the power needed for the water pumps and filter system to keep it self sustaining. Another idea is to turn part of the park into a geodesic dome and build a city rainforest (ok, just dreaming!..someone would figure out how to replace all the trees with binglang palms to turn a profit anyway..)

    I agree with tearing down the walls too. The comment you made about using a democratic method to come up with a new plan for the space is good in concept, but also as we know, just a little less than half the people in Taiwan do not favor democracy, they would rather have their beloved dictatorship back and continue to glorify CKS.

    Regarding the CKS hall itself, it looks like a solid, well-built structure, but if you get up close to it and touch it, you will be surprised to see that its made out of cheap fiberstone-board that is rapidly deteriorating. I think its only got a few more years left before it has to be replaced. I remember, there was a huge scaffolding system around the building a few years ago, I think they already replaced the roof (? – or something, I am not sure what they fixed). Also funny, if you go inside the hall and look up at the ceiling, there are a bunch of pigeons living right over the top of the CKS statue. I am sure the city has to clean the poop off of the statue every few months. So removing the statue is also a money saver!

    Lastly, I posted an letter in the paper a few weeks ago with an idea. Its not the best idea, but just something to think about. I think the more ideas, the better even if they are a bit off the wall. I also agree the nearby 228-New Park can serve as the democracy park. The CKS park should be more of a fun city gathering place, not a political statement type of park.

    Sorry if this post is too long… Marc

  8. 🙂

    I prefer the Disneyland “Chinese/Taiwanese” style of CKS/ SYSMH and National Palace museum over buildings like Taipei 101 anytime. It might not be traditional Chinese for the professional architects, but it does give Taipei something that’s a bit different than other world cities.

    Eiffel might be the ugliest structure in the world, but it’s a national French symbol… I’d hate to see western style buildings like Taipei 101 being the symbol for Taiwan.

  9. There are windows along the verandas that surround the park. They are great for strolling, and many people utilize them when it’s raining or too hot. They make great places to sit and rest or read or whatever. The verandas and the walls create a much-needed buffer and keep the chaos and ugliness of the city out, creating a serene, relaxing atmosphere.

    There are already many access points. Even Da-an Park, with no walls, has designated access points, so there is no real difference as far as that aspect goes (and Da-an is situated in a more attractive part of the city). The blue and white colors don’t come from the KMT, but are simply colors that indicate a mausoleum or place to pay respects to the dead.

    The “specter” of CKS intimidating people seems a little exaggerated to me, and all of the propping up of “Democracy”, especially a “Democracy Memorial”, to me suggests more its absence rather than any kind of tribute. When we have true democracy the government won’t feel the need to keep reminding everyone of it.

    And what about the ornate gates? Do you think those should be torn down as well?

  10. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I knew not everyone would agree with me but I appreciate the diversity of opinions.

    Poagao — the problem with the walls relates not just to access, but they also act as a visual barrier and create dead space. Compared with Da-an Park there may be a similar number of entry points, but views into Da-an Park are not restricted by a wall.

    I agree that a “Democracy Park” doesn’t necessarily do anything for democracy. There are many more important things the government should do if it wants to truly respect democracy.

    Taipeimarc — long comments are fine as long as they are related to the topic. I was originally planning to mention your letter to the Taipei Times in the article, but I forgot so thanks for the link to it. I also know of the Cheonggye Stream project in Seoul. I chose to use Federation Square as an example mainly because Melbourne is a city I know well.

  11. the walls should definitely stay. They are not a hindrance to access and serve to shield the interior from outside traffic noise. They add a measure of tranquility. I think they are also quite aesthetically pleasing.

    I don’t quite understand your comment about ‘opening up the park’. There is a lot of room within it already.

    I could do without buskers, as most of them are talentless noisy nuisances.

  12. As I said, the walls do not restrict access, and provide shielding of the park from the chaos of the city, like the Confucius temples you see here and there. The walls have windows that you can see through, and the verandas are a valuable part of the park. I’m still not sure what you mean by “dead space” here.

  13. Two examples of dead space are the area outside the wall on the eastern side of the park and the northwestern corner of the park. This corner is obscured from view and too dark. The space is not welcoming and doesn’t draw people into it.

    I conceive of a total remodelling of the space to allow people to move more freely through the park and create more activity zones. It is a little hard to explain. You need to look at something like Federation Square, that I mentioned, and see the way people can relate to and move through the space. The current shape of CKS Memorial Hall very much reflects Taiwan’s period of authoritarian rule.

  14. You mean the sidewalk on the corner of Renai and Zhongshan, across from the East Gate? Why should people be drawn there? It’s the sidewalk, not the park.

    I don’t see how the park “reflects authoritarian rule” or in any way perpetuates it. It’s a pleasant, spacious, quiet park with nice shady verandas and private-feeling wooded areas to walk around in. It’s got fishponds and ornamental bridges, big open spaces and is a huge tourist attraction. I haven’t heard any argument that convinces me that the only reason the DPP administration wants to change CKS Hall isn’t simple, blatant politics.

  15. Oh, and I realize now, after looking at the site, that I have actually visited Federation Square in Melbourne. I thought it was a mall.

  16. I am actually referring to the park area inside the wall on the corner of Ren’ai and Zhongshan Roads. Opening it up would invite more people into the park as many people would be approaching it from the wide open space Ketagalan Boulevard and the traffic circle which links to 228 Park, the Presidential Building, NTU Hospital and other places.

    I think the main motivation for changing the park is political too. That is why I am arguing for more thought to go into planning the changes. Rather than just removing a few symbols which some people don’t like, it can be used as an opportunity to improve the urban environment of Taipei.

    I also understand the fact that some people like the current features of the park. That needs to be taken into account in making any changes.

  17. Oh, you said “Two examples of dead space are the area outside the wall on the eastern side of the park and the northwestern corner of the park” so I thought you meant outside the wall.

    In that case, I think lighting changes or even another access point, i.e. another gate would work just fine as the neighborhood just outside that part is more attractive and open. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater by tearing down the entire wall and the gates just to make a political point.

  18. Another idea would be to take down most of the walls and surround the park with statues of important people relative to Taiwan such as early democracy activists and aboriginal heros such as Mona Rudao. Some people that are important but caused more harm than good could still be displayed, but perhaps they can be distinguished with a different color or something.

    Perhaps one segment can be a foreigner segment to show the Taiwanese kids that many foreigners contributed positively to Taiwan. Kids shouldn’t have the idea that foreigners came/come here just to exploit the place. Even the early Dutch contributed technologies and management systems and created an economy. (Interesting that after the Dutch were forced out, 20 years later they were asked to return to rebuild the decimated economy ~ according to Murray A. Rubinstein’s book
    Taiwan – A new History
    .

    The foreigner statue segment could include people like the Scottish engineer that designed the Taipei city water system, the American (I think) that was the engineer for Sun Moon lake, George Kerr for documenting the truth of a certain era, Dr. Mackay, Dr. Noordoff, famous missionaries, and many others. (hopefully someone positive from the US Military times as well ~ Eisenhower?). This way the kids can walk around the park and learn about the history with a open mind. Perhaps even have a test (!) at the end, if they memorize all the people they get a special park medal.

    Re the walls, It is a lot of maintenance to keep up. If you look at the intricacy of the overhanging roofs, its a lot of work to keep painted and keep clean. The windows look cool, especially how each segment has 10 or so different shapes. Perhaps they can keep certain sections of the walls here and there. Many 10 statues a wall segment, then 10 statutes… Hong Kong has a Statue Square right in the middle of Central that is very popular (mostly because it has seats and shading ~ but people do look at and read the statues).

    Lastly perhaps integrated somewhere can contain small temples since religion is so big (and free to worship) here. Perhaps a Taoist ~ Matsu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim temple somewhere in the park. For special religious events, the park can hold a lot of people. There would be no need to squish into St. Christopher’s for Christmas mass anymore.

  19. I strongly agree with Poagao. The only thing remotely political about the park is its name, and the little museum devoted to CKS. Take those away, and the park will mean anything you want.

    I can conceive of nothing more wantonly destructive than tearing down the walls. Walls have been a characteristic feature of Chinese urban landscapes for millenia. In the case of the park, they serve important purposes, both utilitarian and aesthetic.

    I also think there may be some cultural \’imperialism\’ going on here. Chinese came to view their city walls as feudal and backwards only because the foreigners critcized them. One of the worst things the CCP did to Beijing was tear down the walls. There were certain visionaries, Chinese visionaries, who wanted to keep them. Liang Sicheng was their champion. You should check out his blueprints on how to utilize walls to create traditionally Chinese themed public spaces. Unfortunately, they lost the day, to precisely the same criticisms I\’m seeing here, and the city is far the worse for it.

    I like many of your suggestions for improving the park within, but see no reason to go all Red Guard on the walls (in the sense of anything traditional is bad), or as Poagao phrased it, \”throw out the baby with the bathwater\”.

  20. Looking back, Taipei would have had more character as well if the Japanese didn’t remove the city walls just 20 years or so after they were built. Sometimes walls are good and serve a purpose such as a flood control wall, but on the other hand, that same wall can be a hindrance because it removes the view and access to the river. So what to do? Should it be function over form? For the flood wall yes, for a city park, maybe not. There are other alternatives such as trees to keep the noise down. I say this with an open mind because I like the design of the wall, I just don’t think its necessary for the entire park to be surrounded by it. It’s a big place anyway ~ removing parts of the wall are not going to take away from its aesthetics. There will still be many areas for quiet contemplation.

  21. Thanks to everyone for your interesting comments. I hope that it will encourage people to think more about the way public spaces are used and developed.

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  24. I have to agree with Poagao as well. It really is distasteful to see foreigners publicly advocating for the destruction of historical and cultural sites. Yes, we have our opinions about some things that affect us directly, such as visa regulations, etc, but this kind of thing really isn’t any of our business.

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