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.
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
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.
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.