25 June 2020
The concrete beast is no more. Just like the fairytale of Beauty and the Beast, where the horrible monster turns into a handsome prince thanks to the unconditional love bestowed upon him, the great Tinan China-Town Mall has become a stunning, lush park with a great central swimming pool open to all. The project was assigned by the Urban Development Bureau of the Tainan City Government to the Dutch MVRDV architecture and urban practice. “Children will soon be swimming in the ruins of the past – how fantastic is that?” said Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV.
The story of Tainan Spring began around the end of the 20th century, when Taiwan’s oldest city, Tainan, began to lose its purpose as a centre for the fishing and marine industry as a result of galloping industrialisation, leading in 1983 to the construction of a huge shopping centre right on top of the old harbour. Over the last few years, the swift increase in e-commerce has led to the China-Town Mall losing its original function and becoming something of a city-centre eco-monster.
The twin sources of inspiration for the project, inaugurated in March, were the jungle and water. Tainan is a grey city and the reintroduction of the island’s typical jungle plant life has created an obvious and pleasing transition between the city and its environs. “I think the city will benefit greatly from this,” Winy Maas added. The project is a strand in a wider rehabilitation project for the area, providing for the introduction of several varieties of local plants so as to create a veritable “lush jungle” over time, creating new public green spaces similar to the natural landscapes east of the city.
To recapitulate on the project, from bottom to top, the underground carpark has been made into a huge sunken public plaza, a meeting place for all seasons, characterised by a large, long urban swimming pool that primarily references the city’s history as a lagoon city. The water level of the pool will rise and fall, according to the seasonal rainfall, and during hotter periods sprinklers will bring down the local temperature and the use of air conditioning, making for a pleasanter and more sustainable environment.
The rehabilitation of the site is a perfect example of the circular economy and offers a possible solution for the rehabilitation of old shopping malls, falling increasingly into disuse all over the world. The intervention also has an educational value, in that a transparent pavement in part of the old underground structure - level 2 - allows the public to learn about the history of the site and to appreciate the former shopping centre as an integral part of the financial and social evolution of Tainan. MVRDV has likened it to “a contemporary Roman forum, offering a visual marker of the historical decision to close a port in favour of a shopping mall.”
The area as a whole will also contain playgrounds, meeting spaces and a stage for performances, while the concrete frame of the previous structure has become a series of covered galleries with the potential to be turned into shops or other amenities in the near future.
Tainan Spring forms part of the city’s sustainable urban regeneration plan, a T-axis to the east of the canal, covering more than a kilometre along Haian Road, one of the city’s liveliest streets. It was the object of a renovation project, completed last year, which has already produced results, bringing vitality and visibility to the area, better public thoroughfares and local facilities. Tainan Spring is just the first of two projects MVRDV is carrying out in Tainan. The first thing you see when you open their home page is “We create happy and adventurous places” – we second that, and can’t wait for the next.