As this year’s “World Design Capital,” Taipei aims to forge a new, forward-looking image.
Designated the “2016 World Design Capital” by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID),Taipei has embarked on a comprehensive initiative to mark this year by instilling design elements into numerous aspects of urban life. “The WDC project aims to use design to change Taipei, forging a new image for the city,” says Han Wu, executive director of the World Design Capital Taipei 2016 Office, which comes under the jurisdiction of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
ICSID has chosen a “World Design Capital” (WDC) every two years since Italy’s Turin held the title in 2008. In 2010 the honor went to Seoul, in 2012 to Finland’s Helsinki, and in 2014 to South Africa’s Cape Town. In October 2014, after two years of preparatory work, Taipei secured the title for 2016 with a presentation entitled “Adaptive City,” highlighting the city’s robust design strength and an environment conducive to the development of a design industry. Applicants are judged on their achievements in using design as a tool to “reinvent” themselves and to improve social, cultural, and economic life in the city in line with the principles of aesthetics, innovation, and humanism.
Liu Wei-kung, former commissioner of the Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs, notes that for two years before submitting its application, the city government had already been introducing design thinking into its policies and inducing local designers and citizens to take part in the effort to make Taipei a constantly progressing city. He cites a number of measures undertaken, often with grassroots participation, to use design to transform the city into a more attractive and livable environment.
The renovation of bus stops is one such example. The 26 bus stops along the route of the Xinyi line of the MRT, for instance, display works of art, including calligraphy and woodcuts, by famous local artists. The selection will be changed annually.
Around the city, in addition, over 100 covered bus stops, some with seating, have been installed on streets with narrow sidewalks (defined as two meters wide or less). The structure is supported by pillars installed close to the curbs to minimize the impact on space for pedestrians to walk. Those waiting for a bus can push a button to turn on an amber LED light that signals their presence to oncoming bus drivers. A second LED display informs passengers of their bus’s arrival time, as well as other transportation information.
Other sidewalks are being widened to make room for bicycle paths, separated from the pedestrian walkways by green lines. For that purpose, sidewalks on Section 3 of XinSheng South Road alongside the National Taiwan University campus will be widened from the current 2-6 meters to 5-9.5 meters, divided by a green line down the center. The street side of the line will accommodate street lamps, bus stops, trash cans, lounge chairs, and transformer boxes, all decorated with various graphics.
The sidewalks will feature permeable pavement for absorption of rainwater, eliminating the need for drainage pipes. Colorful tiles covering the pavement will in some sections form wavelike patterns, evoking the drainage ditch – placed underground since the 1970s – that once ran down the middle of the road. The project, expected to be completed within this year, will also include similar reengineering of the sidewalks on Sections 5 and 6 of Roosevelt Road and Section 3 of HePing West Road. “By cutting one car lane to expand the sidewalk space, the project aims to encourage people to engage in more street activity,” explains Han Wu.
Another of the Office’s projects involves the overhaul of four parks: Zhongqiang Park in the Xinyi district, Tianhe and Donghe Parks in the Tianmu area of Shilin district, and Wanyou No. 1 Park in Muzha. Design elements will be added to each park to emphasize its special features, such as the tree frogs native to Zhongqiang, the old wells found in Tianhe, the creek running through Donghe, and the coal-transport railway that once operated in the Wanyou area. In line with the spirit of WDC, which emphasizes public participation, the city government is inviting local citizens to submit design proposals.
The Parks and Streetlights Office of the city government’s Public Works Department has also been in communications with local citizens to allay concerns about the possible damage that the park projects might cause to existing resources, such as the old wells and habitat of the indigenous Formosan Blue Magpie in Tianhe.
In yet another initiative aimed at freshening the look of Taipei through design, the Department of Cultural Affairs has been helping scores of shops in selected neighborhoods (including the Minsheng Community, Ximending, Neihu, Jingmei, Wenshan, and Shuang-lian) to renovate their signboards and interior layouts. Innovative signs have been installed to better project the shops’ distinctive features and catch the eyes of passersby, in some cases using lighting to attract attention. Designers have also worked with some store owners in upgrading their interiors from the point of view of both aesthetics and business effectiveness. “We helped 50 stores renovate their signs in 2015, prompting many of them to subsequently overhaul their interior layouts,” reports Han Wu. “Our goal is to have 100 more stores renovate their signs in 2016.”
In an effort to make the cityscape more colorful, the government has also painted the pillars of the Zhengqi Overpass at the intersection of Keelung Road and NanJing East Road, using pink, light purple, light blue, and light green – each designating a different direction. Bus stops along the Songshan line of the MRT double as a compass, using colors to denote different directions–green for east, blue for west, orange for north, and brown for south. In addition, purple has been selected as the city’s official color.
Business sector involvement
Private companies have also joined the effort. Sinyi Realty, the leading property broker in Taiwan, for instance, last October erected a large-scale installation artwork, based on the picture book The Moon Forgets by renowned local illustrator Jimmy Liao, in front of the company’s headquarters building in the Xinyi district. The main body of the installation, dubbed “Moon Safeguarding the Fortunate City,” is a used bus decorated with a design of a boy passenger holding a “moon” globe. The artwork is meant to project a warm touch amid surroundings of impersonal office towers. “The humanistic concept behind the installation is in line with the core value of our corporate culture,” explains Chou Chuang-yun, Sinyi’s chief strategist.
Meanwhile, the city government is making an effort to foster the local design industry. The Department of Cultural Affairs has annually been offering subsidies to encourage good examples of urban design related to such locations as overpasses and underground passages, parks, and public transportation facilities.
Since 2008, in addition, the Taipei government has been conducting an annual “Taiwan International Design Award” contest, which has been certified by a number of international bodies, including ICSID, the International Council of Design (ico-D), and the International Federation of Interior Architects (IFI). Out of 4,246 design works from 59 countries entered in the 2015 edition, 68 were granted various kinds of awards based on the evaluation of a panel of international judges. A total of NT$3 million (US$910,000) in prize money was given out.
“The awards aim to encourage the participation of talent in various fields in innovation and design, so that design can enhance civic aesthetics and the quality of urban life, as well as the city’s brand image and international competitiveness,” says Lin Chung-chieh, commissioner of the city’s Department of Economic Development, organizer of the competition.
Han Wu of the WDC office notes that “WDC aims to change the city, and the design and innovation momentum of the private sector is indispensable for achieving the goal.” He adds that “Taiwan has a vibrant design industry, thanks to the fertile soil created by democracy and the diversity of the society.”
To expand the available infrastructure for the promotion of design, the city government has established what it calls “Taipei Co-space” on the second floor of the Neihu Technology Park Service Building. Currently 16 design-oriented micro-businesses and two design teams are operating there, taking advantage of the low rent and convenient common facilities, as well as startup assistance, including consulting service.
The facility reinforces the existing two design parks in the city: Huashan Creative Park on BaDe Road and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Huashan functions as a venue for the promotion of domestic cultural/creative products, the exhibition of design works, and artistic performances, while the mission of the Songshan Park is to cultivate creativity and innovation, as well to nurture creative talent.
To raise the level of the local design industry, in addition, the city government has been promoting international exchanges. In October 2015, the Department of Cultural Affairs held the fourth annual Taipei Design and City Exhibition at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. The three-week fair covered such topics as sustainable cities, public housing, indices for various social statistics, and “social design” – the use of design thinking to tackle various social problems. GK, the largest design company in Japan, for instance, showcased eight new types of maps for Taipei MRT routes, including one that highlights natural scenic spots accessible along the route.
A “Social-Design Thinking” exhibition organized by the Department of Cultural Affairs a month earlier showcased classic social-design cases in Japan over the past 20 years in the hope of inspiring similar innovations in Taiwan. One item on display was a “foldable disaster-relief helmet” that can be stored flat until needed. Another was paintings that the blind can feel with their hands.
The Department of Cultural Affairs is also sponsoring a “social design award.” From some 100 entries, the judges have selected four finalists, and the winner will be announced at the WDC international design banquet on March 18. One finalist is the “5% Design Action” platform, created by Dreamvok, which facilitates voluntary participation by designers and professionals on a part-time basis (5% of their time) in social-design projects in solving problems in the fields of education, health, environment, and the economy. Since the platform’s inception in 2013, some 3,500 people have volunteered for projects in cooperation with NGOs and the public and private sectors.
Another finalist is a multi-purpose folding bed, developed by Jing Si Publications, an affiliate of the renowned Buddhist organization Tzu Chi. Designed for use in disaster relief operations, the bed weighs 13.5 kilograms and is easy to transport. In 10 minutes, it can be unfolded into a lounge chair or single bed capable of withstanding 150 kilograms of weight.
A series of WDC-related events will take place during 2016, including the International Design Gala (March 18), Network of Cities Meeting (Oct. 13 and 14), International Design House Exhibition (Oct. 13-30), International Design Policy Conference (Oct. 15 and 16), and International Design Week Forum (Oct. 17 and 18). In a ceremony on December 9, Taipei will hand over the WDC title to Mexico City, which will be the 2018 WDC holder.