A New Era for AIT: Dedicating a New Home

The dedication ceremony in June for AIT's new office complex. Photo: AIT

The organization will soon move into impressive new quarters in Taipei’s Neihu district.

When the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) opened for business on April 15, 1979 to replace the U.S. embassy following “derecognition,” many observers wondered how well the United States would be able to maintain its broad range of substantive relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties. Yet over the past nearly 40 years, the bilateral relationship has continued to flourish, in no small part due to the role of AIT, a technically private non-profit organization authorized under U.S. law to represent American interests in Taiwan.

Now AIT is preparing to enter into a new chapter in that relationship – one that should enable the institution to carry out its responsibilities even more effectively. On June 12 it held the dedication ceremony for a newly constructed US$255.6-million complex to serve as the new home for AIT Taiwan (nominally the organization’s headquarters is in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Rosslyn, Virginia). On a yet-to-be-announced date in the near future, all of AIT’s approximately 450 personnel from its various units will move into the new facility at 100 Jinhu Road in a fashionable neighborhood of Taipei’s fast-growing Neihu District.

As AIT Director Kin W. Moy stressed before departing Taipei last month at the end of his three-year tour of duty, “the new structure is quite literally a concrete symbol” of the depth of the U.S. commitment to Taiwan – a brick-and-mortar statement that the United States intends to continue to be heavily involved with Taiwan for a long time to come. In an interview with Taiwan Business TOPICS, Moy expressed his satisfaction in being able to preside over the completion of this “lasting legacy.”

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the new building as a “milestone in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship” and a reminder of their shared values as “free and open democracies.” On the same morning at the Presidential Office she conferred one of Taiwan’s highest honors, the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, on Director Moy in “appreciation of his outstanding contributions toward stronger Taiwan-U.S. relations.”

Also attending the dedication ceremony for the new building were former President Ma Ying-jeou and numerous dignitaries from across the political, business, and cultural spectrum in Taiwan. A  U.S. delegation to the event was headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce, joined by U.S.-based AIT Chairman James Moriarty; Congressman Gregg Harper, Co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus; and Ambassador William H. Moser, Principal Deputy Director of the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Office.

Assistant Secretary Royce called the new complex a “symbol of the strength and vibrancy of the U.S.-Taiwan partnership in the 21st century” and a “state-of-the-art facility that will make possible even greater cooperation for years to come.”

Administratively, by bringing all AIT functions under one roof, the new complex will serve to boost the organization’s efficiency. “Right now we have offices all over town,” Moy said in the interview, referring to the main office in onetime U.S. military facilities on XinYi Road, the Commercial Section and Information Resource Center in the Taipei World Trade Center, the Agricultural Trade Office on RenAi Road, and a Chinese-language school for U.S. foreign-service officers on Yangmingshan. “From a logistics and communications point of view, it’s going to help a lot” to have everyone together in one place, he explained.

American citizens in Taiwan will find many reasons to take pride in the new AIT, Moy added. Designed by the architectural firm of Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, California, the complex is aesthetically pleasing – in contrast to many of the sterile, fortress-like government buildings erected around the world in recent decades. Many of the attendees at the dedication ceremony commented on how “American” the building appeared, alluding to its openness and welcoming use of space.

Construction took place on less than half of the 16-acre site. Photo: AIT

According to AIT, only 2.4 hectares (six acres) of the site’s 6.5 hectares (16 acres) were developed, “leaving much of the site in its natural state or replanting it with landscaping.” The firm of Pamela Burton & Co., also of Santa Monica, was retained to provide the landscaping design and “was inspired by the great traditions of Chinese gardens,” AIT notes in a fact sheet about the project. The document adds that “when construction is complete, there will be more trees on-site than before the project began.”

Under the heading Green AIT, the fact sheet states that the new building “incorporates modern design elements that reflect a commitment to sustainability and minimal impact on the environment.” As a result, the complex is expected to qualify for Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation, signifying that it is energy- and water-efficient, with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the environmentally friendly features will be a rainwater storage system with capacity of 1.12 million liters, as well as “water-saving faucets and sinks designed to reduce consumption of potable water by 50%.” In addition, the use of motion-sensor lights and LED lightbulbs is estimated to decrease energy consumption by 34% compared to a conventional building.

The strong cultural bonds between the two societies will be reflected in a permanent “Art in AIT” collection of works by eight artists, four each from Taiwan and the United States, working in such areas of expression as painting, sculpture, photography, calligraphy, and mixed media. The centerpiece of the collection is a new work by renowned calligrapher Fu Shen.

“The collection was curated to recognize the cultural and artistic heritages of the United States and Taiwan and to establish a dialogue of cross-cultural exchange through the visual arts,” the fact sheet notes.

As is the frequent custom when new buildings are dedicated in the United States, a time capsule containing various messages or artifacts representing the current U.S.-Taiwan relationship or “symbolizing an important feature of our world today” was prepared for burial on the AIT complex, “enabling future generations to discover the items inside that capture the spirit of our times.”