- Competing Ecourban Futures in Taipei
Garden centers must become the Jacobin Clubs of the new Revolution.—Ian Hamilton Findlay1
Even before being designated a World Design Capital in 2016, the municipal government of Taipei had already begun investing in sustainable green urbanism initiatives.2 A massive bike-share program, called YouBike, added millions of bicycles to the city's roads and complemented upgrades to Taipei's metro system.3 The city also invested in large public works designed to transform Taipei into a "sponge city" that would replace impermeable concrete surfaces with permeable ones—providing for enhanced flood control and water filtration.4 It was in a series of new high-profile building projects, however, that Taipei's drive to become a hub for sustainable design was most clearly manifested. Already in 2015, Taipei's mayor, Ko Wen-je, unveiled a plan to transform Taipei into an "eco city with smart architecture."5 A precedent and inspiration for such "smart architecture" was Taipei 101—the skyline- defining tower that, at the time of its completion in 2004, was the tallest in the world. Besides its impressive scale, Taipei 101 was also notable for its innovative water recycling and air-conditioning systems, designed by Siemens Taiwan, that earned the building an LEED Platinum Certification.6 Nevertheless, while Taipei 101 was touted as an ecologically conscious architectural landmark, the building nevertheless represented a gargantuan use of building materials.7 The innovative systems that make the tower energy efficient for its size are [End Page 121] small compensation for the immense carbon emissions incurred in its construction.
The contradictions embodied in Taipei 101 raise fundamental questions about the future of the sustainable city—about what the future ecocity looks like, how it operates, and whom it includes and excludes.8 As ever-greater numbers of the earth's human population begin living in urban environments, the city becomes the territory for which debates about the sustainable future have perhaps the greatest implications. This article interprets recent sustainable building projects in Taipei as speculative narratives about the future of ecological urban design. These plans and buildings are not just interventions in Taipei's urban fabric, I argue, but blueprints for a possible urban future. Each architectural project analyzed here embodies a particular theory of ecological design, and Taipei can thus be considered an agonistic laboratory where potentially irreconcilable models of sustainable urbanism are being produced, tested, and evaluated.
The two case studies reviewed here are the Tao Zhu Yin Yuan (also known as the Agora Garden Tower) designed by Vincent Callebaut and the Paracity designed by Marco Casagrande. The former project is an example of the emerging "vertical forest" typology—a style of high-rise building characterized by balconies covered with trees and vegetation.9 Casagrande's Paracity, meanwhile, is a simple set of timber frames intended to facilitate additional construction by local inhabitants. Despite their common aim to remake Taipei into a more sustainable city, these two projects are radically different in their methodological approaches and in the presuppositions they harbor about the future of ecological urbanism. Callebaut's building makes use of sophisticated technologies, including a photovoltaic rooftop pergola to capture solar energy and a wastewater recycling system featuring cutting-edge nanotechnologies.10 The goal of Callebaut's designs, in the architect's own words, is "to Transform the City into an ecosystem, the districts into forests, and the towers is [sic] into urban trees!"11 Casagrande's Paracity, on the other hand, is decidedly low-tech, intended to promote vernacular architectural styles and traditional local knowledge. The projects are also distinguished by their location. While the Tao Zhu Yin Yuan is located in Taipei's main business and financial district in close proximity to Taipei 101, Casagrande has proposed his Paracity for a small island in the middle of the Tamsui River. Moreover, the [End Page 122] luxury apartments of the Tao Zhu Yin Yuan are clearly marketed to a different segment of the urban population than the semi-improvised developments proposed for Casagrande's Paracity.
By reviewing the merits and pitfalls of these two projects, not only in themselves but in terms of their scalability to...