Jump to the content zone at the center

Experience the Charms of Old Taipei

Experience the Charms of Old Taipei“Urban Museum,” the current slogan used to describe putting a whole city’s living environment and its resident humanity on display, has become the big new concept in metropolises around the world. Museums are no longer limited to the space within walls, but can encompass a whole street or community.

Taipei City is currently home to, or planning, five wall-free museums: Beitou (北投), Dadaocheng (大稻埕), Bangka (艋舺), the south side of old Taipei, and Zhongshan Metro Mall (中山地下街). With tons of exciting human history, architecture, industry and the arts, Dadaocheng is an excellent venue to showcase city renovation and cultural creation. Its unique blend of new and old makes Dadaocheng fascinating and attracts people flocking in to savor its charms.

Restoring Historical Sites Is Trendy; The Old House Cultural Movement is All the Rage!

In recent years, a “Reinventing Taipei” movement has arisen. In Dadaocheng, historical sites have been restored, and old heritage houses renovated. Many shops specializing in culture and creativity have opened and numerous dramatic TV shows have been shot here. Tourists love visiting this neighborhood. The TV series, La Grande Chaumière Violette 紫色大稻埕), adapted from the novel by Shaih Lifa (謝里法), chose the restored Shin Hong Choon Tea Company (新芳春茶行) building as it’s main location. And while Tom Cruise was in Taiwan to promote his latest movie, he chose Dadaocheng as a secret spot where he could hang out with Taiwanese pop star, Jolin. When popular Japanese model, Rina Tanaka (田中里奈) came to Taiwan for a Taipei tourist experience, this was the place she visited. The Department of Cultural Aairs believes that the process of “reinventing” should, in fact, employ new methods to rediscover old traditions, and then interpret them from a contemporary angle. Currently, there are several types of energy being generated in Dadaocheng: for industry, for tourism and for cultural creation.

The former Fa Ji Tea Shop (發記茶行) has been renovated and is now the URS27W Film Range (城市影像實驗室). (Photo: Xu Bin)The Department of Cultural Aairs has put a lot of effort into renovating, reviving and reusing historical sites and buildings. The Department is also working on new ways to exhibit Dadaocheng’s history, and is always looking for new points of view for interpretation. It also has plans to use several venues as cultural indicators and attraction spots: for example, Shin Hong Choon Tea Company, one of the few well-preserved mixed residential and commercial tea-culture spaces in Taipei. Dadaocheng Theater (大稻埕戲苑) is another example - an obvious choice to promote traditional Taiwanese theater and the glorious days when Dadaocheng was known as “the den of opera.” 

The Taiwan New Cultural Movement Memorial Hall (台灣新文化運動紀念館), which housed the Taipei North Police Station (台北北警察署) in the Japanese era is another example. What’s more, the Department is capitalizing on the “Old House Cultural Movement” and using it as a mechanism with which to speed up the renovation of old dwellings. This process should also allow cultural service workers to provide creative ideas. Through civic participation, it is hoped that the city government, home owners, arts and culture workers, and private enterprises will build a new partnership for heritage preservation and renewal.

An Experiment in Regeneration; Working on Urban Renewal Together

This Chinese herbal medicine shop makes trendy herbal drinks, which are popular among young people. (Photo: Xu Bin)The Deputy Chief Engineer of the Taipei City Urban Regeneration Office (台北市都市更新處), Zhan Yu-qi (詹育齊) says, “The projects the Urban Regeneration Office executes are all about humanity.” Everything the Office did in Dadaocheng, including Building Renovation, the URS (Urban Regeneration Station), the Datong Regeneration Project, and the Community Planning Workshop, was aimed at community development. These efforts involved people’s houses, spaces and lives, and united the whole community within the concept: “Dadaocheng Museum.” Until now, Taipei's “old townsite” projects have basically focused on districts that were developed early, including the three market towns (三市街): Bangka, Dadaocheng and old Taipei town.

Such projects require a district with a large enough population and a certain scale of business. Dadaocheng has the historical background, and its prosperous commerce has been going on since its very earliest days. So whether the goal was urban regeneration or city renovation, it naturally became a perfect experimental place where government and civic groups could invest and try out “reinventing” techniques. The URS project is an example: the main scheme was to “regenerate,” and that meant something different than reconstruction, which requires destroying before rebuilding. Regeneration seeks to add new ideas to old structures; while improving the environment of the old neighborhood, bringing in industrial activity, and creating space for people who have passion for the city.

As of now, there are 5 conceptual stations in Dadaocheng. The Urban Regeneration Office provides these spaces as platforms for individuals and groups who wish to try out new ideas. They also bring together experts, scholars and locals to discuss possible ways to use these venues. So, at different stages of experiment, a space might have dierent conceptual names or be following diverse business models, and the Office is happy to assess the results. “The point is to set up economic models; let people live there, and have them recognize and resonate with each other.” It’s like throwing a stone into water and watching the ripples spread. More and more people are attracted and become part of the wave. One interesting thing is that many building owners in Dadaocheng do “wait and see” first. Once they observe successful examples of URS or Building Renovation, their own memories of family life in Dadaocheng often come back and trigger an interest and motivation to “renovate my old building and put it into use again.”

New Arts and Culture Stores: Civic Groups Participate in Creation

The combination of urban renovation, the arts and fresh ideas in Dadaocheng has created a magnet eect! More and more young people with ideas for this historical neighborhood are getting into preservation and renovation. In this way, Dadaocheng’s traditions and the wave of the future are connected seamlessly. Recently, many individuals have gotten involved in the revival of heritage buildings in Dadaocheng. The former chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the National Performing Arts Center ( 國家表演 藝術中心), Chen Guo-ci (陳國慈) bought an old building and renovated it into the renowned private museum: Museum 207 (迪化207 博物館). This is a perfect example of “individually-realized heritage site revival.”
After renovation, Shin Hong Choon Tea Company displays its beautiful and elegant new look. (Photo: Liu De-yuan)Using regeneration as its main scheme, the URS project preserves an old building’s original look. This photo shows the attic and beams in USR155 Tuan Yuan Dadaocheng (團圓大稻埕). (Photo: Xu Bin)

She believes that old community buildings can be a good location for museums. These buildings tell their own stories and, thus, become an historical stage for preserving people’s collective memories. Dadaocheng‘s best-known business model for arts and culture is the “art yard” series, created by Tua- Tiu-Tiann International Festival of Arts (大稻埕國際藝術節) founder, Zhou Yi-cheng (周奕成) and his partners. They rented a few old buildings in the district, did some minor renovations and brought in small shops and artists. They then created complex spaces such as ArtYard 67 (民藝埕) and ArtYard 1 (小藝埕), which became pioneers in cultural creation in Dadaocheng. Later on, all kinds of inventive stores and markets sprang up in this neighborhood, with businesses specializing in locally-grown groceries, Chinese herbal medicines, tea leaves, fabrics, and gourmet food.The Dihua Commercial District Development Association (迪化商圈發展促進會) even held the Dadaocheng Herbal Party (大稻埕本草派對), at which drinks and snacks made from herbal medicines were sold by local vendors.

In this way, visitors got to enjoy a trendy taste in a traditional neighborhood. The reinvention of Dadaocheng is going strong, and the trial pedestrian-only project along Dihua Street from Guisui Street (歸綏街) to Nanjing W. Road (南京西路) received generally good comments when the Taipei City Government tested it this past September. The project is slated to continue till the end of 2017 and will incorporate the Lunar New Year Market (年貨大街) next year. This shows that people are holding a positive attitude towards local industrial development and urban regeneration in Dadaocheng. If one can say that Taipei City is a gigantic museum, then Dadaocheng has established itself as a “revived old yard,”and looks forward to having ongoing conversations with people.


Urban regeneration stations in

*URS44 Dadaocheng Story House
44, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong Dist. 
*URS127 Art Factory
127, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong Dist. 
*URS155 Tuan Yuan Dadaocheng
155, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong Dist.
*URS27W Film Range
27, Sec. 2, Yanping N. Rd., Datong Dist. 
*URS329 Rice & Shine
329, Sec. 1, Dihua St., Datong Dist.

Flourishing in the old townsite, arts and culture shops have become tourist attractions.(Photo: Yang Zhi-ren)

Article | Xu Li-cen 
Photos | Xu Bin, Yang Zhi-ren, Liu De-yuan
Taipei City Urban Regeneration Office