Find Yourself in a Cool Place: Renovated Old Buildings in Taipei
【Author Jenna Lynn Cody】
【Photographer Taipei Info Hub, National Center of Photography and Images, Taiwan New Cultural Movement Memorial Museum】
In recent years, Taipei City has been busy renovating a plethora of buildings dating from the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945), turning them into places where one can learn about the culture and history of Taipei, as well as how the city continues to evolve. They also make Taipei an inviting city in all seasons.
Taipei Info Hub (臺北記憶倉庫), the National Center of Photography and Images, Taipei (國家攝影文化中心台北館), and Taiwan New Cultural Movement Memorial Museum (台灣新文化運動紀念館) in the renovated Taipei North Police Station (台北北警察署) are three such repurposed spaces that offer a respite from the summer heat. In these centrally-located spots, all built between 1913 and 1937, you can cool off, enjoy heritage architecture, take in a free exhibit or recharge and reflect at a café. No matter how hot it is outside, there’s always something new to see or learn in all of these historic destinations.
Taipei Info Hub
Built as a warehouse in 1913 by the erstwhile Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (unrelated to the extant company of the same name), Taipei Info Hub, also called the Former Mitsui & Co. Taipei warehouse (舊三井物產株式會社北門倉庫), is located across from Beimen (北門, North Gate) —
the only city gate in Taipei that retains its original design. The original brick building sported an attractive semicircle gable, unique in that it was adorned with the diamond-shaped Mitsui & Co. company symbol.
When the building was renovated as part of the Taipei Western District Gateway Project (台北西區門戶計畫) in 2016 after more than half a century of neglect, it was determined that the brickwork on the original gable was too weak to be renovated in situ. As such, a replica was installed outside about 50 meters away from the original site; the original gable of the warehouse that was cut and preserved at the time can still be seen as you enter the building.
Taipei Info Hub houses a bilingual exhibit on the history of forestry and trade, as Mitsui engaged in the export of resources such as tea, rice, camphor, salt, sugar, tobacco and coal. Adjacent to both the railway and Dadaocheng Wharf (大稻埕碼頭), and near several historic sites from the Qing, Japanese and post-war eras, the building tells the story of the commercial development of the city and its trade routes, in addition to rotating exhibitions.
For those seeking to escape the heat, Taipei Info Hub also boasts a bookshop and café with ample seating, WiFi and a wide selection of drinks.
TAIPEI INFO HUB
ADD265, Sec. 1, Zhongxiao W. Rd., Zhongzheng Dist. (Near MRT Beimen Station)
HOURS 11:00am - 7:00pm (Closed on Mondays)
National Center of Photography and Images, Taipei
Located a short walk from Taipei Info Hub, the National Center of Photography and Images (NCPI) opened in 2021 with the aim of facilitating the preservation and exhibition of photography and image-based arts of cultural and historic importance. Currently it is the only national-level specialized photographic institute in Taiwan. Stepping inside NCPI’s cool interior, be sure to pick up bilingual brochures before either ascending the restored staircase to the exhibitions on the second and third floors, or sipping coffee at the sleek café and adjoining shop. The exhibitions on the upper floors are operated by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (國立台灣美術館). This summer, be sure to catch the exhibition “Specularity/Reflexivity: Contemporary Image Arts after the 1980s,” displaying Taiwanese contemporary image arts after 1980.
The L-shaped building was designed by Japanese architect Setsu Watanabe — his only known work in Taiwan. Constructed in 1937 for the Osaka Mercantile Co., Ltd., the minimally adorned modernist façade centers a Japanese-style spired turret on the roof. As war loomed on the horizon and the colonial government began to conserve resources, the building became the last Japanese-era reinforced concrete structure built in Taiwan. Long-term residents of Taipei may remember, however, that the turret was not always there. Although part of the original structure, it was demolished in 1968 to make room for a fourth story; by then, the building housed the Taiwan Provincial Highway Bureau (台灣省公路局), predecessor of what is now called the Directorate General of Highways (交通部 公路總局).
In 2014, the building was designated as a heritage site by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Taipei City Government (台北市文化局), and renovations began, restoring Watanabe’s vision and giving visitors an immersive sense of Taipei’s past.
NATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND IMAGES, TAIPEI
ADD 70, Sec. 1, Zhongxiao W. Rd., Zhongzheng Dist. (Near MRT Taipei Main Station)
HOURS 10:00am - 6:00pm (Closed on Mondays)
Taiwan New Cultural Movement Memorial Museum
The Dadaocheng neighborhood north of Taipei Main Station (台北車站) is one of the oldest in Taipei, and its wealth of traditional architecture has attracted tourists for decades. Few, however, compare in scale to the Taipei North Police Station, now the Taiwan New Cultural Movement Memorial Museum. If you need a break from exploring the area on a sweltering day, this spacious museum with a restored pre-war façade is just the place.
Built in 1933, the station also served as a detention center. In the ensuing decades, the edifice was replaced with red tiles and a third story was added. Renovations began in 2014, and the choice of exhibit was intentional: Taiwan Cultural Association (台灣文化協會) founder Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) had been imprisoned at the station’s former site in the 1920s. The New Cultural Movement in Taiwan encouraged understanding of Taiwanese culture and history through performances, lectures, essays and a newspaper, the Taiwan People’s News (台灣民報).
Entering the museum, the first thing you see is a stunning original staircase lined with pale blue tiles. Looking down, the original floor of the entryway is visible under glass. Visitors can enjoy a mostly-bilingual exhibit on the New Cultural Movement to learn more about the history of Taiwanese people fighting for democracy and autonomy. They will also find the sector-shaped detention room and jail within the building as part of the old police station. To take a break during a visit, check out the small café and shop in the museum.
Whether you prefer to enjoy a cool drink and learn about commercial history at the Taipei Info Hub, admire image-based arts at the National Center of Photography and Images, or learn about intellectual movements in 1920s and 1930s in Taiwan, this summer the coolest places to be, literally and figuratively, are in Taipei’s renovated historic buildings.
TAIWAN NEW CULTURAL MOVEMENT MEMORIAL MUSEUM
ADD 87, Ningxia Rd., Datong Dist. (Near MRT Daqiaotou, Shuanglian and Minquan W. Rd. Stations)
HOURS 9:30am - 5:30pm (Closed on Mondays)