Located on the outskirts of Zhushan 竹山, Kezikeng New Community 柯子坑新社區 is one of several public housing projects constructed in the aftermath of the 921 Earthquake that devastated central Taiwan in 1999. Despite providing much-needed relief for those who lost their homes in the disaster there were few buyers—and today the complex remains mostly empty and disused. Built with government funds, this poorly-conceived housing project has become yet another example of what Taiwanese call mosquito halls, a term popularized by artist Yao Jui-chung 姚瑞中 and a team of student researchers known as Lost Society Document. Since 2010 they have published six volumes of Mirage, a series of works identifying more than 800 disused public properties all around the country. Some of their work was translated into English—which is how I found out about this particular locale, which I briefly visited in the summer of 2017.
Pictured here is a bronze bust of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in front of the faded emblem of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Xinyi New Village 信義新村, a military dependents’ village in Hsinchu City 新竹市. Chiang and the KMT retreated to Taiwan with more than a million Chinese soldiers and their dependents in 1949, bolstering an existing population of seven million Taiwanese. This instantly created a massive housing crisis—all those people needed places to live! The new regime attempted to address this through the development of hundreds of military dependents’ villages, gated enclaves of KMT soldiers and their families, but those were chaotic, desperate, and uncertain times, and many more ended up in informal and often illegal settlements all around Taiwan.
Taiwan is riddled with failed construction projects, monuments to avarice, incompetence, and bureaucracy. Building defects, mismanagement, and land ownership disputes are common causes, but legal battles, limited funding for costly demolitions, and a lack of political often ensure such projects remain a blight on the urban landscape of the nation. One such project can be found along Wanshou Road 萬壽路 at the western margins of the Taipei Basin 台北盆地 not far from Huilong Station 迴龍站, terminus of the orange line of the Taipei MRT in Xinzhuang, New Taipei 新北. Technically this abandonment is located within Guishan 龜山, for the district boundary sweeps down from the hills and loops around a mostly industrial area sprawling along a small valley leading the rest of the way to the flatlands of the basin. Given that this road is one of the main arteries connecting Taoyuan 桃園 with Taipei 台北 these twin 17-storey towers, typically identified as the Wanshou Road Residential Ruins 萬壽路廢棄社區, are regularly the subject of inquiries on PTT and other parts of the Taiwanese internet.
The Linkou Lightning Building 林口閃電大樓 is an infamous ruin not far from the newly-opened Taoyuan Airport MRT line in Linkou 林口, recently named the fastest-growing district in New Taipei 新北. It is also known as the Linkou Strange House 林口怪怪屋 and occasionally appears in Taiwanese media alongside the Longtan Strange House and other examples of the genre. While I wish there were a good story to go along with these photos it sounds as if it is simply a failed construction project where nobody wants to cover the cost of demolition.
Yesterday I followed a lead to Lanzhou Public Housing 蘭州國宅, a KMT authoritarian era project in central Datong District 大同區, Taipei 台北. It is similar to Nanjichang Community 南機場社區, a far more well-known housing project in Wanhua District 萬華區, but this building was constructed almost ten years later in 1973. As with Nanjichang, its fate also remains unclear, as the city is working through complex land ownership issues to figure out how to move residents into more modern housing. I plan to have a full write-up about this place some day so I’ll leave it at that for now—just a glimpse.…
Liancun Tobacco Barn 鎌村菸樓 is a historic building on the agrarian outskirts of Fengyuan 豐原, Taichung 台中, and one of the last of its kind. Back in the tobacco industry heyday of the 1950s there were more than 100 tobacco barns in this small agricultural community. Almost all the others have been torn down or fallen into grave disrepair over the years but this one remains in surprisingly good condition, a testament to the upkeep of the owners, who still live inside. I haven’t had any luck sourcing credible historic information about this place—it isn’t an officially designated heritage property nor a tourist attraction—but I’d hazard a guess that it is at least 70 years old. I would have asked the old lady in the courtyard but she didn’t seem all that interested in having a chat—though she warmly granted permission to shoot these photographs when asked.
Today I breezed through southern Taichung 台中 on my way to the high-speed rail station and parts beyond. Along the way I made a brief stop in Wuri 烏日 to follow up on a lead I uncovered while researching my much longer feature about the historic Japanese colonial era Wuri Police Station. Apart from the police station there are two other officially designated historic sites in the district (with nearby Jukuiju Mansion almost certain to become the fourth in the near future). One of these is the former Stationmaster Residence 站長宿舍 next to Wuri Station 烏日車站, pictured here. Despite its status as a heritage property the city has done nothing to restore it and little to maintain the old residence. About all they’ve done in recent years is put up metal fencing sturdy…
Wuri Police Station 烏日警察官吏派出所 is a historic Japanese colonial era building dating back to the early 1930s. Located in Wuri 烏日, Taichung 台中, it was built in a simple, subdued style with more of a nod toward Rationalism than the localized Art Deco or Baroque Revival styles commonly seen in commercial and institutional architecture of Showa period Taiwan. After the station was decommissioned in the late 1960s it was used for residential purposes until it was ultimately abandoned for unknown reasons. Historic status was announced in 2004 and officially confirmed in 2013 but restoration efforts were stuck in the planning stages until 2020.
Last weekend I visited Hsinchu City 新竹市 and rented a scooter to visit some of the more distant areas from the central train station. Along the way my attention was drawn to this traditional home on the margins of the north side of town. Hsinchu, like most other cities in Taiwan, is gradually replacing its agricultural frontier with modern subdevelopments, but this home has somehow escaped the wave of demolition that obviously swept through most of the rest of the area. The man in the picture had little to say before returning to his garden. Apparently the abandoned house beyond is a hundred years old—but anything more about its history will remain a mystery for now.
Last February I went on a productive day trip around Taichung 台中 without any particular destination in mind. After visiting an abandoned anti-airborne fortification on Dadushan and the eerie Wansheng Zizhu Monastery I breezed through Shalu 沙鹿 on the way to Wuqi Old Street 梧棲老街. While making a pitstop at a 7-Eleven on the side of the highway I noticed what looked like an old Qing dynasty building building obscured by some foliage and went to take a quick peek. Traditional courtyard homes, or sanheyuan 三合院, are an ubiquitous feature of rural Taiwan and yet another thing I regularly document wherever I go—and this one is unusually striking with its red brick archway.