Organic is Putting it Politely: Finding an Adjective for Taiwanese Urban Sprawl

Taiwanese architecture has been described as organic. That's a pretty good description. Taiwanese towns are dirty, messy, unordered places.

Huge populations in crowded cities result in a need to maximise small spaces and overpriced real estate.

There's no time for central planning - instead each family creates whatever is necessary for their survival and development. The result is a mishmash of dirty old rickety houses and flats.

This shot shows a home with a gigantic addition on the roof. Iím not sure, but this one might be for use as a birdhouse. Apparently, itís illegal to put these on the tops of houses, though I estimate at least a 1/3 of all homes in Taiwan have them, so itís obvious enforcement of building regulations isnít a high priority here. (See Antipixel, 2002).

Houses look like sheds or garages. For the untrained eye, itís sometimes difficult to work out whether any given building is a mechanic's shop front or someone's front room.

Taipei attains the decrepit ambience of a city under siege, composed of fatigued concrete, grimy walls, peeling wallpaper and hazy skies filled with fumes - by day the city is crumbling and congested, at night seedy and desperate. Fluoresecent lights, endless rain and decaying architecture are its visual motifs. (Cinema Matters, 2006).

Here are some pictures taken on an afternoon stroll around the small southern Taiwan town of Taliao. Prosaic, uninteresting, ugly, relentlessly working class and dull, Taliao could be almost any small town on the plain south of Taichung.. (See Turton, 2005).

But Taiwan and Taipei in particular bustles. There are motorbikes everywhere, carrying couples, the occasional family and countless individuals, for ten to twenty minutes, disconnected from the rest of the world - with just them, a sea of machinery, pollution, recollections, anxieties and a destination in their mind.

And if the motorbikes arenít moving, then theyíre parked on the pavements, making walking nigh on impossible.

James Johnson - December 2006

The Taiwanese - a people set adrift

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