Given Taichung’s reputation – or rather, its lack of – we were surprised to find some examples of stellar modern architecture in the city. Not that the general standard was particularly high, it has to said. There are plently of nondescript glass boxes and humdrum malls (although the city does do a nice line in ramshackle little alleyways with Japanese-style potplants and faux-art deco apartment complexes.) But in a few of its landmark buildings – several, interestingly, by Japanese architects – the city has outdone itself.
The brand new National Theatre by Toyo Ito is Taichung’s new calling card, a gleaming showpiece project that frankly, wowed me, with its alien cuboid exterior, cavern-like foyers and charming rooftop garden, looking out over the city’s brand new gleaming centre. It has “icon” (or if you are cycnical, costly white elephant) stamped all over it. But I was persuaded. When we went at 10 o’clock at night it was crowded with couples and sightseers and its restaurants and hipster-tastic art book, bicycle and vinyl stores were busy. My boyfriend disliked this populist touch but I was all in favour: whatever pulls in the punters, after all. And the building itself is endlessly fascinating.
Out of the city itself at Sun Moon Lake, the Shueishe Visitor Centre by Norihiko Dan also makes great use of curved concrete, but this time in a more sinuous form, creating a building-as-landscape artificial hillside traversed by canal-like channels, facing out to the lake itself. The building houses a cafe and gift store where we sheltered from the rain. The misty forests and lake view expanses brought out the beauty in the building perfectly, or perhaps even – and what could be a greater compliment – the reverse was true?
Finally, the oldest of these modern landmarks is the chapel at Taichung’s Tunhai University chapel, designed by none other than the noted I.M. Pei.