The revival of the Weiwuying area manifests the transformative power of time. The area was originally a swamp that was reclaimed and made fertile by farmers who relied on Kaohsiung River (now called Love River) for irrigation. During the Qing Dynasty, the site was used as strategically important military garrison. During the latter stage of the Japanese occupation, the Japanese used Kaohsiung as a strategic base for their southern campaign. In the 1930s and 1940s, they built a logistics and arms storage facility, which they named Fengshan Warehouse, in the area between Fengshan and Wukuaicuo. Fengshan Warehouse was later renamed Weiwuying Barracks and became an important chapter in Taiwan's military history.
When the Republican government moved to Taiwan in 1949, Fengshan Warehouse was renamed Wukuaicuo Barracks and was used as a training facility for new recruits. The barracks was later renamed Weiwuying Barracks. For more than 50 years, countless Taiwanese young men sang military songs and counted steamed buns for their comrades-in-arms here. Together with the nearby army academy, infantry academy, naval base, and military dependents' villages, Weiwuying formed the largest military complex in southern Taiwan.
Who could have imagined that Weiwuying's walls would one day be torn down and the area would be turned into a unique urban ecological park open to the public?
In fact, had it not been for the tireless efforts of a group of ecologically minded idealists, the area would never have been converted into a metropolitan park. Given Taiwan's economic utilitarianism, it was no small miracle that as Kaohsiung expanded and land for development grew ever scarcer, Weiwuying was not turned over to commercial use or converted into a university campus.
Blending ecology and art
In 1992, the doctor and poet Tseng Kei-hai called on personalities from Taiwan's medical and cultural circles to form the Weiwuying Metropolitan Park Promotion Committee, which subsequently never missed an opportunity to raise funds, lobby the military and the government, win the support of civic leaders, educate the public, and raise public awareness of environmental issues. Starting out in Weiwuying, what had initially been a pressure group became an environmental movement that turned its attention to Caishan, Gaoping River, and Love River, and became popularly known as a Southern Green Revolution. The movement has born fruit: Weiwuying has been transformed into an urban park, Caishan into nature reserve, and Love and Gaoping Rivers have been cleaned up and their banks have relandscaped as parks.
Many problems still had to be overcome after Weiwuying was converted into a metropolitan park. Because relocating Weiwuying's military installations and converting the area into a park proved to be much more costly than originally budgeted, the project was hampered by delays. After repeated negotiations, the central and local governments decided to carry out an urban renovation project in the area. In January 2003, the Kaohsiung City government officially announced that Weiwuying would be converted into a public park.
In December 2003, the Executive Yuan proposed "10 New Construction Projects" expected to cost NT$500 billion over five years. As part of these projects, the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) proposed a "Plan for the Establishment of an International Art and Popular Music Center," including the "Weiwuying Arts and Culture Center," the "New Theater for the Greater Taipei Area," and the "Taichung Guggenheim Museum" as well as popular music centers for north, central, and southern Taiwan. These projects, which will form an artistic and cultural corridor stretching from the south to the north of Taiwan, are expected to cost NT$22.5 billion. The Weiwuying Arts and Culture Center, comprising a theater and a concert hall, is set to play the leading role in the artistic and cultural development of southern Taiwan. The National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center promises to be a unique blend of environmental commitment and artistic excellence.
The vision of creating grand theatre and concert halls for southern Taiwan
In fact, it would have been difficult to attain the goal of fully restoring Weiwuying as a natural ecosystem, because the park is located in a densely populated area on the outskirts of a major city, and it is not feasible to control the number of people going in and out. Therefore, from the very beginning the members of the Weiwuying Metropolitan Park Promotion Committee saw New York's Central Park as a model and envisioned the area as multipurpose urban park to be used for cultural and recreational purposes (such as open-air concerts and theater performances with the audience sitting on the grass). They recommended the construction of a large building for artistic and other cultural activities—an idea that was not opposed by environmentalists and was enthusiastically welcomed by local people. It was hoped that Weiwuying would thus fulfill the twin goals of serving the local community as a public park and of promoting artistic and cultural expression.
The CCA, which is responsible for implementing national cultural policy, believed that the development of southern Taiwan and particularly of the thriving coastal city of Kaohsiung requires not only a national-level but a world-class artistic and cultural performance center. This made it necessary to think on a grander scale than Taipei's National Chiang Kai Shek Cultural Center.
Therefore, in 2004 the CCA proposed the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center project, which will include a theater and concert hall in southern Taiwan larger than the current National Theater and National Concert Hall in Taipei. These will complete Taiwan's network of modern artistic and cultural performance centers. Thus any world-class performance group will be able to perform in an appropriate venue in southern Taiwan and local artists will become more competitive and increase their opportunities to perform on the international stage. In addition, the center is expected to promote the cultural and artistic development of southern Taiwan.
International Competition for designing Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center
The government has launched an International Competition for the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center that places no basic restrictions on the design of the Weiwuying Metropolitan Park, the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center, and 10 hectares marked out as a designated leisure and commercial district. Architects from all over the world are invited to give free rein to their imagination and creativity and compete to design three functionally distinct but integrated facilities within the 65-hectare Metropolitan Park. Even the Zhongzheng park area in the northern side of the site may be incorporated in the overall plan. Every effort should be made to protect green assets, particularly precious old trees, within the site. The Cross Building (Stables) designated as a historical building and four barrack buildings on the southeastern side of the site must also be preserved. These four buildings will be restored and used to lodge small and medium sized groups of performers or exhibitors, as well as for rehearsals and performances.
Three months ago, the CCA launched the internation competition for the project to create the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center with a construction budget of NT$6.5 billion (approximately US$200 million). Because of the huge size of the proposed complex and of the monetary prize to be awarded to the winner (the first Prize includes a project service fee of more than NT$700 million(apporoximately US$21 million)), the project has drawn considerable attention from architects around the world and has put Taiwan and the project itself on the international architectural stage. Forty-one project entries have been submitted by architects and architectural teams from around the world, including several of world renown. The panel of judges has already evaluated the entries for the first stage and selected six of them, each of which will be awarded NT$1.6 million(approximately US$50,000). The judges were deeply impressed with each entry and consider all of them to be of a very high quality. The winning entries for second stage of the competition will be selected in May, 2007. This stage is eagerly awaited, because the selected architects will present their projects in greater detail.
Written by Li You-huang/ Formosa Culture Magazine
Translated by Paul Frank