Nestled in Taipei’s Gonguan district is an elevated patch of old houses known as Treasure Hill Artist Village. This used to be a military dependent village, much like the Rainbow Village in Taichung, but aside from being the home for many KMT military veterans in the past, it also served as a strategic location for anti-aircraft monitoring. By the 1960s and 1970s, this area was regarded as nothing more than a sprawl of illegal makeshift housing arrangements that were deteriorating into increasingly worse conditions. The name comes from Treasure Hill Temple, a historical and cultural landmark that lies at the very center of the houses. After renovations were completed in 2010, the houses that were previously deemed unsightly became a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
Treasure Hill Artist Village was the result of a collaborative effort between the Taipei City Government and the Global Artivists Participation Project. The whole approach to the renovation process is known as urban acupuncture, a theory that treats cities like they were living and breathing creatures. Traditional acupuncture treatment involves inserting sharp needles into different parts of a patient’s body; these key insertion points are known as meridian points. This socio-environmental theory does the same, in that it restores an area as a whole through a process of pinpointing vital sections in need of repair.
The municipal government commissioned Finnish architect Marco Casagrande to renovate the village. Marco humbly admits, “I had to do nothing, it was already there. What I did was construct the wooden stairways and connections between the destroyed houses, and some shelters for the old residents to play mahjong and ping-pong.” He considers Treasure Hill to be the attic of Taipei, and a vessel that carries the many memories, stories, and traditions of the past generations of Taiwanese people. “In some ways, it is a reflection of the Taipei mind that the industrial city is not able to reflect.”
Granite pathways and stone staircases cut and wind through the village, leading visitors to small cafés, various art installations, and beautiful vantage points of New Taipei City. Many of the old houses have been transformed into hostel rooms and even housing for artist residencies. Exhibitions and talks are also regularly held in the various gallery spaces in the village. A mix of international and local artists have been granted residencies over the years, including embroidery artists, filmmakers, choreographers, and so on. The long list of the many types of artists who have graced the village in the past is near endless. The art installations that exist in the village are constantly rotating, and different types of artwork can be found throughout the village – from a mural by the famous Taiwanese street artist Candy Bird, to large-scale interactive fortune cookies created by the Taiwanese architect Kung Shu-Chang.
Despite the changes made to the village and the large influx of visitors, many of the old residents are still happily living here. Some have been moved to better houses that are located elsewhere on the premises, but red plaques erected on their new homes proudly display short introductions about where the resident came from before arriving in Taiwan. The brief write-ups include their personal histories and also the addresses of their original residences in the village. To ensure the quality of living conditions in the village, Treasure Hill has also set visitor hours to prevent disturbances to the long-term residents.
The government’s emphasis on recognizing and celebrating the past, as well as the lives of the residents, is quite clear. The old post office of the village is still in operation – and the Treasure Hill Tangerine Store, a traditional convenience store, has been reopened in recent years. This store is reminiscent of life in rural Taiwan and is stocked with many nostalgic foods, snacks, and toys from the past.
In the daytime, there is undoubtedly more going on in the village, but as night descends on this artistic haven, there is also a certain sense of calm that comes with it. Many of the visitors will have already dispersed, leaving the streets empty and quiet. The criss-crossing interstate highways of New Taipei City can be seen in the distance, and the hectic hustle and bustle of the Gonguan night market is close by, but feels like it is worlds away. This is the perfect time to slip into one of the many homely cafés that are scattered throughout the village and relax for a bit before heading back into the busy city. So the next time you find yourself in Taipei, be sure to make some time in your schedule and swing by Treasure Hill for an afternoon – you won’t regret it!