MVRDV makes a provocative case for car parks to become new green parks

Tainan, Taiwan – Two years ago, Lu Ching-fu made a plea to the government in the Taipei Times. ‘Politicians should show they value green space,’ wrote the professor of applied arts, spotlighting the scarcity of green park space in Taiwan. ‘Green space accounts for less than 10 per cent of the land in the greater Taipei region, far behind 47 per cent in London, 30 per cent in New York, 42 per cent in Beijing and 36 per cent in Shanghai.’ Ching-fu also quoted the 1940 edition of Taiwan Affairs, which stated: ‘The purpose of city parks is to bring comfort and rest to urban life. In the subtropics, where temperatures are high throughout the year, we are easily physically and spiritually fatigued. Thus, parks must cover a wide area with plants, trees, pavilions and ponds.’

Down the other end of the island nation, it seems the Urban Development Bureau of the Tainan City Government was listening. But rather than clearing existing buildings to make way for green space, the agency tasked MVRDV to rejuvenate what was there – even though what was there was a defunct shopping mall constructed in 1983. A concrete jungle, perhaps, but no jungle. The powers that be decided that the edifice, China-Town Mall, no longer serving its commercial purpose, was becoming a drain on the vitality of central Tainan. According to MVRDV, the project shows what solutions are possible for disused shopping malls, a typology that’s suffering from the negative impact of online shopping on physical stores. 

Using circular economy principles, MVRDV transformed the former shopping mall into an urban lagoon surrounded by young plants that will, over the next two to three years, develop into rich vegetation. What was once underground parking for mall-goers is now a sunken public plaza surrounded by a covered arcade. In deconstructing the building’s concrete framework, the architects left a series of follies that can later be converted into shops, kiosks and other public amenities. ‘Tainan is a very grey city,’ says Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV. ‘With the reintroduction of the jungle to every place that was possible, the city is reintegrating into the surrounding landscape.’

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