Although its property market is one of the world’s most expensive, that hasn’t stopped big name architects from flexing their design muscles in vibrant Taipei
By Claire Knox
The utilitarian buildings that dominate its cityscape may belie the fact, but Taipei is emerging as one of Asia’s most dynamic architecture hubs. Prime locations across the city include Songshan Cultural Park, once home to a tobacco factory and now a showcase for design, visual and cross-disciplinary events and the historic Dadaocheng neighbourhood. World-class hotels, lively markets and a host of inviting new condo developments, meanwhile, mean there’s are still plenty of investors with designs on the city.
A selection of freehold houses designed by starchitects Richard Meier, Jim Olson, Annabelle Selldorf, Steven Harris, and Calvin Tsao is taking shape in the elevated outskirts of Taipei. Ranging in size from 582 to 1,224 square metres, the Master Collection residences by Phoenix Property Investors make the most of the steep terrain with infinity edge pools, green walls of vegetation, and expansive gardens with landscaping by Margie Ruddick, a huge name in the field of landscaping. Five of the 28 residences are now completed, with prices starting from USD9 million, while the rest are due for completion by 2018.
Richard Meier is also scaling the heights with his first residential tower in Taipei, the 127-metre high 55 Timeless Tower. The structure, a gridded shaft with a gross floor area of 25,931 square metres, includes a south volume filled with natural light through a unitised glass curtain wall. Some 43 luxury residential apartments are on offer, with the upper part of the structure offering one unit per floor and the lower portion cleaving into two units per storey. As notable as the structure itself is the green space in front, which will be designated a private-civic park space. A roof deck and outdoor swimming pool at the top levels will command views of Taipei 101, a close neighbour.
On weekends at the Jianguo Holiday Jade Market you’ll find hundreds of vendors selling genuine jade bangles, but it’s also a treasure trove for colourful, affordable trinkets, charms, teapots, pottery and vessels that make excellent souvenirs. Bargaining is advised here as vendors are notorious for setting prices high. Next door is the Jianguo Holiday Flower Market, bursting with orchids, cacti, bonsai trees and tropical plants. The 200 stalls run for half a kilometre under the elevated Jianguo overpass making for a sublimely scented Saturday afternoon stroll. The orchids cost around USD3 per pot. Just a short walk south is the Taipei Jianguo Artist Market, one of the best places in Taiwan for authentic handicrafts.
The best-known food destination in Taipei is brimming with cheap and cheerful food stalls, cafés and fancy restaurants. It is most famous for Taiwanese food. This is where you’ll find the first ever Din Tai Fung, the revered dumpling chain that now has outlets around the globe, as well the Taipei institution Yong Kang Beef Noodle, which is listed in almost every travel guide to the city and usually has long queues snaking out its door. Yongkang is also a great spot to check out quirky boutiques and hipster coffee shops tucked away down laneways – and to admire Taipei 101, which can be seen from the street.
This small but progressive restaurant has established a dedicated group of fans in Da’an District and further afield. The brainchild of chefs Eric Liu, Hansong Cho and Melanie Garcia, the culinary concept was to create a menu of ‘comfort food’ using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients that still pushed boundaries and fused all of their cultural backgrounds. For example, clams are served in a green curry broth, a dark chocolate and rum soufflé comes with a dollop of ginger ice cream, Korean-style pancakes are topped with a poached, runny egg and furikake and burrata cheeses is served with peach, lavender and basil pesto.
This well-known, wooden building is one of the prettiest spots to enjoy a steaming, aromatic pot of tea, surrounded by flowering wisteria vines. In the 1970s, there was a revival of old-style teahouses in Taiwan and when original owner David Chow retired to the US in 1975, his son Chow Yu took over the legendary salon, where has reportedly been the setting for some of the most interesting and dangerous conversations in the city’s history. In 1981 he renamed it the Wisteria Tea House, and tourists and locals have flocked here since to admire the Japanese-style architecture (the tatami flooring is a highlight), serene atmosphere and excellent Taiwan Pu’er tea.