Having dipped into disuse since its heyday in the 80s, the China-Town Mall in Tainan, Taiwan, has been repurposed as public space, turning a negative into a positive that offers users a new aquatic playground to splash in.
Built on top of the old harbour next to the Tainan Canal in 1983 — a water network that sustained the city’s marine and fishing industry from the 17th century — the existing commercial centre was no longer serving its Taiwanese community.
Design and architecture firm MVRDV were commission to take on the challenge of transforming the site. The project began with removing the old mall, which was meticulously recycled, and turning the underground parking level into a sunken plaza for public use; creating an urban pool surrounded by lush, local plants and edged by a shaded walkway.
The water level of the pool was constructed to rise and fall in accordance with the seasons — rainy and dry — with additional mist sprayers working during hot weather to help cool the local area and provide relief for visitors.
Known as Tainan Spring, this recreational lagoon includes playgrounds, gathering nooks, even a stage for performances. Opening up the building’s concrete frame also left a number of structural voids that can be turned into retail or amenity opportunities in the future.
In an attempt to preserve some of the history of the site, MVRDV exposed a portion of the structure of the second basement level below with a glass floor. This transparent application allows people to view part of the site’s past, just as the remaining foundations of the former mall stick out into the park and lagoon to provide a visual marker of its previous life.
A key factor of the new park project was bring green into the urban space. Large areas of plantings, both in the plaza and surrounding streets, makes use of local plants blended together to generate a verdant landscape of trees, shrubs and grasses in a multi-layered scheme. Creating varying densities in clusters conducive to the intended use of the space, the greenlife across the public space and along Haian Road will grow lusher over time to eventually provide a settled feel to the landscape.
“In Tainan Spring, people can bathe in the overgrown remains of a shopping mall. Children will soon be swimming in the ruins of the past – how fantastic is that?” exclaimed Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV.
“Inspired by the history of the city, both the original jungle and the water were important sources of inspiration. Tainan is a very grey city. With the reintroduction of the jungle to every place that was possible, the city is reintegrating into the surrounding landscape. That the reintroduction of greenery was an important thread in our master plan can be seen in the planting areas on Haian Road. We mixed local plant species so that they mimic the natural landscape east of Tainan. I think the city will benefit greatly from this.”
Changing the focus and use of the area has resulted in increased pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic has been reduced. The material palette has generated a unified surface that draws together the layers of history of the site, while the plantings added help connect it to other schemes across the city that employed a similar approach in the betterment of the environment.
No longer an economic drain on the region and a blight on the landscape, this innovative playspace is a now a boon to the city and its inhabitants – and just plain fun!
Images © Daria Scagliola