1992 / 10月
Wei Hung-chin /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Phil Newell
If you've had your fill of watching political squabbling and social anomalies, open up the Sunday paper, and spread out one after another are full-page property ads giving you a completely new vision.
"The luxury of Beverly Hills," "The glittering of California sunshine," "The romance of Paris," "The ambience of the Mediterranean coastline" . . . The finest scenes in the world have--according to the flamboyant advertising of the construction companies--all been reproduced on construction sites in the Republic of China on Taiwan.
An architectural United Nations: "This year Tainan will be very European." Come and enjoy "Kuantu's Barcelona." Or will it be "Taipei's San Francisco" or "Ilan's California"? Which new slogan or ideal will draw you to go take a look at these new homes?
What's strange is that with so many wealthy property lovers and so many middle class people still without their own homes, is it really true that no one wants to live in Taipei, Tainan, Kuantu, or Ilan?
It is said, "the universe is as big as your ambition." And the modern nobility demand environment and status "matching celebrity nobility" with "large European-style homes trying to impress the another." Besides the investment willingness to "enjoy without shame, and guiltlessly make money," the modern nobility have still another condition for their living arrangements: climbing ever upward, as "there is no upper limit to architecture, and beyond the sky there is still sky."
Because "you are the one to whom being a wealthy man is just a game of numbers," having a penthouse level "to overlook the realm and reach up to pluck the stars," allows you to understand, "when the stars pale in comparison to the beauty of your home," and you can survey "boundless realms," that "beauty does not come cheap." How good is the feeling to "invite friends and family to dinner, gaining a great amount of face."
The esteemed Cinderella: The question is, why is it that high-rise apartments which have Cinderella type "public housing" images abroad suddenly turn into palaces for the nobility in Taiwan?
Is it really the case, as a fast-food chain has it, that "consumers' tastes can be manufactured"?
In the advertisements for property, a set of imposing high rises surrounded by greenery and gardens is depicted always from the bottom look ing up or from a bird's-eye view. This naturally gives people the feeling of "looking up to something noble" or "surveying one's vast empire." With it, you can "compete with the heavens," and your value will increase one hundred fold. What's more, "by putting away only NT$500 per day," you can been sit high up in your perch looking down on your friends, surveying the heavens from your abode. Thus you ravenously lay out NT$10 million--half to buy the place, half to buy status, and finally become one of those noble residents of the highrise gardens.
"Most people only just know what they hear in the commercials. If someone says it's better to live higher up, then up they go. If someone says some location is good, then they spend money to buy location," says architect Chen Shao-wu. Apartments in the fancy Eastern District of Taipei go for Nt$600,000 (about US$24,000) per ping (about 36 square feet). Everyday there is a traffic jam, and constant air pollution and noise pollution, and to the high costs of buying the place must be added high costs in one's life. But still everybody heads off there in swarms, thinking it is the promised land.
The higher you build, the higher the price: As for why the builders are going all out to build higher, of course profit is the main incentive. One architect states that the area of a given piece of land is limited, so that the higher one builds the more saleable area there will be. Within technical limitations, of course builders will always choose high rises.
This is also because capacity rate limits will be enforced over construction in the Taiwan area. (For example, if the capacity rate is 300%, that means that the total floor space of a given building cannot exceed three times the original area of the land.) Many builders are in a hurry to get on the bandwagon of high-rise construction, thus giving people in both city and country a feeling of being oppressed by tall buildings.
Taipei builders, who have already begun to implement capacity rates, hope to build as tall as possible, thus leaving more open space in the property. This is because they can then add gardens, greenery, swimming pools, and so on to residential life. This raises the value of the houses, and this kind of residence can go for tens of thousands more per ping.
Naturally, it's not only for profit that the construction companies climb ever upward. There is also competition for honor and status.
Higher and higher: "The situation of competition to see who can build higher in Taiwan today is very obvious," says Chang Meng-chen, editor-in-chief of a real estate journal. Every builder wants to build a so-called "landmark" structure, and "height is the easiest way to become a landmark," she says.
This also explains the surprising and incongruous appearance of the Taipei skyline over the past few years. Along the ridge lines of the distant mountains, one finds post-modernism mingled with neoclassicism, and Spanish spires crisscrossing saddle-backed Fukienese style roofs, all piled one on top of the other, making for a quite unappealing sight.
Taiwan is up to its neck in money, and buildings are climbing up the mountain ridges. You, noble as you are, playing and cruising in this imposing urban jungle--will you choose "the flavor of the Mediterranean" or "the glitter of California sunshine"?
Dearest, is this really our home?
Believe it or not, this shaded roadway leads to "Paris Village."