Making Old Buildings Relevant Again

J.C. Architecture
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2020 / October

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Kent Chuang /tr. by Scott Williams


Whether converting an 83-year-old bathhouse into a library or renovating a Japanese-­style home in downtown Taipei, architect Johnny Chiu consist­ently aims to make room for the sky in the crowded urban jungle. The founder of J.C. Architecture, Chiu always pushes to make spaces a little more interesting, and to bring new possibilities to old buildings.


 

Over the last two years, all Johnny Chiu’s projects have had a connection with the idea of “time.” He re­designed railway cars for the Taiwan Railways Adminis­tra­tion’s new “slow travel” program; leased a decrepit nearly 90-year-old Japanese-style house near the National Taiwan University campus and turned it into the Living Lab, which experiments with ways to adapt old homes to modern needs; and remodeled an old bathhouse for the Taiwan Design Research Institute’s Not Just Library, creating a space that offers a truly different kind of library experience. Chiu’s work gets these old buildings moving again, giving them new life by steering them into the future.

An experimental life

Originally used as housing for National Taiwan University faculty, the building that would become the Living Lab had long since fallen into disrepair by the time Chiu leased it. He then made it his own home, renov­ating it into a space in which his children could grow up.

A one-story Japanese-style structure surrounded by green spaces front and back, the Living Lab has instant appeal. Inside, a six-meter-long terrazzo wall creates a cool, refreshing feeling while also reflecting natural light and so alleviating the inadequate lighting common in older Japanese-style homes.

The design team stuck to a straightforward design vocabu­lary in the home, retaining many of the features of the original house and creating dialogues between old and new elements. For example, they kept the old hinoki-­wood window frames, repairing and reassembling them piece by piece using techniques they learned from old carpenters to give the old wood new life. The team also painted some of the wooden beams in the house with red lacquer to give the house a more interesting ver­tical expression. The interaction between old and new elements at every turn makes it seem almost as if these features are whispering among themselves, wishing one another a good day and becoming acquainted.

“Probably 70% of the materials are recycled,” says Chiu. For example, the skylight in a newly created ­bathroom is a repurposed sunroof from an old car, and the marble flooring in the dining room is recycled waste marble from Hualien. When the team removed the corrug­ated metal roof from the original bathroom space, they dis­covered that sunlight dappled the old-fashioned mosaic-­tiled bathtub. “We didn’t need to do anything. Just letting the natural light in created the prettiest effect.” The team was very con­scien­tious about its treatment and presentation of “time” in the renovated space. “Beautiful design doesn’t require spending large amounts of money. By creatively mixing new and old, we polished what was already here until it shone. That’s the point of the design.”

Chiu chose to call his home the Living Lab. When asked what kind of lab it is, he pauses, then says: “I’m exploring how to make our homes meet the needs of our children. The key thing I’m trying to understand is how to live with an old house.”

Chiu hung a tent from a roof beam so his children could “camp” indoors. He also mounted a ladder to the outside wall so the kids could climb onto the roof to look at the stars. The front and back yards allow them to explore the natural world by raising bees and catching crickets, or whatever. The connected design of the interior circulation paths allows them to play hide and seek. “The house is an organism,” says Chiu, one that is capable of continually evolving and adapting to its users’ needs.

Explaining the Living Lab’s design concept, Chiu has written that we yearn for the sky and the earth even when we’re living in cities. Chiu has managed to realize this desire in pricey Taipei, where it is usually nearly un­obtain­able. The sun was dazzling on the day we visited, shining through the leaves to dapple the old-fashioned tiled bathtub and making us want to stop time to enjoy the moment. Chiu later invited us to climb onto the roof. Surrounded by tall apartment buildings, the single-story Living Lab felt almost like a stage, the visual focus of the whole block.

Of course, living in an old house isn’t all romance—the grass and trees need tending, and the kids have to learn to coexist with the mosquitoes. There are also leaks. “The house turned into a waterfall during the downpour we had a couple of days ago.” The kids set out bottles and pots to catch the water. “But it’s good,” says Chiu. “It makes life an adventure and teaches the kids to respond to circumstances. For example, one might write a story about a leaky house. It makes life more interesting.”

Not Just Library

Chiu recently took on another project involving an old building, this time in the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Commissioned by the Taiwan Design Research Insti­tute, the project is called “Not Just Library.”

On learning of the building’s history as a bathhouse belonging to a tobacco factory, Chiu was eager to create new and interesting uses for the future library, to make it more than a simple book repository or historical site. “The important thing was that there were possibilities for extend­ing the space’s functionality.”

To highlight the library’s function as a storehouse of information, Chiu reshaped the entrance as a ramp flanked by bookshelves, to give visitors the impression that they are making a pilgrimage towards the knowledge held within. Chiu and his team then reimagined the former changing room as a sunken “book pool.” “I originally intended to stack the bookshelves in ascending rows and have visitors sit in the middle, echoing the original bathhouse’s function by giving people the sense that they were ‘bathing’ in books.” The concept was later revised with stepped birch shelves in the “bath” area that double as seating. Chiu worked hard to open up the poten­tial of the design by enabling the space to be easily transformed into a display area or runway, or even a bar.

The sunken “bath” design required that the floor be raised, which happened to resolve the problem of how to connect the interior to the exterior space. With the change, the old windows became a doorway providing access to the central courtyard. Chiu then brought in landscape designer Wu Shu Yuan to design a small garden that visitors can enter or view from afar.

The team kept the original look of the bathing area, preserving the tiled semicircular pool and the sinks behind it in their entirety. The small white floor tiles and the “please keep things clean” signs on the walls further recall the bathhouse of yore. The new space is designed to be flexible, with removable countertops on the rim of the old tub making it easier to put it to a variety of uses.

The bathhouse was more than 80 years old at the time the renovations began, so there were tiles peeling off of interior surfaces and dents in the walls that the team repaired with gold paint. Chiu says the approach was inspired by kintsugi, a Japanese technique for repair­ing pottery that uses lacquer and powdered gold. Instead of covering up the damage, kintsugi makes it stand out. “This way, the repairs embody the old story. In the future, someone will be able to trace the seam and tell a new tale.”

Design that tells stories

“The challenge of old spaces lies in finding ways to bring back the old culture of the place while welcoming new possibilities and potential practical uses,” says Chiu. “You want to continue the story, and that’s the hardest thing.”

Not Just Library is a place for people to meet and interact. “You don’t only learn from books,” says Chiu. “Oftentimes, you learn from other people. People also learn from their environment, archi­tecture and Nature, and can learn not just more, but also more important things from them.” In his view, “The best designs are those that extend the narrat­ives around people and spaces, that tell people’s stories and incorpor­ate both old and new.”

Living Lab has already won many awards, including the 2019 INSIDE World Festival of Interiors’ Residential and World Interior of the Year Awards. Chiu says, “I think the reason the home won international prizes is that we under­stood how to use its history, how to add a little bit of the new atop the traditional to allow it to tell a new tale.”

He explains, “What we talked about were the possibilities of a new kind of residence.” Taipei is crowded and its real estate is pricey, but you don’t neces­sarily have to buy a home to live in a nice environment. You can rent instead. “We also used the Living Lab to talk about the concept of sharing resources.” With the government making more unused spaces available, old buildings needn’t remain stuck in the past: they can move into the future and participate in the city’s growth, and not just as coffeeshops and galleries. These old buildings can also become homes that make living memories with their residents, forging deeper connections between city residents and the land they live on, creating a different look and atmosphere in the city, and shaping new ideas about what makes a home desirable.

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為老屋按下播放鍵

邱柏文玩轉空間

文‧鄧慧純 圖‧莊坤儒

在擁有83年歷史的澡堂裡「泡書」,或在台北市精華地段改裝的日式宿舍裡,爬上屋頂看星星,在擁擠的灰色叢林夾縫中,擁有一整片藍天。打造這些空間的柏成設計創辦人邱柏文總是會問,如何讓空間再有趣一點,讓老屋再多一點可能性。


這兩年,邱柏文接觸的案子不約而同有個關鍵字「時間」,他為台鐵重新打造「慢旅行」的列車空間;或是承租屋齡近90年的日式宿舍,將荒廢的老屋改造成「Living Lab生活實驗所」,實驗如何與老屋相處;或是接下台灣設計研究院「不只是圖書館」的空間改造,把泡湯變成泡書,創造另類的圖書館體驗。自此,老空間不再是凍結於某個時間點,而是如按下「播放鍵」一般,讓一切暫停的時間「再生」,傳續老空間的新生命。

在生活實驗所裡「實驗」生活

走進台北市靜謐的溫州街,老樹成蔭,蟲鳥們群聚開趴,在屋外乘涼閒聊的老人家三五成群,剛買菜回來的伯母提了滿手蔬果,或是學生騎腳踏車呼嘯而過,這生活感十足的街區,Living Lab生活實驗所就隱身其中。

前身是台大教職員宿舍,但已荒廢一段時日了,業主承租下來委邱柏文改成住家,也成為伴隨孩子成長黃金十年的空間。

僅一層樓的日式老屋前庭後院均被綠意簇擁,讓人一眼就喜歡。走進室內,一道六米長的磨石子牆面佇立迎客,帶來一陣清涼,牆面還能折射自然光線,一掃日式老屋採光不足的問題,同時作為居住空間(日式主屋)與客廳、廚房公共空間(50年代增建)的區隔。

一眼望去,空間中並未使用太多設計語彙,而是盡力保留下老屋的質地,許多角落都是新、舊對話的進行式,例如費盡心力留下的檜木窗框,他們向老工匠學習工法,一塊塊拼組起來,讓老木料有了新生命。日式老屋的梁柱,有數根特異的木柱,設計師只塗上紅漆,讓垂直面的表情更豐富,還有從台南老家搬上來阿嬤的櫥櫃,就立在客廳的一角;每個角落新入住的與舊在住的相遇,都彷彿能感覺家具們在竊竊私語,互道日安,重新認識,是設計師處理空間中「時間」的方式。

「大概70%的東西都是回收的材料。」浴室的天窗是從二手的汽車天窗改裝的,客廳地板是回收自花蓮被淘汰的大理石,再用台灣傳統的工法救回來。原本的浴室空間,當初邱柏文正抉擇保留或換新,但是到了現場,拆除了鐵皮的屋頂,發現陽光灑落在早期用繽紛的小石子磁磚做成的澡缸上,形成的光影美呆了。「我們根本不用做什麼,讓自然光打進來,就是最漂亮的呈現了。」「時間」在空間中被慎重地對待,讓每個角落都有新的故事,「並不是用錢堆出來的才是美好的設計,把新、舊與我們的創意結合,讓原本的東西『亮出來』,這才是設計的重點。」邱柏文說。

將自己的住家取名為「生活實驗所」,問邱柏文在「實驗」什麼?他思索了一會兒說:「實驗怎麼讓我們的房子去契合孩子的需要,然後伴隨著孩子的成長、我們的成長,這空間如何一起成長。最重要的try就是怎麼跟老屋生活。」

在日式老屋的梁柱下掛上帳篷,孩子可以睡在其中,像在室內露營。或在外牆架一座樓梯,孩子可以爬上屋頂看星星。前庭後院是孩子探索自然的空間,養蜜蜂、灌蟋蟀都可以。屋內動線的迴圈設計,可以玩捉迷藏。「這個房子是一個有機體」,會適應著使用者的需求,不斷的演進變化。

「在城市裡,但我們仍渴望天空,渴望土地。」這是邱柏文曾寫下生活實驗所的設計理念,在台北寸土寸金的地價,這近乎奢求的渴望,邱柏文卻實現了。採訪當天陽光耀眼,從葉隙間落在繽紛小石子磁磚浴缸上,錯落的光影讓人想停住時光好好欣賞。他邀請我們上到屋頂,看看日本工藝搭建的屋頂,一片片瓦片排列整齊的美感。站上屋頂,被四處公寓高樓包圍,僅有一層樓的生活實驗所宛如演唱會的主舞台,是街區眾所矚目的焦點。

當然住老屋也不是一路浪漫到底,屋外植樹種草,孩子要學習跟蚊蟲共生。還有漏水的問題,「前幾日大雨,我家就變成瀑布了。」孩子們拿著毛巾、瓶瓶罐罐在接水,邱柏文說:「這樣也好,生活像一場冒險,讓孩子學習應對,譬如說她會寫一個會漏水的家的故事,這樣更有趣。」

不只是澡堂,也不只是圖書館

邱柏文最近接手的另一個老空間是位在松山文創園區內、由台灣設計研究院營運的「不只是圖書館」。

昔日是菸草工廠的澡堂,女工一日下工後,洗滌身上沾黏菸絲的空間。初見這歷史悠久的澡堂,邱柏文解釋澡堂空間真的非常漂亮,讓他躍躍欲試想創造出更多有趣的使用方式,不只是典藏書籍,也不只是當作古蹟來欣賞,「更重要的是空間機能延伸的可能性。」

因此,邱柏文將空間分成室內的泡書區、澡堂區和戶外小花園。作為典藏知識的圖書館,他在入口處設計向上爬的斜坡道,創造親近知識的朝聖感,兩旁書櫃也夾道相迎。接著進入泡書區,一改原本的更衣空間變成下凹的書池,「我原初設計讓書一層層疊起來,然後大家坐在書中,被書圍繞著這種感覺,去呼應原本澡堂泡澡的語彙。草圖畫出來之後,大家看了都說就是『泡書』的概念。」後來改以樺木夾板下降構成樓梯兼書櫃,除了保存圖書館藏書閱覽的功能外,邱柏文努力在設計中藏入許多巧思與可能性,可以變成一個展台,或者RUNWAY,或甚至一個大客廳,一個吧檯的可能。

設計了下凹的降板澡堂,地平面順勢抬高,巧妙地解決了通往戶外空間的問題,頗有歷史感的木窗變成了門,打開就能通往由景觀設計師吳書原設計的小花園。在圖書館裡充實了腦袋,也可以走進植物區,呼吸新鮮空氣,花園裡藏了一百多種植物,其中還有許多是台灣原生種。

澡堂區則保留原況,以磁磚貼面的半圓形澡池和洗手台都完整保留,讓人想像當年水氣氤氳的畫面;還有地板白色小口磚和牆上「請保持清潔」的標語,襯托出時代的氛圍。設計師只加裝了可移動的桌板,架在池上可以變展台,拿掉可以跳進池子裡,順應策展、講座、音樂會等,空間可以靈活運用。

已經是八十多年的老空間了,澡堂內時有磁磚剝落,牆面凹缺的角落,這些細處則用金漆塗補,邱柏文說這是參考日本修補陶器的「金繼」方式,不去遮住破損的地方,反而是凸顯出來,「這樣一來像是有一個老故事在裡頭,下次就可以因為這一條接縫,再述說新的故事。」

設計的初衷:說人的故事

「老空間的挑戰在於要怎麼把舊地方的文化帶回來,並迎來新的、實用的可能性,讓它的故事性延伸,這個是最困難的。」邱柏文說。

「不只是圖書館」改造完成後,活動滿檔,媒體報導連連,真的「不只是圖書館」了。老空間成為人與人相遇的場所,邱柏文說:「學習並不只是在書本裡,許多時候人跟人學習,人跟環境、建築、跟大自然的學習,反而能學到更多、更重要的事,所以我設計很多空間讓人們互動,突破只是放書而已。」而他最喜歡坐在泡書區的一角,觀察人與人的互動,看大家怎麼使用這個空間,一如邱柏文對設計的註腳:「最完美的設計其實就是延伸人與空間的故事性、人的故事,還有舊跟新的故事。」

「Living Lab生活實驗所」已獲獎無數,2019年更獲得INSIDE世界室內設計節住宅類首獎及年度大獎,這獎項可說是建築界的奧斯卡獎,邱柏文掩飾不住喜悅,也分析說:「世界級的獎項落在這個家裡,我認為是因為我們懂得怎麼去用歷史的思想,把傳統的再搭上一點新的東西,讓它產生新的故事。」

Living Lab生活實驗所討論的不是如何做最完美的裝修,也不是討論什麼是最完美的設計,「我們討論的是新型態居住的可能性」,在寸土寸金、地狹人稠的台北市,許多人都買不起房子,但是不一定要買房子才能住在好的環境,租屋可以是另一個選項,「這是另外一個我們用這個房子在談的事情,就是share resource(共享資源)的概念。」當大家慢慢去關心閒置的老屋,政府願意把更多的資源開放出來,讓老屋的時間能從過去暫停的時間點繼續走進未來,參與城市的成長,老屋不只是咖啡廳、畫廊,而能成為常民的住所,與人民一起創造生活記憶,如此一來,市民與土地有了更深的連結,城市也將有不同的面貌與氣質,一種對於居住新的思維與想望,於焉誕生。

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