In Tainan, a city of 1.8 million on the southwest coast of Taiwan, a defunct shopping mall has been transformed into Tainan Spring, an urban lagoon park. This ingenious new public space, which reuses remnants of the mall’s concrete parking garage, is at the heart of an ambitious effort to bring people and nature back to the waterfront of Taiwan’s oldest city. Commissioned by the urban development bureau of the Tainan city government, the new 581,000 square foot (54,000 square meter) landscape forms a green axis with a kilometer-long stretch of Haian Road that has been redesigned for pedestrians.
According to project designer MVRDV, a Dutch architecture and urban design firm that led a multidisciplinary team including Taiwanese landscape design firm The Urbanists Collaborative, Tainan’s network of waterways have enabled the city’s marine and fishing industries since the 17th century. But in the 1980s, the city began to over-develop its waterfront. The ChinaTown Mall was constructed on top of the old harbor next to the Tainan Canal. Decades later, as the abandoned shopping center became a “drain on the vitality of downtown,” the city developed plans to turn it into a destination park.
The Tainan city government required that the old mall be deconstructed and its concrete “meticulously recycled.” Given the embodied carbon in concrete, the decision was made to also reuse a level of the underground parking garage as part of the structure of the $4.7 million sunken park.
Concrete structures have been mostly integrated with a new pedestrian promenade that loops the park. Below the promenade, nooks have formed that will soon host small shops and restaurants.
MVRDV created multiple layers to create a sense of history and place. Within the curvilinear lagoon, pillars of the garage structure jut out, creating a shopping mall-version of a Roman ruin.
Remnants structures provide watery play spaces and shade. One part of the park contains a glass floor that offers a glimpse deep into the old infrastructural layers below.
The lagoon is planted with multiple layers of plants and trees, which are expected to grow over the next few years into a stylized jungle. The plant life will cool and shade gathering areas, playgrounds, and a performance stage.
The lagoon itself is also designed to be responsive to the environment. “Water levels within the lagoon rise and fall in response to the rainy and dry seasons,” MVRDV states. During Tainan’s steamy summer, mist sprayers will help reduce ambient air temperatures.
“People can bathe in the overgrown remains of a shopping mall. Children can swim in the ruins of the past,” said Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV. “How fantastic is that?”
The team’s renovation of Haian Road reduced traffic to one lane in each direction. The new road uses pavers to create a uniform identity and incorporates more of the jungle plant palette. Maas added that “Tainan is a very grey city. With the reintroduction of the jungle every place possible, the city is reintegrating into the surrounding landscape.”