From Shopping Mall to Urban Lagoon

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

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.

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

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.

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

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.

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

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.

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

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.

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

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.

Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV
Tainan Spring / Daria Scagliola, MVRDV

“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.”

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