Paracity: Urban Acupuncture

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Paracity: Urban Acupuncture Marco Casagrande

“Public Spaces Bratislava” International Conference, Bratislava, November 20, 2014 1

First generation city was the human settlement in straight connection with nature and dependent on nature. The fertile and rich Taipei basin provided a fruitful environment for such a settlement. The rivers were full of fish and good for transportation and the mountains protected the farmed plains from the straightest hits of the frequent typhoons.

The second generation city is the industrial city. Industrialism granted the citizens independence from nature–a mechanical environment could provide everything needed for humans. Nature was seen as something unnecessary or as something hostile–it was walled away from the mechanical reality. Third Generation City is the organic ruin of the industrial city. The community gardens of Taipei are fragments of the third generation urbanism when they exist together with the industrial surroundings. Local Knowledge is present in the city and this is where Ruin Academy focuses its research. Among the urban gardeners are the local knowledge professors of Taipei. Third Generation City is true when the city recognizes its local knowledge and allows itself to be part of nature. The Ruin Academy (Taipei 2010- ) is set to re-think the industrial city and the relationship between the modern man and nature in the urbanized Taipei Basin. It is looking from the local knowledge for the seeds of the Third Generation City.

Ruin is when man-made has become part of nature. This is the subconscious desire of the industrial city and the collective trauma of the modern man. Taipei is currently presenting the most advanced industrial co-existence of a modern city and uncontrollable organic anarchy; nature, including human nature, is pushing through the industrial surface and turning the city towards the organic according to a post-human design and ecological sensibility that is consistent with the environmental politics delineated by Erik Swyngedouw and Gilles Clément. To understand this force, the reinforced and divided academic disciplines are of no use. Neither is centralized politics providing any tools. Communication needs to find another way.

Ruin Academy has focused its research on the unofficial life-providing systems within the official mechanical city. These spontaneous and citizen-generated systems are constantly ruining the official Taipei. These are systems that are, through punctual interventions, fermenting and composting the city. From the organic top-soil produced by these composts will emerge the Third Generation City, the organic ruin of the industrial city, an organic machine. In Erik Swyngedouw's terms: "Nature and society are in this way combined to form an urban political ecology, a hybrid, an 2

urban cyborg that combines the powers of nature with those of class, gender, and ethnic relations.” The smelliest parts of unofficial Taipei contain the highest level of energy and life still in connection with nature; at the same time, the official industrialism aims for a sterile and fully controlled condition. This brings to mind Andrei Tarkovsky’s maxim in Stalker: “When a tree is growing, it's tender and pliant. But when it's dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death's companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.” These urban composts are the corners that are maintaining the essence of the Local Knowledge, a constructive interaction of nature and human nature in the built human environment. This local knowledge is suggesting the ways of the ruining processes for Taipei towards the Third Generation City.

Different disciplines of art and science are meeting in the Ruin Academy following the multidisciplinary research + design methodology of the Aalto University’s SGT Sustainable Global Technologies centre. Cross-disciplinary knowledge building has proven vital on the research of the Third Generation City. Ruin Academy co-operates with the architecture department of the Tamkang University, sociology department of the National Taiwan University and with the SGT centre of the Aalto University. Besides these, teams and individuals have been joining the work from various different backgrounds. Ruin Academy is unofficial, pliant, and weak, in contrast to academic strength and hardness. The Ruin Academy is a basic shelter for academic squatting, stripped down from disciplinary focusing and institutional strength. Most important is the connection to the Local Knowledge, the site-specific wisdom of sustainable human presence in the Taipei Basin. This knowledge seems to be in straight connection with the collective memory of the First Generation City, when the built human environment was dependent on nature and dominated by nature. The Local Knowledge is the driving force for the organic penetrations through the industrial layer of the Taipei Basin today. Local Knowledge is the force tuning the city towards the organic. Our communication center is the public sauna on the 5th floor of the Ruin Academy building.

We are looking for the seeds of the Third Generation City:

What are the processes that are ruining the industrial Taipei turning it towards the organic third generation city?

What are the systems that are bringing life into the modern machine?

What is the life-force / Chi that keeps the city alive and how can this Chi be negotiated with by means of Urban Acupuncture? 3


1. Urban Acupuncture Urban acupuncture is characterized by punctual interventions through the official surface of the city which aim to establish contact between the urban collective conscious and the life-providing systems of nature, including human nature. The networks of illegal community gardens and urban farms of Taipei present a fine example of urban acupuncture. These gardens are the urban acupuncture needles that manipulate and manifest the collective underlying organic Chi of the industrial city and turn the mechanical city towards an organic machine. The spontaneous, unofficial and self-organized community gardens are strong representations of anarchy through gardening. The collective gardens are reflections of Habermas’ Life World vs. the surrounding city as the System World. 2. Illegal Architecture The Instant Taipei is self-made architecture using the official city as a growing platform and energy source,attaching itself like a parasite in order to leach electricity and water. The illegal architecture is so widespread and deep rooted as a culture in the Taiwanese cityscape that we could almost speak about another city on top of the “official” Taipei, a parallel city–or a para-city. This DIY built human environment is tied directly to human nature and motivated by basic human instinct and mandated only by desire and availability. Paradoxically, the illegal settlements such as Treasure Hill are living in a more balanced relationship with the natural environment 3. Urban Nomad The urban nomad is the antithesis of Walter Benjamin’s flâneur, who is numb and absent in the capital-driven urban surroundings. The urban nomad is on the move, harvesting and trapping in a city that he views as a landscape wherein seasons and energy concentrations are constantly changing. The urban nomad can operate alone or in larger camp-like concentrations, such as the night markets. He is faster and lighter than the official control mechanism of the city, which tries to prevent him from operating. Besides trading, the urban nomads are also harvesting the city of its trash and left-over goods for recycling. This hit-and-run unofficial economy is leaching on the steady material streams of the structural city and is presenting a form of street-level anarchy through business exchange. A series of activities are on the move or popping up and disappearing in Taipei, these include the night markets, under-bridge activities, street vendors, spontaneous karaoke, gambling, puppet theatre, massage, barber, monks, beetle-nut booths, and even moving gods–all very sensitive to the urban energy flows and hot-spots of urban acupuncture 4

4. River Urbanism Taipei (1G) exists because of the river and the fertile flood plains. The industrial city (2G) claimed independence from nature and turned the river into an industrial sewage site. A reinforced concrete wall 12 meters high was constructed in-between the built human environment and the river nature. Third Generation City aims to reuninite the river and city through the natural restoration of the river environment. The river shall run as an ecological corridor through a city that is pulsating together with its hydraulics. The city will be redeveloped from the view point of the river. Local knowledge still remembers the time when the water of the rivers was drinkable and people washed themselves in the rivers. Every family had a rowing boat and the river was full of harvest. This is still a living memory for some in Taipei, but for the industrial generations the river has become a fiction.

The Phoenix bird has not yet come and the River has not yet revealed its divine nature: this is the end of me. - Confucius

5. Ultra-Ruin Ruin is when man-made has become part of nature. The ruining processes of Taipei are keeping the city alive. A weed will root into a crack in the asphalt and eventually ruin the city. The crack is the acupuncture point and the weed is the needle. The mechanical surface of Taipei is dotted with ruins and holes reflecting a larger vision of an organic machine, the organic ruin of the industrial city. People are constantly ruining the totalitarian control architecture of the industrial mind, which they subconsciously feel as a threat to the human nature. To understand the dynamics of the ruining processes of a city is essential for the growing of the Third Generation built human environment. Treasure Hill is a high-density ruin, a fragment of the Third Generation City. In the settlement, the same space is shared by people and jungle and the complex three-dimensional power balances between the different species, including humans, is delicately changing day by day. Treasure Hill also lives on a flood bank and does not view the river as a threat. It is inhabited by urban nomads who are harvesting the surrounding city. The whole settlement is an urban acupuncture needle for Taipei.

Local knowledge is an element that is pushing through all the layers of the 3G City, a connection between the modern man and nature. Following Fritz Lang in Metropolis: “The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.” Local knowledge is the mediator that is tying the Third Generation citizen with nature and which operates as the subconscious natural agent on the collective conscious of the civilized man.



Acupuncture is the procedure of inserting and manipulating needles into various points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes.

Urban planning integrates land use planning and transportation planning to improve the built, economic and social environments of communities.

Urban design concerns the arrangement, appearance and functionality of towns and cities, and in particular the shaping and uses of urban public space.

Environmental art is art dealing with ecological issues possibly in a political, historical, or social context.

Sociology is a science of human social activity.

Anarchy is acting without waiting for instructions or official permission. The root of anarchism is the single impulse to do it yourself: everything else follows from this.

The community gardens and urban farms of Taipei are astonishing. They pop up like mushrooms on the degenerated, neglected, or sleeping areas of the city, which could be referred to as urban composts.

These areas are operating outside the official urban control or the economic standard mechanisms. They are voids in the urban structure that suck in ad-hoc community actions and present a platform for anarchy through gardening. For the vitality of Taipei, the networks of the anarchist gardens seem to provide a positive social disorder; positive terrorism. They are turning the industrial city towards the organic, towards accident, and in this sense they are ruining the modern urbanism. They are punctual organic revolutions and the seeds of the Third Generation City, the organic ruin of the industrial city.


Claude Lévi-Strauss believed in the beauty of the human nature as part of nature. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno lost all the hope for industrial development and said it has failed the promise 6

of the Enlightenment - it had corrupted humanity. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (Mosfilm, 1979) takes sophisticated people into the Zone, where their deepest wishes may come true. The Zone is the organic ruin mirroring the surrounding mechanical reality. For the Strugatsky brothers (Arkady & Boris) the Zone was a Roadside Picnic. The community gardens of Taipei are Roadside Picnic. Grandmothers can take us there, like Stalker. The honorable Lévi-Strauss could be happy to start new ethnographical research between the parallel realities of the cultures of the urban compost gardens and the surrounding city–the reversed modernization and focusing in Local Knowledge. Horkheimer's & Adorno’s graves should be moved to one of these urban acupuncture spots of Taipei. Here even they would find hope, surrounded by the valueless modernity and hard industrialism. Prof. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila (Helsinki University Arabic Studies) has said: “The valueless void of the society of today will be filled with ethics: the corners are windy.” With the recognition of the urban farms and community gardens, Taipei has found its corners.

What is the ethics then pushing through these corners into the city? It could be called Local Knowledge, site-specific reactions building a bridge between the modern man and nature. The gardens of Taipei, these acupuncture points, are penetrating through the industrial surface of the city and reaching the original ground. The self-organized community gardens are the urban acupuncture needles of Taipei. Local Knowledge is in connection with the first generation city, when the built human environment was dependent on nature and regulated by nature. Now the anarchist gardeners are regulating the industrial city. 1.2. DOMINATE THE NO-MAN’S LAND

The community gardens are taking over abandoned construction sites and ruined housing areas, empty city-blocks waiting for development, flood banks of the rivers, and even graveyards out of fashion. In many cases, the gardens are flourishing on spots of land where the landowner issues are unsettled or complicated. Sometimes, the garden will stay in the spot for only a couple of years, as in the cases of areas soon to be developed; sometimes, the urban farming has decades-long traditions as with the river flood plains or on the island in-between Zhongxiao and Zhongshing bridges. The smaller urban farms are flexible and eager to overtake the empty spots of the city, eager to dominate the no-man’s land.

One of the more famous urban farming communities of Taipei was the Treasure Hill settlement, 7

originally an illegal community of KMT veterans. During its legitimating process, Treasure Hill became so famous that eventually the original community was kicked away by the city government and the houses were taken over by artists and art-related organizations. All the farms were destroyed in the process. Sounds like urban warfare against urban acupuncture. Treasure Hill was powerful and self-sustained when it was illegal. The community built its own houses and its own farms and it made its own rules. The official city wanted to eliminate this unofficial organic rival. NGOs found the issue sexy and stepped in to protect and legitimize the settlement. In the end, the NGOs and artists took over the now-famous community and hooked up with the city government. The original urban farmers didn’t fit the picture anymore and had to leave. Now you can listen to rap-music in a yellow plastic tent where the gardens used to be. Local knowledge died.

But Treasure Hill is not alone. Urban farming happens through different social classes and throughout the city. The socially disordered citizens are ready to occupy land and start the community farms over and over again. Some acupuncture spots get hot and benefit the surrounding urban tissue while others fade away. The industrial surface of the city keeps constantly being broken up and herbs and vegetables are planted into the cracks. People are ruining the industrial city. That this exchange operates according to barter principles renders the performance work consistent with the vision of the ecological economy described by Clément in “The Emergent Alternative”:

Perhaps it is time to think about what will, almost mechanically, best accommodate an ecological regime for the planet. Asking what form tomorrow's currency would take is not asking which currency will dominate (the dollar, the euro, the yen, the euro-yen!) but rather it involves asking ‘what philosophy of exchange and sharing is required for the survival of humanity on this planet?’


Compared to Western cities, Taipei plays according to quite different rules. The aesthetics of the city is dominated by the functionality of a big collective machine and the urban mechanism is constantly being edited and rendered as with changing the micro-chips or other parts of a supercomputer into more powerful ones. The urban data is people and this is what the machine needs to process. Mostly, it goes smoothly, but also people get viruses–they get together in spontaneous demonstrations, they do tai-chi in improvised city-corners, they launch ad-hoc night markets or under-bridge sales on temporarily occupied streets or city corners. And they make farms–they are 8

squeezing organic material into the machine like a creeper crawling into an air-conditioning box. Why they do this? Why does nature want to break the machine? Developers are the true urban editors. They are linked with the city authorities and necessary political powers and they make the urban editing. Architects are in a secondary role–something like the hyenas after the lions have made the kill. Money is a good consultant and the generating force of the developer-run urban editing process. This is not urban acupuncture though; it is more like a Western style medical practice–operations on the body removing, changing, or maintaining parts–or even plastic surgery. (Oh, Shanghai has bigger tits than Taipei.) From the perspective of developers and architects, the body is not necessarily seen as one big organism. In this rough editing process, the anarchist gardeners seem to act as micro-editors–parasites benefiting from the slow circles of the big-scale development. They occupy the not-so-sexy areas of the city and jump in the more sleepy parts of the development cycle. For example, the developer buys a whole city block with originally many land-owners. The process is slow because he has to negotiate with all of them. While the process is dragging behind, the urban farmers step in and start farming the area. The developer doesn’t want to cause any more fuss and lets it happen. It takes three to five years before the developer has got all the area to his possession and throughout those same years the site acts as the community garden. When the actual construction starts, the gardeners have already occupied a next vacant spot in the city.


Taipei is Open Form. Citizen design reactions communicating with each other and trying to dominate the no-man’s land like different plants in the jungle. Hsieh takes his commands from the jungle. So does the Taiwanese citizen build illegal architecture. This architecture uses the “official” city as a growing platform and energy source, where to attach itself like a parasite and from where to leach the electricity and water. The layer of illegal architecture combined with other citizenactivated spontaneous community reactions, such as the illegal urban farms or night markets, is so widespread and deep rooted in the Taiwanese culture and cityscape that we could almost speak of another city on top of the “official” Taipei, a parallel city–or a para-city: Instant Taipei.


Illegal architecture is Weak Architecture. One tries to achieve the maximum effect with minimal effort. This architecture is as sharp as it is lazy. This parasite architecture has personality and nature 9

and it can disappear as fast as it has blossomed–like an orchid. The official, stiff, hard, and boring Taipei is blossoming with Orchid Architecture. The illegal citizen activities are keeping the city alive; they are ruining the faceless industrial city and pushing in the organic.

Illegal architecture comes in many forms. You have the horizontal and vertical illegal extensions of the apartment buildings, illegal houses and illegal communities such as Treasure Hill or the Amis aboriginals’ urban village by the Xindian River, pigeon houses, beetle-nut booths, temples, and even moving architecture like the Taiwanese street-style operas or night-market booths. The point is that this fruitful culture of self-made architecture has only been illegal as long as the “official” city has been in the picture. These flexible, moving, adjustable, and pliant forms of urban nomad structures have always been. Official city is the newcomer. Illegal architecture is a new name for the citizen’s right to express himself through architecture. These guys don’t need architects, they are the architects. They are more resourceful and creative that the “official” architects corrupted by university teaching, the building industry, and laws and codes of construction.

Official city wants to get rid of anything spontaneous coming straight from the human nature. This means “illegal” architecture, “illegal settlements,” and “illegal” gardens in the urban stage instead of self-made homes, communities, and urban agriculture. The industrial city is a machine designed to regulate human life. Illegal architecture is closer to nature, including human nature, and as such against any kind of life control. Taiwanese architect Hsieh Ying-Chun calls his style People’s Architecture. Basically, this means giving power back to people to build their homes and to self-arrange their communities. This is needed in the countryside but also especially in the industrial city. Hsieh wants people learn again to tune their built human environment to the natural conditions, hook up to the site-specific Local Knowledge, and experience the architectural landscape through physical labor.

Hsieh wants people to regulate their own built human environment out of official control. Before industrialism and before modernism this was normal. Now the official city wants to “beatify” the streets from humane architecture, to cut off the aura of the self-organized, built human environment, which has become a human error in the official data.

2.2. INSTANT TAIPEI Taipei should be careful with its steps towards a “beautified” future. If the official beauty means killing the self-regulated urban communities, destroying the urban farms and community gardens, 10

cleaning the roof-tops out of pigeon houses and illegal architecture, and forbidding people to: swim, barbeque, walk a dog, step on grass, chew beetle-nuts, fly kites, fish, set up street vending, karaoke, gamble, pick flowers, sleep, and organize picnics... what is left? Beautified official boredom with a polluted river.

Instant Taipei happens when there is air to move and space where human nature can endlessly construct and deconstruct like ants in human scale. The official city can happen simultaneously together with the Instant Taipei and the official city should accept this as something really beautiful. Let the city rot, ferment, and compost itself. Recognize the illegal insect architecture as the true force of Taiwanese built human environment.


Taipei is here because of the river. The clear, drinkable water of the Keelong, Danshui, and Xindian Rivers is still in the living memory of the communities along the rivers. For these people and for Taipei, the rivers have been the everyday source of life. This goes back to the time before the flood walls and time before the city was separated from its natural environment. The city has not yet become a total industrial fiction, Taipei still carries the river in its collective memory.. But new memories need to be made, and fast. The rivers must become again the lifeline and nerve system of the urbanized Taipei Basin. A new kind of urbanism must be created that is sensitive enough to use this nerve system living in straight dialog with the river nature; landscape urbanism from the viewpoint of the river: Taipei River Urbanism.


The Jiantai fishermen have been operating on the Keelong and Danshui Rivers for generations, fishing, crabbing, and transporting cargo and people on the rivers. They used to carry their Local God with his temple to higher grounds from the harbor when the river was flooding. The river was so clean that they could drink the water. Floods came every year, the boat building master told us, but it was not so bad since there was no flood walls: the water had plenty of space to spread around. He showed the level below his knee where the water used to rise during the typhoon. Then, one time, the dictator’s home was flooded. He tells us referring to Chiang Kai-Shek. The dictator got mad at the forces of nature and buildt the walls. The Jiantai fishermen remained with their shrinking settlement close to the river, while the mad dictator remained with his city, walled up from the river. Still today, the fishermen don’t find a reason why the walls were built. 11

“The Japanese had better ideas for the rivers. They for example thought of digging the Keelong River deeper. When KMT came the river got polluted and then came the wall.” – An old fisherman of the Jiantai community. (Interview, March 2011)

Missis Chen has been living together with the Xindian River all her life. She and her husband used to work for a construction company that harvested sand from the river bottom. Missis Chen participated in the work and she also cooked tea for the working men. These working men founded the Treasure Hill community together with the KMT veterans pulling back from Mainland China.

The illegal community by the river built their own houses and farmed all the flood plain from Treasure Hill to the river. The water was so clear that on low water they could walk to the other side of the river because they could see all the time the bottom and where to step. Children used to cross the river on top of buffaloes. All the families also had to have a boat, according to Missis Chen, to visit their relatives and to go to markets to sell their vegetables. “Sometimes, an uncle was so drunk that we didn’t know how to send him home in the dark to the other side of the river with his little boat.”

Because of the flood, the Treasure Hill settlers did not build valuable properties on the flood area down the hill, but instead used that area for secondary buildings such as pig houses and storages. The government, however, wanted to “protect” them and bulldozed the houses away, in the end forbiding them from farming on the fertile flood plains that were zoned for parks for industrial aliens. “The pollution comes from up stream.” Missis Chen says. Suddenly, the river got so dirty that they could not eat the fish anymore. “Even the dogs don’t eat the fish today.” Before the pollution, they drank the river water, washed their children, clothes, and vegetables in the river, and ate the fish and crabs. The river was the source of their everyday life. (Interview, March 2011)

The Amis aboriginal tribe spokesman of the Xi Zhou village is a representative of a very brave riverside community. The descendants of the original three families from the Taidong Amis community have been fighting for their rights to live along the river. First, the government destroyed their riverside farms and buildt a bicycle track instead. It was the same pattern as with Treasure Hill: controlled nature as amusement park for controlled urban citizens is better than living from urban nature supporting uncontrollable urban natives, urban nomads.


Then, the officials tried to kick the Amis from their homes and “resettle” them, as they did with theoriginal Treasure Hill community. The Amis refused and have been fighting back ever since. Now, they are in a dialog with the government, who has proposed to move the village a bit further from the river and build to them new homes in apartment buildings. The Amis think that the government houses will be nothing compared to their self built homes that form a unique organic community that is as much a garden as it is architecture. The Amis prefer to build their new homes by themselves too in the same organic way as the community is built now and keeping the same dialog with the neighbors and collective spaces.

The Spokesman is 37-years-old and tells us that he spent all his childhood with the river, who provided the community its everyday food. The collective farming along the river was as essential to the community sense as the river itself and those two cannot be separated in the Spokesman’s childhood memory. Then: the river got polluted. (Interview, March 2011)


The Official aims in coming in between human and nature; also in between human and human nature. The official city is modern and inhumane. It wants to clean up the back-alleys of Taipei and beautify them. The official sees the natural as chaos and control as the savior.

It prevents people from farming on the river banks. In fact, it forbids any kind of plantations on the river banks, because they belong to the flood protection area. Missis Chen has been farming all her life on the Xindian River flood plains. So have the Amis settlers. For them, the flood is natural and they kept on farming until the government came to “protect” them, as the school head-master came to protect naughty Alex “from himself” (Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange). In official point of view, when a human gets close to nature, including human nature, he approaches danger. He can get out of control. As Horkheimer and Adorno write about the control mechanisms of the civilized society: “The hate that is nesting inside of it against all irregularity is constantly ready to be leashed against those minorities that are closer to nature in its social margins.”

The river can get out of control–at least out of human control. It is almost as if it supposed not to be controlled by human. The industrial city is the ultimate manifestation of human control, a machinery to regulate human life. This machine and the hydraulics of nature seem to be in some sort of conflict, trying violently to fit together in the same Taipei Basin. The river is flooding, which is something that the city doesn’t want, and the city is polluting, which 13

is something that the river doesn’t want. An easy, almost fast-food solution was to build a wall between the city and the river. The flood and the rest of the water is supposed to stay on the other, “organic / illegal” side of the city-river coexistence. The wall also keeps the stinky and polluted water out of sight, out of mind.

The wall has been up already a few generations since the 1960s. For the young Taipei citizens, the river hardly exists; nature has become a fiction. Now, the Taipei City Government Department of Urban Development has admitted that building the wall and polluting the river has been “kind of an official mistake” (meeting and dialog, Ruin Academy–DUD, March 2011) and tries to find strategies to make this up for the citizens. They build bicycle ways to the river banks and paint official beautified graffiti on the wall. Neat riverside parks are being created and citizens are encouraged to cherish the “blue highway.” At the same time, the citizens are not allowed to create spontaneous community farms along the rivers and the wall has not moved anywhere. The river is allowed to exist only under official control and the citizens are only allowed to be with the river under the same official control.

Taiwanese nature, as any nature, is against any kind of control. The only rule of nature is existence maximum, to produce maximal life in the given conditions. This goes for the jungle and this goes for the human communities in the Taipei Basin. Organic / illegal human settlements can find a way to coexist with the rest of the nature in contrast with the official alienation. This has been the reality in Taipei also before the hyper-industrialism that begun in the 1950s.

With the industrial-economic growth, the co-existence with nature has been forgotten and the people and communities living along the environment are seen as non-hygienic minorities that need to be regulated, “saved from themselves.” Now that the environmental consciousness has become an “international trend,” Taipei has also come to realize that it is actually a river city.

The big question with this urban ecological awakening is whether urban nature (river, mountains, jungle, human nature, wetlands…) will continue to be seen as an almost virtual quasi-ecological amusement park, or whether the official Taipei will accept nature to be real. Can the river be real and the citizens allowed to do real things with real nature? Is a grandmother allowed to establish a vegetable garden along the river and take clean water from the stream? (The river flow is owned by the Central Government. The South-East banks of the rivers belong to Taipei City Government and the other banks to New Taipei City–formally Taipei County. Within the Taipei City Government, the river banks are controlled by the River Department, Park Department, Department of Hydraulics, Department of Urban Planning, and Department of Urban Development.) 14


A lot of water needs to go through a city in order to keep it alive. In Taipei, it goes like this:

1. Fresh water from the mountains is collected in the sweet-water reservoirs of Wulai and Taoyuen from where it is directed to the purification plants in a couple of points around the city. From these water centers, the drinking water is the directed to the households and other water consumer units. (Interview and tour, March 2011)

2. After consumption, dirty water, including sewage and grey water, is collected in the Dihua, Neihu, and Bali sewage treatment plants from where the clean water is again released either to the rivers or into the Taiwan Strait.

Officially 63% of the Taipei Basin is connected to the sewage treatment system. The remaining 37% is still released straight into the rivers. These are “official numbers,” the un-official, real volume of river pollution is higher. According to the Manager of the Dihua sewage treatment plant “there are a lot of small factories in the mountains who release their pollution to the rivers at nights.” (Interview in Dihua Sewage Plant, March 2011) The natural river restoration in Taipei’s urban conditions requires new kind of socio-ecological knowledge-building and decision-making. The different river-related departments of the city government (river, hydraulic, environmental protection, urban development, urban design, public works, etc.) admit that they are lacking cross-disciplinary co-operation and that they don’t see any participatory planning around the urban river restoration issue, but that they want this. They want to get out from their corners and also give space for the other departments to come to their territories. They want to co-operate, but the problem remains: every corner has a king.

These kings lay down the disciplines and official power hierarchies that cannot tolerate any changes and that feel every spontaneous move as a threat. These kings make sure their officials protect their territories against the other department. “No, you cannot plant anything here: the river banks belong to the river department.” The river is flowing in-between a good handful of different departments of Taipei City and Taipei New City and the Central Government fighting for their rights to control the different aspects of nature. Meanwhile: nothing happens, the river is polluted because of bureaucracy. The pollution comes from up-stream.


A boat should be set up in the middle of the Danshui River.t. A new Noah’s Ark where the representatives of the shareholders of the river would gather for participatory planning. Aside from the different city, county, and central government officials, there would be scholars, scientists, journalists, NGOs, and representatives of the Local Knowledge. Missis Chen would be there, the Jiantai fishermen, and the Amis.

This participatory planning could lead into decision making concerning the natural river restoration and the reunion between the city and the river. Maybe the participatory planning would be chaired by the United Nations? The UN-HABITAT is looking for urban river cases that could be used as examples for other similar kind of cases around the world. Taipei could lead the way. Cleaning the river and creating sustainable River Urbanism is not a technological question, it is a question of communication, sensitivity, and participatory planning.


The Taipei River Urbanism will be cooked up with five elements: Local Knowledge, Collective Ownership, Environmental Technology, Natural River Restoration, and Architecture.

Local Knowledge anchors the future Taipei sustainable development to the real memories and sitespecific knowledge of living together with the river nature.

Urban farming and community gardens have always existed together with the river. This Taiwanese phenomenon should be encouraged as a vital part of the River Urbanism. The gardens can be connected to more complex systems of citizen-initiated constructions and even alternative communities along the rivers following the examples of the Amis and the Treasure Hill.

Fishing, crabbing, and aquaculture will restart automatically after the water quality reaches an acceptable level, as will boating, swimming, and other physical activities within the rivers.

Collective Ownership binds the citizens to the restoration process by taking them into the development as shareholders. The ownership sense is critical to the reunion of the city and the river. If the citizens do not feel as though they are shareholders of the future river nature, the city will remain behind the wall and the river will remain as a drive-in amusement park.

Environmental Technology will provide solutions for various sectors of the River Urbanism with sustainable energy production, pollution control and treatment, and flood management. 16

Different sustainable energy solutions will be examined in the river corridors. Small-scale wind energy can power local installations such as community gardens and alternative communities. Tidal energy can be an alternative in the river mouth area where the tidal pulse effects the river all the way to Zhuwei-Guandu. Fast growing bio-mass can be grown on the river banks and harvested from boats to fuel bio-energy plants in selected locations. The Taipei climate and the fertile river banks are optimal for bio-mass cultivation. The biomass and tidal energy must be tuned together with the free-flooding plan. Too-fast steps may increase the flood level while the flood walls still exist. Solar energy can be produced also on floating installations.

Environmental technology will increase the effectiveness of the existing sewage treatment plants and help take care of the remaining sources of pollution. Local purification installations and dry toilet systems can be offered to the areas still out of the sewage grid.

Natural River Restoration will apply the existing knowledge of river restoration, but in urban conditions. The River Restoration is based on free flooding, and this will eventually mean the removal of the flood walls after the community-scale flood control infrastructure is completed in Taipei.

The sedimentation pollution will be removed from the river bottoms and treated. The river bank soil will be either removed or treated or the pollutants will be tied into vegetation as, for example, part of the biomass production. Wetland areas will be introduced together with riverbank vegetation and eventually connected to the mountain jungles as green corridors in order to increase biodiversity and to treat the water and soil.

Probably the most challenging part of the natural river restoration will be the element of free flooding. Community-scale underground storm water reservoirs can be built in the flood areas of the Taipei Basin as with the Tokyo underground typhoon reservoir mega-structures, but as a decentralized system. After the underground storm water capacity is functional, the flood-walls will be removed; the city and river will be reunited.

Architecture will still define the human built environment of the Taipei River Urbanism, but in closer connection with the organic growth and the water movement. The Local Knowledge will provide solutions for organic construction, flexibility, and community sense.

The free flooding will present new challenges for housing and infrastructure where the static and 17

industrially-built architecture has to give up in order to let nature to step in. The urban environmental conditions will not be aimed to be fixed and controlled, but flexible and Open Form.

Taipei and Taiwan has a high standard of illegal, citizen-built architecture. This spontaneous culture or gardening and building should be encouraged and supported. The River Urbanism will step back from the developer- or official-initiated construction and make more room for citizen architecture. The DIY architecture can start in small scale on the river banks as part of the community gardens and it can also start building mediating areas over the flood wall connecting the city to the organic side.


Building up the concrete wall was easy, but demolishing it seems to be a big challenge. The city inside the wall has been built without much consideration for the natural environment. Actually, nature is seen as something hostile for this fragile, man-made machinery. With River Urbanism, our challenge is to turn this machine into an organic machine. We already have the great hydrological machine of the pulsating river nature inside us. Somehow, the city needs to find a way to pulsate together with it.

I propose two possible ways for how to start development toward the Taipei River City. The first one introduces a methodology for how to punctually clean the city from inside and how to open up the city toward the rivers from the inside. We call this Urban Ecopuncture. The other example is the possible case of Guandu as an example of a river city.

Opening up the covered rivers, streams, and channels will give a possibility for Urban Ecopuncture, cleaning the city from inside. The opened up waterways could act as biological filters purifying the water originating from the polluted rivers. The communities around these Urban Ecopuncture areas would receive, treat, and recycle the waste from the surrounding city, acting as eco-valleys within the urban fabric. The eco-valleys would contain the needed environmental technology to take care of its share of inputs from the surrounding city. The eco-valley areas would also have the first underground storm-water reservoirs and act as flood relief for the surrounding city as an urban sponge.

The design methodology of Urban Ecopuncture is developed in co-operation between Finnish EPEC and Casagrande Laboratory taking the eco-city principles of Professor Eero Paloheimo into the hearts of existing cities with ecological challenges. 18

The Leo-Gong channel could be the first one of the Taipei eco-valleys. Through its length we would biologically purify the water originating from the Xindian River and then use the clean water as the center of the new ecological environment. We could have a beach inside the city. New housing would exist together with the old communities and facilitate the needed environmental technology solutions for the waste treatment and energy production for the surrounding city.

Under the Leo-Gong Eco-Valley could be the underground storm water reservoirs acting as the urban sponge. Biomass production and urban farming would exist around the channel, benefitting the city’s micro climate. The development of the Leo-Gong Eco-Valley should be done through participatory planning with local knowledge.

Another possibility for the first approach toward the river urbanism would be in the possible case of developing the Guandu flood plain area, in which case we would talk more of a newly developed River City rather that urban restoration through the eco-valleys. In our previous research, through the design-process we examined the possibilities of inhabiting a 150,000 resident eco-city in Guandu. The basic character of this solution was to move the dividing highway into a tunnel in order to unite the now-divided ecological area and to build a man-made river taking most of its current from the Keelong River. This 7.2 kilometer new river would act as the biological filter purifying the water for the infrastructure use of the new Guandu River City.

The whole urban design is based on free flooding. The digging of the highway tunnel and the new river would provide enough soil for sculpting island-platforms for the new architecture that would survive also in the high water conditions. Some architecture would be floating and some would stand on stilts. The fertile flood plain would be used for bio-mass production as a resource for bioenergy. This bio-energy agriculture could then spread further into the Danshui and Keelong Rivers flood plains. Besides bio-mass production, the Gaundu River City would encourage urban farming and community gardening in all scales and also in such a way that it is integrated into buildings. All in all, Guandu would be an eco-city living on the principles of free flooding, producing energy and food, and treating its own waste. The green area would still keep its positive impact to the Taipei micro-climate.


The natural river restoration and taking the city back to the river is not a mystery. This is in the minds of the Taipei City Government and the Central Government. There is the will and the 19

technology exists. Normal people feel a bit lost though. For them, how the city operates and what has happened to the rivers seems to be out touch. They have not been part of the narrative of the city before and they find it hard to develop tools to negotiate with the official side of the community. Participatory planning will offer the tool for the Local Knowledge to be part of the decision making and the Knowledge Building of the Taipei River Urbanism.

The ecological restoration of the urbanized Taipei Basin must be a local Taiwanese solution, not a copy from Tokyo or a European city. The river city Taipei must remain unique and local. The urban solutions in Taipei will probably be a bit messier than Tokyo, but so is the jungle. The big ecological restoration process will be broken up into networks of local community-scale solutions, such as the underground storm water tanks or river-side community gardens. Partners for environmental technology, futures research and participatory planning can found from Finland or elsewhere in Europe, maybe Japan can play a role too.

Taipei Basin is an urbanized flood plain and water system with 7 million inhabitants and dramatic hydrological conditions. The human impact to the water system is dramatic as well. The river is not providing sweat water to the city, nor is the fishes, clamps or shrimp eatable because of the pollution. The fertile river banks are not used for farming or gardening. In-between people and the rivers is a 10 meters high reinforced concrete wall. For the city the organic river has become an alien and people have been directed to live in a mechanical reality apart from nature. Quoting the leading hydrological consult of Taipei City, when asked about the dual reality of mechanical/organic Taipei and what could be done: “Nothing. Live with it.” (Meeting with the Taipei City Government Secretary General and representatives 3.12.2012)


"To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now." - Samuel Beckett

Paracity is a biourban organism that is growing on the principles of Open Form: individual designbuild actions generating spontaneous communicative reactions on the surrounding built human environment and this organic constructivist dialog leading into self-organized community structures, development and knowledge building.

The growing organism the Paracity is based on a three dimensional wooden primary structure, organic grid with spatial modules of 6 x 6 x 6 meters constructed out of CLT cross20

laminated timber sticks. This simple structure can be modified and grown by the community members working as teams or by an assigned Paracity constructor.

The primary structure can grow even on neglected urban areas, such as river flood plains, hillsides, abandoned industrial areas, storm water channels or slums. Paracity suites perfectly to flooding and tsunami risk areas and the CLT primary structure has a high standard of earthquake performance.

People will attach their individual self-made architectural solutions, gardens and farms on the primary structure, which offers a three dimensional building grid for the DIY architecture. Primary structure offers the main arteries of water and human circulation, but the finer local knowledge nervous networks are grown by the inhabitants. Large parts of the Paracity is occupied by wild and cultivated nature. Paracity’s self-sustainable biourban growth is backed up by off-the-grid environmental technology solutions providing methods for water purification, energy production, organic waste treatment, waste water purification and sludge recycling. These modular plug-in components can be adjusted according to the growth of the Paracity and moreover, the whole Paracity is designed not only to treat and circulate its own material streams, but to start leaching waste from its host city becoming a positive urban parasite following the similar kind of symbiosis as in-between slums and the surrounding city. In a sense Paracity is a high-tech slum, which can start tuning the industrial city towards an ecologically more sustainable direction. Paracity is a third generation city, an organic machine, urban compost, which is helping the industrial city to transform into being part of nature.


The pilot project of the Paracity is growing on an urban farming island of Danshui River, Taipei City. The island is located between the Zhongxing and Zhonxiao bridges and is around 1000 meters long and 300 meters wide. Paracity Taipei is celebrating the original first generation Taipei urbanism with high level of illegal architecture, self-organized communities, urban farms, community gardens, urban nomads and constructive anarchy.

Paracity Taipei will be powered mostly by bioenergy that is using the organic waste, including sludge, taken from the surrounding industrial city and by farming fast growing biomass on the flood banks of the Taipei river system.


Environmental technology components are mounted on barges that are plugged into the Paracity maintenance docks. Barges can be modified according to the needs of the growing biourbanism.

Paracity is based on free flooding. There are no flood walls. The first 6 m level above the ground is not built, but the whole city is standing on stilts and thus providing the whole ground floor for community actions, nature and space requiring recycling yards.

Paracity Taipei will construct itself through impacts of a collective conscious as a nest of postindustrial insects. Paracity is estimated to have 15.000 – 25.000 inhabitants.

4.1.1. E L E M E N T S 1. Open form

In its growth Paracity is following the organic design methodology of Open Form (Oscar Hansen, Svein Hatloy), in which community level design is viewed as an open dialog with design actions generating spontaneous design reactions within the surroundings. Open Form is close to the original Taiwanese ways of developing the self organized and often “illegal” communities. These micro urban settlements are containing a high volume of Local Knowledge, which we also believe will start composting in Paracity, when opening up the community development to the citizens. Centralized architectural control is opened up in order to let nature including human nature to step in. The life providing volume of Paracity is 11, existence maximum, highest possible life in the given conditions, and more.

2. CLT Skeleton

Paracity provides the skeleton, but citizens bring in the flesh. Design should not replace reality, Flesh is More. The skeleton, the primary structure of Paracity is constructed out of 6 meters long (50x50 cm profile) cross laminated timber CLT sticks which are used to form 6x6x6 m cubes, that are piled up to 16 stories high (8 cubes). The CLT primary structure has a fine earthquake performance and it is fire resistant. The structural elements / sticks with wood joints are prefabricated and transported to the Paracity Island on barges. The construction work – the growing of the Paracity primary organism can be manually done by residents in teams of by professional parasite constructors. The CLT structure is just a landscape on which citizens will attach their own houses and gardens.


3. Enviromental technology

The biourban growth of the Paracity is supported by high environmental technology which is mounted on barges. These modular bio-vessels are attached to the Paracity service harbor and can be adjusted according to the needs of the evolving urban organism. The post-industrial fleet of biovessels can travel along the Taipei river system and is ready to start the biourban restoration process also from other hot-spots of the river city. The environmental technology barges provide solutions for: • Waste water treatment of Paracity and of the surrounding Taipei • Water purification. The infrastructural water circulation is originated from the polluted Danshui River. • Sludge treatment for fertilizer and bio-energy. • Closed circuit aquaculture. • Recycling of construction waste. • Recycling of organic waste for fertilizer and bio-energy.

The barges have no problem with the flooding river.

4. Bio-energy

The main energy source for the Paracity is bio-energy, which is using both treated organic waste and sludge from Paracity and surrounding Taipei and especially biomass that is harvested around Paracity and on the flood banks of the Taipei rivers. The fertile flood banks, flood plains and storm water channels provide ideal cultivation areas for fast growing biomass plantations. The vegetation will be harvested by boats and then shipped to Paracity Bio-Energy Facility. The growing of the biomass on the river banks will also benefit on the natural river restoration through root cleansing of sediment pollution and the biomass will have a positive impact on the Taipei micro climate and urban ecology.

5. Parasite Urbanism

Paracity is living off the material streams from the surrounding Taipei. Even the polluted river is a resource for this biourban intestine. Paracity is Medieval medicine: using leaches to cure the circulation. Paracity is letting off the bad blood of Taipei and it uses it a resource. In fact it makes money out of the process. Officially 37% of the Taipei City waste water goes untreated to the river. Paracity wants it all. And it wants all the other materials which the industrial city is regarding as 23

“waste”. Paracity and modern Taipei live in a similar kind of a symbiosis as a slum and the city: the urban nomads will clean the static city from its “waste”; only in Paracity the cleaning and recycling process is boosted up by high environmental technology. In a sense the Paracity is a high-tech slum.

6. Existence Maximum

Paracity is a seed of the Third Generation City, the organic ruin of the industrial city (2G). The modular biourban organism is designed to grow following the rule of nature: existence maximum. The primary structure can be grown by people and after Paracity has reached the critical mass, the life providing system of the CLT structure will start escalating. It will cross the river and start rooting on the flood plains. Then it will cross the 12 meters high Taipei flood wall and grow gradually into the city. Seeds of the Paracity will start rooting in the urban acupuncture points of Taipei: illegal community gardens, urban farms, abandoned cemeteries and waste-lands. From these acupuncture points the Paracity will start growing following the covered irrigation systems, such as the Liukong Channel and eventually the biourban organism and the static city will find a balance, the Third Generation Taipei.

7. Mediator

After rooting on the riverside and gaining a critical mass the Paracity will climb over the 12 meters high reinforced concrete flood wall which is separating modern Taipei from the rivers and nature. The flood wall will remain in the guts of the Paracity, but the new structure enables Taipei citizens to fluently reach the river. Paracity will reunite the river reality and the urban fiction. Paracity is a mediator between the modern city and nature.

8. Bioclimatic Architecture

Paracity has a lot of holes, gaps and nature in-between houses. The system is ventilating itself like a large scale beehive of post-industrial insects. The different temperatures of the roofs, gardens, water bodies and shaded platforms will generate small winds between them and the hot roofs will start sucking in breeze from the cooler river. Also the individual houses should follow the traditional principles of bioclimatic architecture and not rely on mechanical air-conditioning.


9. Free Flooding

Paracity is based on free flooding. The whole city is standing on stilts allowing the river to pulsate freely with the frequent typhoons and storm waters. The environmental technology of the Paracity is mounted on barges, which have no problem with the flooding either. Actually the Paracity is an organic architectural flood itself, ready to cross the flood wall of Taipei and spread into the mechanical city.

10. Biourban Restoration

Paracity is a positive organic tumour in the mechanical tissue of Taipei. While it is leaching and processing the industrial and organic waste of the city, it is gaining momentum in its growth and becomes more and more important to the static industrial urbanism. Paracity is an alternative reality within the industrial development and will start treating the city the same ways as the urban acupuncture points of illegal community gardens and urban farms of Taipei do today. Paracity has the ability to become a network of biourban acupuncture tuning the whole industrial city towards the organic, ruining the industrialism on its way to become part of nature, the Third Generation City.

11. Organic Layers

The biourbanism of the Paracity is as much landscape as it is architecture. The totalitarian landscape-architecture of Paracity includes organic layers for natural water purification and treatment, community gardening, farming and biomass production as an energy source. Infrastructure and irrigation water originates from the polluted Danshui river and will be both chemically and biologically purified before being used in the farms, gardens and houses of the community. The chemically purified water gets pumped to the roof parks on the top level of the Paracity, from where the gravity will circulate the water into the three dimensional irrigation systems.

12. Adaptability

The pilot-project of the Paracity is designed in Taipei, but the solution is developed to work in different locations around the world. Paracity offers an alternative for the Chinese strategic urban planning to start ecologically harmonizing the growing river cities of China. And Paracity can be used as urban acupuncture for the emerging cities of China and elsewhere. Paracity can grow along 25

the Oshiwara chain of slums in Mumbai providing better living conditions, cleaning up the Oshiwara River and more effectively treating the urban waste that is flooding in from the surrounding city. Paracity can parachute into Nairobi and start growing from the fertile top-soil of the slums. Paracity should grow into the favelas of Brazil and start celebrating the local knowledge of these organic communities. Paracity is organic, adaptable and welcomes local knowledge. The city is built by hands of a high diversity of different people.

13. Local Knowledge

Paracity is inspired by the Local Knowledge of Taipei, the original Taiwanese urban elements that include a high level of self-made “illegal” architecture, self-organized communities, extensive networks of self-organized community gardens and urban farms, fluid nomadic ways of using the city, communicative collective subconscious in community and urban scale, feeling of dominating the no-man’s land by human nature and other forms of constructive anarchy. The Paracity basically only provides the primary structure, the three dimensional landscape for the Local Knowledge to be attached and grow. The primary structure and the environmental technology solutions will remain pretty much the same no matter in which culture the Paracity starts to grow, but the real human layer of DIY architecture and gardens will follow the Local Knowledge of the respective culture and site. Paracity is always site-specific and it is always local.


The way towards the Third Generation City is a process of becoming a learning and healing organization and to reconnect the urbanized collective conscious with nature. In Taipei the wall between the city and the river must be gone. This requires a total transformation from the city infrastructure and the centralized power bureaucracy. Citizens on their behalf are ready and are breaking the industrial city by themselves already. Local knowledge is operating independently from the official city and is providing punctual third generation surroundings within the industrial city and by doing that providing self organized urban acupuncture for the stiff official mechanism.

The weak signals of the un-official collective conscious should be recognized as the futures emerging issues; futures that are already present in Taipei. The official city should learn how to enjoy acupuncture, how to give up industrial control in order to let nature to step in. The local knowledge based transformation layer of Taipei is happening from inside the city and it is happening through self organized punctual interventions. These interventions are driven by small


scale businesses and alternative economies benefiting from the fertile land of the Taipei Basin and of leaching from the material and energy streams of the official city. This acupuncture is making the city weaker, softer and readier for a larger change.

The larger scale rapid change must also go business first. Third Generation Taipei is based on free flooding and clean river, and this transformation is a huge business opportunity that can be replicated in a large number or emerging cities in China, India and elsewhere. The organic fingers growing from the fertile river banks will reach everywhere in the mechanical built human environment and bring new kind of critical development for many sectors of industrial life. A large number of new businesses will emerge. Through its own transformation Taipei can build up a powerful business-model for ecological restoration of emerging cities. Facilitating this transformation is hard if not impossible for the existing rigid structures of the Taipei City and New Taipei City Governments. The futures oriented urban ecological restoration process and business modeling could be facilitated by an external futures platform in collaboration with the Finland Future Research Centre and Tamkang University Institute of Futures Studies. 

The research is done though a series of workshops and courses with the Ruin Academy in Taiwan and the Aalto University SGT Sustainable Global Technologies in Finland. The Ruin Academy workshops have been realized in co-operation with the Tamkang University Department of Architecture and National Taiwan University Department of Sociology.

The futures research is developed in co-operation with the Finland Futures Research Centre and in dialog with the Tamkang University Graduate Institute of Futures Studies.

Ruin Academy is kindly supported by JUT Foundation for Arts & Architecture. Architect Marco Casagrande is the Principle of the Ruin Academy.

The thinking of the Third Generation City owns a great deal to discussions and co-operation with architects Hsieh Ying-Chun and Roan Ching-Yuen with whom I am the WEAK! and to professor Chen Cheng-Chen of Tamkang University Department of Architecture who helped me in developing the theory of Urban Acupuncture and encouraged with the thinking of the ruins. Professor Olli Varis from Aalto University has made it possible to develop the multidisciplinary approach towards the River Urbanism. Joseph Redwood-Martinez copyedited the entire manuscript and helped in many other ways. Finally, I would like to thank Stefano Serafini from the International Society of Bio-Urbanism who made this book possible.



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