Guomao Community in Kaohsiung – a Vertical Urban Oddity

The district’s iconic, crescent-shaped block

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In an era where inter-dependence is the norm, self-reliance might seem like a far-off concept, prevalent solely throughout extremely remote regions of the world. While cultural and economic isolation in cities is not nearly as sterile as in rural areas, some ghettos do manage to retain a strong identity despite their urban context. Among them one can find Guomao Community in Kaohsiung, a modern neighborhood known for its tightly-packed architecture and authentic cuisine.

In the wake of the Chinese Civil War, over two million people fled from mainland China to the island of Formosa, seeking refuge from an impending persecution by the Communist party. Among them were hundreds of thousands of Kuomintang troops who hurriedly left in masses as part of the “Great Retreat”.

 

Following their arrival to Taiwan and the ensuing establishment of the ROC, KMT soldiers along with their families were resettled across more than 850 newly built communities all over the country. Known as military dependents’ villages, these makeshift hamlets mostly comprised of haphazardly scattered houses, where conditions were inadequate at best.

 

Built by the Taiwanese Navy between 1960 to 1965, Guomao Village was one of 25 settlements in Zuoying District, where former KMT members lived together with their dependents. In its heyday, the village had more than 2,100 households, making it by far the largest military dependents’ complex in Southern Taiwan.

 

The place’s prime years, however, were short lived, as the harsh living conditions throughout the crammed hamlet eventually led to its complete demolition, akin to many of its counterparts at that time. After enough funds were garnered, the village was replaced by a series of thirteen 12-story tall residential buildings, situated at the same whereabouts of the original settlement, in the northern outskirts of Kaohsiung.

 

Created as a self-sufficient enclave, Guomao Community boasts a fair share of amenities within its confines, including various shops, a marketplace, sport facilities, several clinics and perhaps most notably, a plethora of traditional eateries, where one can find scrumptious eats from mainland China – the birthplace of many of Guomao’s eldest residents. Conspicuous by its popularity among locals is Kuan Lai Shun Breakfast Restaurant, famous for its steamed buns and Doujiang.

 

Be that as it may, what really draws curious outsiders to the neighborhood is neither its food nor its history, but rather its quirky architecture. While 11 out of the 13 narrowly spaced apartment blocks are somewhat humdrum, the other two, numbers 8 and 9, each feature a semi-circular layout that together enclose a verdant park.

 

Given the buildings’ position and sheer height, visitors who walk across the inner garden might feel as though they are stepping inside a ginormous cylinder. The main facades are made of rows of recessed windows, almost each and every single one of them was modified in a different way by the tenants over the decades, thus forming a breathtaking cacophony that attracts like-hungry Instagrammers and urban photographers from afar.