Taichung’s Cultural Heritage Park

The whimsical murals painted over the distillery’s disused metal tanks

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Zoning is a relatively nascent method whereby plots of land are divided by various uses. When this practice is implemented across existing urban tissues, though, unusual outcomes often occur. One such instance can be found in Taiwan’s third most populous city, where a former liquor factory was repurposed into a recreational complex. Boasting a medley of art installations, trendy boutiques and workshops, Taichung's Cultural Heritage Park blends the city’s industrial past with its recent lofty endeavor to become a livable place to be envious of.

Up until quite recently, Taichung was a predominantly industrial town where factories huddled together in each and every corner. As the city grew far beyond its original confines while concurrently, its economy shifted towards a more service-based model, many of the old plants were either closed or forced to migrate to the periphery.

 

While most of these factories made way for residential neighborhoods or office buildings, a select few managed to dodge this very fate. Perhaps chief among them is a former distillery that was built during the Japanese colonial rule and now serves a cultural park, where artists from all over the country gather to showcase their artisanal trinkets.

 

Originally established in 1916 by Japanese businessman Akashi Hotaru as his own eponymous sake brewery, the precinct changed names and hands multiple times throughout its history, with the last owner being Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau. It was here where sake, liquor and wine were produced in mass, so much so, that at one point, the place was crowned as the largest brewery in Taiwan.


As the ever-expanding urban sprawl engulfed the distillery, it was no longer feasible to sustain production here. As a result, in 1998, the alcohol manufacturing firm relocated to the outskirts of Taichung, leaving the once bustling brewery abandoned for more than nine years. The 5.6-hectare complex was then seized by Taiwan Ministry of Culture with the aim of revitalizing it.

 

Following 2 years of works, during which dozens of Japanese-period buildings were thoroughly restored, Taichung Cultural Heritage Park finally emerged out of its decades-long, industrial pupa.

 

The arts district is now home to a hodgepodge of studios, venues for art performances, exhibition spaces, a history museum, a plethora of small shops and even the country’s Bureau of Cultural Heritage. Over 40 art firms are scattered across the site, including workshops specializing in handicraft, photography, metalwork, ceramics and jewelry, just to mention a handful. Peppered throughout this artsy enclave are also a series of eccentric sculptures and street artworks, conspicuous by their colorfulness among them are the cluster of former storage tanks, whose outer surface was recently painted with playful murals.

 

One surprising fact, however, is that alongside the copious artists, visitors can find here a factory outlet belonging to the same spirits-making company that once owned this complex, providing a scrumptious glimpse into its bygone era.