Anping Tree House, Tainan – a Plant-Based Architecture

The root-infested façade of Anping Tree House

photography by: Omri Westmark

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When a manmade structure is left to its own devices, it is caught in an unwinnable battle against the forces of nature with every day that passes. In some instances, though, disused buildings can turn into a spectacular gem before fading out into complete oblivion. Formerly a storage facility, Anping Tree House in Tainan was abandoned in the mid-1940’s and has been breathtakingly overgrown with Banyan trees ever since.

Established in 1624 by Dutch colonists as a trading post, Tainan has historically served as an economic and cultural bridge between Formosa and the rest of the world. While the city’s glorious era is long gone, one can still find copious vestiges of its days as a prime commercial hub. Amongst the most notable of those is the Anping Tree House, which since its abandonment, has transformed into Taiwan’s own version of Ta Prohm.


Following its defeat in the Second Opium War, Qing China was forced to open some of the empire’s ports to international trade, including Anping Harbor in Tainan. In the years that followed, the seaside district was swarmed by foreign traders, one of whom was Scotland-born James Tait, the owner of Tait & Co. In 1867, Tait built a merchant house as well as a storehouse, where camphor and granulated sugar were kept before being transported on ships to their final destination.


When the Japanese took control of the Taiwan, they centralized trade, imposing strict regulations and expelling all foreign enterprises from the island. After Tait & Co. relinquished their assets and left, the buildings were used by Japan Salt Company, and later, in the 1940’s, by Tainan Salt Works. It was during the latter’s time that the former camphor warehouse was abandoned, and shortly thereafter, fell into a state of disrepair.

Over time, the nearby Banyan trees spread their roots and branches into the building, assuming dominance over its derelict premises. As if the woody plants were architects, the roots accurately copied the original shape of the house, recreating parts of its brick walls and ceilings. The warehouse’s afterlife earned it a reputation as a haunted place, not only because of its decrepitude but also due to a couple of local myths involving Banyan trees.


After years where the place was enveloped in obscurity, it was finally opened to the public in 2004, along with the adjacent merchant house. To help visitors experience this arboreal oddity to the fullest, a set of stilted walkways and viewing platforms was installed between the canopies, offering a fascinating glimpse of the overgrown building from multiple angles. The elevated promenade also extends northwards over a pond to a lookout, from where one can gaze at the mangrove-rich shores of the Taijiang River.


Visiting this enchanting complex entails an entrance fee of 70 NT (roughly 2.25 USD). Take note that as Anping Tree House can get crammed with throngs of locals throughout the weekend, it is recommended to come here during weekdays, when it’s less crowded.