Treasure Hill Artist Village, Taipei – A Rural Enclave of Art

One of Treasure Hill’s semi-demolished houses that was transformed into an art installation

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In the last couple of decades, there are more and more cases where informal settlements come into direct conflict with intense urban development, with the latter often ends up having the upper hand. In stark contrast, one hilly village amid Taipei’s concrete jungle offers an entirely different vision. Sandwiched between a water supply plant and the Xindian River, Treasure Hill is a cluster of chaotically built houses that now serves as a quaint artist village, replete with art and sweeping views alike.

Following the defeat of the Kuomintang by the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, over two million people, many of whom were KMT soldiers, fled to the Island of Taiwan, where they established the Republic of China. With no sufficient housing for the hordes of newly-arrived migrants, several informal settlements were established all over the country.

 

Nestled atop a forested hill near the Fuhe Bridge that crosses into New-Taipei, Treasure Hill was founded as a community of KMT veterans at the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. With nearly 200 families living within its confines during that time, the hamlet evolved into a labyrinth of densely packed houses, crisscrossed by a network of narrow alleys and stairways.

 

As Taipei rapidly grew into the modern metropolis it is today, city officials were eager to bulldoze any type of urban tissue that doesn’t conform with their notion of development, including Treasure Hill’s haphazard hamlet. To avoid this very scenario, a deal was brokered – in return for its survival, the settlement’s crammed houses will be transformed into an artist village.

 

Soon thereafter, the Finnish architect Marco Casagrande was entrusted with renovating the village. In order to retain the place’s old charm, Casagrande insisted that only minimal interventions should be carried out, and so, the main undertaking included the construction of a series of walkways and staircases that would connect every single building throughout the settlement.


At present, Treasure Hill is home to dozens of local and international artists from various disciplines, who set their studios in the premises as part of the village’s artist residency program. Some of the once dilapidated houses now host art galleries as well as a hostel, cafés, and even a traditional Taiwanese grocery shop.

 

The workshops are in turn accompanied by numerous art installations and murals, most notably a pair of sculpted oversized fortune cookies and a pile of psychedelic TV screens. As many of the artworks and exhibitions are temporary, the village changes its face every now and then.

 

It might come as a surprise, but Treasure Hill is still inhabited by some of its original residents who go about their lives right next to where the artists create their imaginative works. In fact, almost each and every house has a plaque on its outer walls, telling the story of its former and current tenants. Another relic of the village’s bygone era is its 300 years old Buddhist temple. Dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, this place of worship is awash with statues of deities, traditional paintings and clouds of incense fume.

 

Thanks to its uphill location, there are also plenty of viewing platforms and points across the settlement, where visitors are gifted with panoramic vistas of the city’s endless urban sprawl.