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Visiting the Treasure Hill Temple in Taipei

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It is the corner of the city that is hard to give definition. It is next to the busy life circle of Taipei, however, there is few students that would come here. It is located in the small hill at the Xindian creek. The high speed road surrounded the creek is right across the skyline. It looks like the time fragments forgotten by the modernized city. Occasionally, people ride pass here along the riverside, it feels like entering a scene of the old movie.

It is where the treasure stones are gathered, it does not follow the neat linear of the urban planning, which makes it a special view in Taipei. Therefore, from the early movies, like “He never gives up”, “Goodbye South, Goodbye”, to the recent movies “Four Hands”, “Thanatos, Drunk”, it appeared in several movie scenes. To the director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the Treasure Hill Temple is a live shooting studio.

However, the Treasure Hill Temple is not just an art device that can be viewed, or an urban attraction can be fascinated. Its uniqueness and valuableness are because it is a real settlement where people actually lives in. The seemingly simple patchwork of buildings and narrow alleys both have the living traces of residents. At the edge of the city, even the infrastructure is not convenient in the past, it is still a place where a group of people have settled here. It is filled with the dreams and tears they had in the city.

The story of Treasure Hill Temple has to begin from Qing Dynasty. “Yan” is what Taiwanese immigrants call temples. Treasure Hill Temple is among one of them. From Kangxi years, when the temple was build, it became the center of faith for the people lives at the Gongguan Guting area after 19 Century. In 1949, the Nationalist government moved to Taiwan, 2,000,000 people need to settle down in Taipei, where originally it only planned 600,000 people. Many low level soldiers without ranks and their families have to save themselves. They built up houses around the military camps assigned by the government. Huaguang community and Shaoxing community are appeared in such background, which is same for the Treasure Hill Temple. Residents build the house by the military camp at the Xindian creek on their own, which formed the small-gathered village. With the rapid development of Taipei in 60s and 70s, a large number of immigrants moved into the village. Besides the original veterans’ dependents, the cheap rents made Treasure Hill Temple a shelter for immigrants, and young students. It has become diverse place for living.

But this type of urban ecology does not necessarily fit in the urban planning that is rational and simple. In 1993, the Treasure Hill Temple was announced to be used as the land for park. It has to be demolished. However, the No. 14 and 15 forced evictions of the park had caused negative public reactions. Therefore, the demolish plan was temporally paused by the government. Later, with the entering of teachers and students from Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, as well as OURS, Mom Cui and other non-profit organization, they have helped dealing with the tenants and the future planning.

In 2004, Taipei government has officially made Treasure Hill Temple as the “Treasure Hill Temple Historical Building” according to the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act. Later, it was adjusted to “Historical Settlement”, which is the first in Taipei. The reason is “The Treasure Hill Temple Settlement is located in the Taipei after the war. After unofficial building and planning, it became the settlement, where the veteran, immigrants and other vulnerable residents group lived. It is the representative of the self-build settlement at the edge of the city, which has historical feature.” From the architectures being recognized as the historical settlement, the case of Treasure Hill Temple has changed the common concept about the preservation of cultural heritage. We should not only focus on the aesthetic value of the building, but also the community relations and historical context, as well as the understanding of the urban texture.

The documentary about Treasure Hill Temple “Two Places” shot by the college students in Taiwan has mentioned that preservation is not the result but a choice. Preservation is only the first step, how to retain is the bigger issue. The composition of the Treasure Hill Temple, the location at the edge of the city, and the vibrant of itself, have all attracted many people to shoot movies here. Will art be the new future for the Treasure Hill Temple. Therefore, the team of OURS have come with the idea of “dual existence of art and living”. It is confirmed that the Treasure Hill Temple will develop towards the artistic direction when Lung Ying-tai was the director of the Cultural and Affairs Bureaus.

Currently, Treasure Hill Temple is planned as the “Arts Habitat Symbiosis”, divided into homeland of Treasure Hill Temple, Artists village and Young club. People who came to live here are residents that lived here for a while, artists that have stayed here for one or two years, backpackers that stay here for a few nights, and visitor just here for a few hours. How to balance the needs of the different residents at the Treasure Hill Temple had about space? Since the Lantern festival in 2012, it has attracted a lot of people. But how to let the visitors know more about the stories of the residents without making them feel like being spied on? How artistic handle the interaction between the local residents? When more and more old residents left, will the Treasure Hill Temple left with only the artistic village? Many questions are still needed to be answered.

Walking in the winding alleys, you see the mottled brick, erosion by the time. What is more concerned are the hidden emotions and memories. Compared to the over-commercialized Huashan and Songyu, Treasure Hill Temple is really special. Because it has not only persevered the architectures, but also the original residents. Otherwise, the history can only spread on the surface, and not being told vividly.

Zhu Tianxin mentioned in the novel “Old City” that “A city without any trace of living, isn’t that just a stranger city? A strange city, why need to teach people how to cherish, care, maintain, or recognize?” The city is strong not because the steel, but because the memory. The biggest challenge now for the Treasure Hill Temple is how to combine art to tell the story. Because richness of the Treasure Hill Temple does not only lie in the sensory level, the people lives there are the real center.

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