Lanzhou and Nanjichang: Taiwan's disappearing 2nd Generation Market Buildings

Lanzhou Market and Housing Building

I first visited the Lanzhou Street area while I was thinking of extending the Dadaocheng Map north to Bao-an Temple. The area north of Daqiaotou is an interesting tangle of alleys that so far haven't undergone the gentrification the streets south of Taipei Bridge have. The building height restrictions in place for the Songshan Airport approach have made the area unattractive to developers. This is one reason certain mayoral candidates, who are probably cozy with some developers, are always pushing for the closure of Songshan.

North Dihua Street. This ruined house has been demolished (April 2018) but the alley in the left picture remains.

A combination of cramped, poorly built, and aging housing has seen this area become a bit down at heel over the past couple of decades. The further east from the river the more the area generally improves and becomes a little more spacious, but bland. The need to draw a lot of identikit blocks was one reason the project stalled a bit.

The Dalongdong Map. Despite the image it's mostly blank. One of the few projects that I've abandoned for a while. From back when I had a tiny desk and drew on small panels

The Lanzhou State Housing Area (蘭州國宅) stood out in this boring part of the district. Even 4/5 years ago I remember wondering why it hadn't been demolished. In an earthquake prone area the sight of exposed rebar and crumbling walls wasn't re-assuring.

The ceiling in the main block

Built in 1969 the complex surrounds Shude Park in a series of 4-6 floor buildings with a market and housing block combination in the northeast.

One of the outer blocks

One of the commercial building stairwells

Inner courtyard

This is an example of Taiwan's second generation of market and housing combination buildings. Not all were produce markets. Some, like Lanzhou, mostly housed small shops and restaurants. Although many markets still remain on streets the governments of each era have often built specialized buildings to try and improve hygiene and convenience. The earliest large scale buildings were built in the Japanese era. Taichung's 2nd Market, Chiayi's Dongmen Market, and Taipei's Red Theater (originally a market) are well-known surviving examples. Some of these were grand pieces of civic pride but others like this one near Guting were simple warehouses.

Red Theater

Inside Taichung's 2nd Market

Chiayi's Dongmen Market

Guting Old Market (now a car park)

As some of these became too small to serve their populations new purpose built structures were erected. Some like the 1977 Dongmen Market in Hsinchu were state-of-the-art when built.

Dongmen Market, Hsinchu. Entrance and inner courtyard

This generation of market was typified by a central single or twin courtyard design. Apartments sat above a floor or two of shops that were both street and courtyard facing.

Lanzhou Courtyard

A lot of thought was put into ventilation and some followed the 'streets in the sky' principles put forth by Modernist architects like Le Corbusier (the decks and ramps of Nanjichang in Wanhua, particularly in the small courtyard block, remind me a little of Park Hill) .

Nanjichang Small Block Decks

Ventilation in Lanzhou (now mostly blocked up)

Along with Lanzhou there's one on Xinyi near Da'an Station (Xinwei Market 信維市場), another near City Hall on Keelung Rd, and the Xining Complex (西寧市場) in Ximen is also a good example. Others dot Taiwan's cities and small towns. Some of these buildings are known as 整宅 which translates slightly weirdly as 'whole house'. Perhaps because they were designed as self-contained communities. They were often used to house Chinese political refugees and dependents. If you google image search 整宅 it comes up with many of this type of building including Lanzhou, Nanjichang, and many others featured here.

Inner Courtyard near Da'an Station. There's a warren of shops on the ground floor of this building

Xining near Beimen

Often the apartments above were small and government owned so many came to house disadvantaged people along with their original residents.

The illegal rooftop apartments were often more spacious than the ones below. But were of poorer quality.

Old style concrete kitchen on one of the lower floors

Informal housing on the roof at Lanzhou

Something went a bit wrong with the fabric of a lot of these buildings, though not all. While the community that developed grew close and strong they were not served by particularly good construction quality or maintenance. Communal areas were left uncleaned, particularly as the inhabitants became elderly. As a result I have been to a fair few poorly maintained or dirty markets dating from this era. Taipei's are a little better and more have been restored there than in the rest of Taiwan.

Jianguo market (建國市場), Taichung. My images of the interior here are lost. Source: Liberty Times

A mix of cooking fume exhaust, ghost money, and likely some actual fires have left the corridors inside many blackened and grimy.

Soot from ghost money and cooking, or a larger fire?

The lighting in some (Jianguo and Zhongying in Taichung, Lanzhou, and Nanjichang in Taipei for examples) is mainly just bare fluorescent strips often hanging from fixtures.


Zhongying (忠英)

The sheer amount of cages both inside the corridors and jutting out to extend tiny apartments adds to the bleakness.


Nanjichang stairs

Many apartments I saw had weird layouts. The bathrooms would throw steam and humidity right out into the corridors. In some the market itself has been renovated with good lighting and new paint but the housing area above has been left mostly alone. A few are now a mix of government and private owned housing which adds to the complexity. For some like Zhongying I'm not totally sure about the ownership details, and Zhongying is a bit of an extreme example here with its many fires. But if it's even just part government managed there should be at least some better maintenance. In some like Xinwei a large proportion of disadvantaged households haven't paid the management fees leading to a shortfall.

Architecturally, while plain and a bit on the cramped side, many were not terrible designs. The intention was to foster a strong community and for the most part that worked. Some like Lanzhou and the Nanjichang courtyard blocks have large communal areas.

Lanzhou Courtyard

The Nanjichang Big Block has a nice central garden

The Nanjichang Small Block has some sort of paddling pool

It is concerning that in their rush to redevelop these areas the government may tear these communities apart. In Lanzhou's case at least most people have agreed to move. They are happy at the prospect of new homes but understandably still sad and nostalgic. The government seem to have been quite fair in this case. From what I can tell people will be re-settled in the same area and have similar sized apartments. A nearby old school will provide temporary housing during the rebuild. The Nanjichang community are less thrilled about redevelopment prospects.

Jianguo Market in Taichung was demolished in recent years. Most of my photos of Taichung are scattered or deleted but there are some good interior photos here and here. Some of the produce markets from that era in Wanhua have also been rebuilt, but they didn't have housing above them. A few like the lower levels of Andong in Da'an and Shuiyuan in Gongguan have been quite well renovated. Dongmen Market in Hsinchu is undergoing a sort of cultural revival, though whether that will help it remains to be seen. I learned recently that Lanzhou will be demolished very soon (mid-May) as it's too far gone to rehabilitate and I went to have a closer look around it.

Last resident of Lanzhou

The complex was unexpectedly busy with lots of workers moving out furniture. There were also a lot of people looking around. They were all kind of unfriendly to be honest despite a few attempts to chat. Maybe I was ruining their ruin experience. Along with a couple taking fashion shots it felt bizarrely touristy. There's a debate in there on the fine line between documentation or art and just plain voyeurism or Instagram checklists, but this has already gotten quite long. I noticed a few people online mention seeing thieves around the complex but I'm not sure what they would steal. All that was left was trash and old furniture really.

Name the new complex at Lanzhou

As I remembered from 4-5 years ago the complex looks and feels in parts like one of the decades old abandoned ruins I've visited. And though I do like certain features, like the shutter designs for some of the ground floor shops, if I lived here I'd want it rebuilt.

According to some articles the reason it took so long to redevelop is no developers were interested thanks to the flight path location. That would explain how it got to such a terrible state compared to even most other crumbling markets. The rebuild design isn't exciting but it's practical and suitable. Interestingly on that website there are design proposals for Nanjichang, Shaoxing, which I will likely write about soon, and the Jiahe Village area which is well written about here. There's also a proposal for the replacement of the old Air Force HQ site that I wrote about here with some really boring looking blocks

Lanzhou Courtyard

From the 1980's onward it seems more care was taken in market design. Many well lit and maintained structures were built. There is a nearby 1980's traditional market with housing above called Lanzhou Market that seems well-used and not badly designed. I hope they remain maintained and are not allowed to get into the state many of the 2nd generation markets have.

New market. It looks clean and newer than it is

After visiting Lanzhou I took a quick look at this old tenement building to the south that has intrigued me before. Remarkably it's still partly inhabited. It was once surrounded by many similar structures so I expect this one has some private ownership issues. I hoped to find someone to ask about it but the building was quiet.

Sky ceiling and 1950's style stairs

I then went north to its Japanese era equivalent: A ramshackle and unusual terrace of wooden houses that is an isolated rarity in Taipei. I haven't been able to find much information about it. The unit on the end has been slowly losing its wall over the past few years.

Afterwards I cycled down to Nanjichang (南機場) which I see a little as Lanzhou's southern twin.

This social housing complex was built in 1964 on the site of an airfield (it's name translates to South Airport). I spent most time in the large courtyard building with a quick look in the small courtyard building and around the tenement rows. For some interesting photos of the complex as it was envisioned and just after construction see herehere and here. Today it's a fairly mad looking mass of cages and extensions.

The big block

One of the narrow tenement blocks that don't really have any communal space

There aren't really many regular shops left on the inner lower levels here but there is an interesting woodwork factory. The upper floors are in better condition than Lanzhou's but are still grimy. I don't think Nanjichang is beyond restoring and many residents here are inclined to stay. However parts are in a bad way with leaks and general murk.

The woodwork factory and a retro fan

Ultimately the government is moving forward quite quickly with market restoration and rebuilding, and I do think that's a good thing in the case of places like Lanzhou. A little more care needs to be taken with Nanjichang and others like it. Some more English information on Nanjichang and photos is here. Lanzhou will probably be gone in about two weeks. The location of all are on the Hidden Taiwan Map.

Small salon in Nanjichang with me in the mirror