URBAN ACUPUNCTURE – TREASURE HILL
The original article is published in Taiwan Architect –magazine, 2006.
Taiwan is on the threshold of an urban ecological awakening. This is the time to
decide which way the Taiwanese cities will go. Much of the heavy industry have
already moved to the surrounding countries and the citizens are looking forward to
the clean-up and environmental rehabilitation of the post-industrial cities. But
which way will this go: will Taiwan continue copying the artificial Western urban
face-lifts or will it be the Japanese – Singapore–style ecofascism? Or is Taiwan able
to look deep into the mirror and see, realize and use its own original Taiwanese –
Chinese hidden social values and energies and develop a new compost like organic
way of environmentally sustainable urban living?
I came the first time to Taipei in 2002 invited by architect Chi Ti-Nan to participate the
Urban Flashes –symposium.
I was very much touched by the city - mainly by the street
level humanistic energies but Taipei left me also wondering why the soft core of the
humanistic city did not meet with the official one. It was almost like analyzing two
different cities when reading the official data and maps about Taipei and to walk the
I came back the year after with the invitation of the Taipei City Government this time to
spend some time studying the human / organic layer of the city and how to react to it by
means of urban planning. This is the time, in October 2003, when I first entered the
Treasure Hill –settlement near Gonguang.
I was shocked by Treasure Hill. It was an
urban farming community enclave inside the modern city powered by grandmothers. By
the time Treasure Hill was dying. The official city had given to this illegal settlement a
death penalty and the bulldozing was already on its way. The farms were turned into
lawns and the farmers were moved into apartment houses. Everywhere in the air was the
smell of a slow death. But the energy had not left the place. It was everywhere: in the
ruins of the bulldozed houses, in the furniture, altars and photo albums of abandoned
houses and in the anarchy of the illegal small gardens by the river.
inhabitants were scared. I felt the human energy in Treasure Hill very strong but also that
it was now directed towards death, destruction. I needed to make a plan how to tune this
same energy towards construction, like turning over the compost that has been the smelly
part of the farm just to become the most fertile top soil. I was careful to manipulate these
hidden energy flows and the small elements that I introduced to Treasure Hill can be
compared to the needles in acupuncture. I call this urban acupuncture.
Treasure Hill community at the start of the Organic Layer –action in 2003.
An Urban Poem
I became the cleaner man in Treasure Hill. There was no garbage bins and the small
snaking allies were full of filth. The people were hiding behind their windows but I saw
that they were old. In the foot of the hill some three stories of houses had been
demolished, bulldozed away and instead of the houses there was green grass. A lawn
instead of a settlement - because officially now this was a park zone. For nature lawn is
the same as concentration camp. It is nothing. It produces a shameful amount of oxygen
and is merely the roof of a worm. And these people had been living there for some 50
years and these people were gardeners, I saw the fragments everywhere – village people,
growing their own food. City had stepped in and the village people had to go. Same old
So I became the cleaner man. The first day the people were hiding and I started to clean
and transport trash from their streets down of the hill to be picked up. The next day the
same. On the third day there were already some buckets waiting for me and on the fourth
day the people were cleaning themselves too. Together with me was also an increasing
amount of architecture students from Tamkang University and National Taiwan
University. Soon the little settlement of Treasure Hill was cleaned from the garbage and I
started to build up stairs to connect the remained stairways of the torn down houses.
By that time Treasure Hill was a dead end and I needed to create a loop for circular
In the end of 3 weeks I had 200 students working with me and architect Hsieh Ying-Chun
had come down from the mountains too.
With Hsieh every morning we met and agreed
who builds where. I don’t know what language we spoke. In the end the steps were built
and even a small parade took place. Treasure Hill could stay and the bulldozing was
stopped. In the place of the lawn where once the houses had stood was now a vegetable
garden, food and the inhabitants were eager to cultivate the land. City learned to
appreciate this small sustainable settlement – a small urban poem. It helped that the poet
Liao was in the charge of the Department of the Cultural Affairs.
Restored vegetable garden in Treasure Hill, 2003.
Treasure Hill was important for me maybe because I felt that the place was so real and
the city around it was so fictive. So many external powers in the city dominating the
humanistic energy and in Treasure Hill none. Now after a couple of years I am happy to
see that Treasure Hill still survives. I survived the heat and the construction process
partly due Missis Chen, the matriarch of the settlement, who gave me Chinese medicines
and feed me fish and a lot of beer. The gardening is going well of course, since these
people know what to do if given a chance. There is still a lot of lawn, a useless layer of
artificial nature which should be a garden too.
It is good that the city is injecting new energy to the place by some artists working there
but I also felt the danger of the real settlement becoming a background for art pieces.
Now when I go there most of the junk laying around the mango trees and water streams
are from art works – light stands, posters, pieces or worthless installations etc. If art
becomes the junk of Treasure Hill, what is that? People don’t have to exploit Treasure
Hill or use it for anything, people should just appreciate it. What comes to art or action in
a place like Treasure Hill – build another one. Build a new Treasure Hill, the Ultra
Village in the hearts of Taipei.
I also feel that in Treasure Hill surfaces many of the future possibilities of
environmentally sustainable urban living. Treasure Hill is like the attic of a house that
contains objects of the times once lived, the good old times as the grandmother says.
Narrative objects, objects with memories. Attic is the most subconscious space of a house
and attic is the memory of a house. As I feel it, Treasure Hill is the attic of Taipei.
memory and the link between the modern man and nature – human nature as part of
Forget the Forgetting
The grandmothers of Treasure Hill are showing the way to Taipei. When the old farming
based values of Treasure Hill and those of the surrounding modern city will meet a new
kind of ecological urbanism might be born. I don’t mean with this taking steps back
technologically but on the contrary suggest to reinforce the existing urban farming
qualities of the Treasure Hill with state of the art high environmental technology
solutions and so view the Treasure Hill settlement as a living laboratory of sustainable
urbanism. The new technologies and solutions must respect the way of life of the
Treasure Hill veterans – the active solar panels and mechanical biological treatment units
of organic waste must make room for the grandmothers.
The Treasure Hill settlement is built originally as an anti-aircraft position on terraced on a
mountain and facing straight to south. These are ideal conditions for effective use of solar
energy. The banks of the nearby Xindian River are used as platforms for highway bridges
leaving the ground level open. The river also acts as a wind corridor all the way from the
river mouth in Danshui. The banks of the Xindian and later Danshui Rivers are suitable
for urban wind energy farms.
Under the highway bridge besides Treasure Hill can easily be positioned hermetically
closed in-vessel MBT (Mechanical Biological Treatment) –units to ferment organic urban
waste including digested sludge. The units are using anaerobic bacteria and do not smell.
The outcome of the MBT is clean water, top soil and bio gas later on to be conditioned
By these means the Treasure Hill community can be completely sustainable what comes
to its electricity use and waste treatment. Besides this it will gain fertile top soil for its
farms. Also other environmental technology solutions should be tested, such as biological
gray water filtering and step by step the big clean-up of the Danshui River.
Taipei City Government should see the possibilities in Treasure Hill and react on them.
The grandmothers and urban farming must stay but new environmental technologies must
also be tested in a way that later on can be multiplied in Taipei and in the rest of the
Taiwanese cities. The solutions must be site specific but the suitable environmental
technology solutions already exist. It is only a question of will to combine these two.
Finland has been reviewed several years in a row by the World Economic Forum as the
leading country in the environmental technology solutions of the world and could be a
good partner as the know-how provider.
Asia has an urban culture of thousands of years old including ancient environmentally
sustainable megacities. The hectic rhythm of the modern city makes us to forget this.
Now is time to forget the forgetting. With Treasure Hill Taiwan can find its own way
towards urban ecology.
Marco Casagrande is a Finnish architect and urban planner and visiting professor in
Tamkang University. In his work he is focused in the research of environmental
technology solutions as the bases of site specific urban ecology. Casagrande represented
Taiwan in this year’s Venice Biennale (2006) in the Taiwan Pavillion exhibition Paradise
Revisited, curated by Roan Chin-Yueh.
Mechanical Biological Treatment is the anaerobic bacteria based closed system (in-
vessel) fermentation process of bio waste. Depending on the waste the whole treatment
process from raw material to top soil, water and gas takes 7 – 14 days. The gas
conditioning plant burns the methane gas into electricity of which 25% goes into running
the MBT unit and 75% can be sold back to the city. The highly controlled MBT -
fermentation process does not produce smell of health risks and can be applied as a
localized urban waste treatment solution instead of centralized incinerators as in Taipei.
With MBT –technology the recycling of waste material is practically 100%.
1. Micro-Urbanism, Ti-Nan Chi
2. Treasure Hill, Wikipedia
3. Taipei Organic Acupuncture, Marco Casagrande, P2P Foundation 12/2010
4. Urban Acupuncture, Wikipedia
5. Design 2003.10 Treasure Hill, Hsieh Ying-Chun, 2003
6. Con-fronting the Edge of Modern Urbanity – GAPP (Global Artivists
Participation Project) at Treasure Hill, Taipei, Kang Min-Jay, 2005