One of my favourite store chains in Taiwan is bookstore retailer Eslite. Not only do they have an interesting and very appealing retail concept, but I’m also impressed by how carefully the company tailors its brand portfolio and store layout to the local neighbourhood.
The Eslite chain started out as a bookstore in 1989 with a small selection of titles from the arts and humanities. Since then it has become a majorly successful multi-channel business. In 2004 Eslite was chosen as “Asia’s Best Book Store” in Time Magazine’s Best of Asia ranking and in 2011 the company received the Top 100 Taiwanese Brand Award from the Taiwanese government.
Books and literature are still a key part of the Eslite portfolio but the company has diversified its focus to embrace the cultural and creative industries in Taiwan, too. In some of the larger Taipei Eslites you’ll find gourmet food courts and super-stylish cafés, hand-made Taiwanese art and design objects, lifestyle cosmetics, international avant-garde fashion and accessories and a very comprehensive selection of books and magazines – mostly in Chinese but the larger Eslites also carry a respectable number of English language books. Some of the outlets feature lecture halls and auditoriums and in these stores there is a varied program of concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events. And the newest Eslite in Songshan even has an arthouse movie theatre.
The Red House cultural centre is the second-oldest and the smallest of the three arts spaces. It is a group of compact and attractive red-brick buildings which is located right in the middle of bustling Ximen area.
Songshan Cultural & Creative Park is the most recent and also the biggest of Taipei’s creative locations. Like the Red House and Huashan 1914, the Songshan complex used to be an old industrial site. Built in 1937 as a tobacco factory, Songshan extends over some 6.6 hectares of space. The factory buildings alone include five warehouses, various office buildings and manufacturing halls, an inspection room and a boiler room.
In 2001 the factory complex was designated an important historic location and Taipei’s city government began to develop the site as a creative and cultural design centre. And in 2012, Songshan Cultural & Creative Park was opened with the mission to kindle creativity and innovation, with a particular focus on cross-industry creative projects.
This city has a very cool art and design scene! I knew next to nothing about Taipei (or Taiwan, for that matter) before I visited here, but the creative vein that runs through much of the urban lifestyle is very visible. In many stores you’ll find products and brands that emphasize Taiwanese design and manufacture and there is a strong reflection on the cultural and ethnic heritage of the island.
At the moment, for example, the city is hosting Pulima Art Festival 2014 which celebrates the cultural and musical diversity of Taiwan’s many Aboriginal tribes. I came across this festival when I was visiting Huashan 1914, the oldest of Taipei’s three major cultural & creative locations.
And this is really what the article is all about: a closer look at Taipei’s creative and design scene focusing on Huashan 1914, the Red House and Songshan Cultural & Creative Park. All three locations are former industrial sites which were transformed into lively (and very stylish!) cultural/art centres. I have split the article into three individual posts to improve readability. The first installment: Huashan 1914!