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Department of Cultural Affairs

Feature Story

Redesigning transformer boxes to remodel urban landscapes

1.Poster for the Urban Landscape Planning project, part of the 2016 WDC Taipei.

Electrical transformer boxes are a necessity in modern society, but they donǯt have to be ugly. In the past, we put up with their uninspiring and often unsightly appearance, but times have changed. As part of the 2016 World Design Capital(WDC) Taipei, a social organization City Yeast has come together with the Taiwan Power Company and launched the Urban Landscape Planning project to transform the transformers. They hope that changes to the everyday scene will gradually infuse urban planning with environmental aesthetics and in turn visually revitalize local communities.

Modern urban construction is more oriented to environmental aesthetics, so City Yeast decided to create a harmonious street scene using minimal design changes. Their scheme includes symbol redesign, reduction of color saturation, and improvements in engineering quality. Design changes that begin in front of the average home may be the closest form of engagement with the general public that WDC Taipei 2016 has had to date. Eventually, this will spread to the streets, signs, and even modes of transport, said WDC CEO Wu Han-Zhong. Working alongside the Taiwan Power Company shows that design thinking can gradually permeate the public sector, and has also built a foundation for future cooperation.

Revamp Concepts

Taipei has more than 9,000 roadside transformer boxes, often painted a uniform green or featuring scenic views, flowers, and graffiti. All sit on a broad cement base painted with stark orange-and-black warning lines. Every now and then, pedestrians have to step into the thoroughfare because when these devices are often grouped together, they block the entire sidewalk, especially in zones of high electricity consumption.

2. New designs for transformer boxes on display in the plaza in front of Taipei City Government in March 2016.

Since these obstacles vary in size and often impede pedestrians, and since theirplacement is closely related to the overall urban outlook, planners should reconsider the dimensions of the transformer boxes.

Meanwhile, City Yeast has tried to brighten up the city by intentionally choosing Dzenvironmental colorsdz. Commissioner of the municipal Department of Cultural Affairs Beatrice Pei-ni Hsieh said in a May press conference that the redesign project can be used as a model so that in the future all transformer boxes in downtown Taipei are redesigned in this way.

It's also expected that in the near future, such redesigns would be developed to cover street embellishments, whereby the device can be turned into an InfoBox where people can find local stories and directions, according to Hsieh.

Public Participation

Leading designer Agua Chou from City Yeast said that the key to this project is color harmony, which helps the transformer boxes blend in to the environment naturally. For instance, the buildings on the Songjiang Road section are mostly grey; thus, the boxes there have also been painted grey. At the same time, the warning signs onthe boxes have also revamped, according to Chou.

3. Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Beatrice Pei-ni Hsieh (right) thanks the Taiwan Power Company at the May 11 press conference for their help redesigning transformer boxes.

What colors best reflect the values of Taipei? This was the question the team posed themselves as they began their planning approach. Beginning in December 2015, designers organized three successive workshops, bringing together members of the public who were interested in taking part in the reform by investigating color schemes and drafting color plans for the transformer boxes.

In phase one, they embarked on a journey to investigate Dzenvironmental colorsdz, followed by analysis, and then drew up a strategy. The main tasks were to study the box itself, inspection the surroundings, collect pantones, record them, and then discuss color applications and design schemes. Numerous field trips yielded rich results. Transformer boxes of seventeen different sizes were found, measuring up to 80 × 60 × 100 cm, with cement bases usually measuring 105 × 74.5 × 40 cm.

The second phase aimed at raising public awareness. Beginning in February, transformer boxes located in Songjiang Road and Xinsheng South Road Section 3 were cleaned up and painted with a white base color. City Yeast then carried out a color experiment, which generated an array of designs to match different road sections. Later, the designs were put on public display in the plaza in front of Taipei City Government to encourage further public input on color and patterns. An online platform for public discussion was also launched.

Street Landscape Made Anew

The redesign project included a total of 133 electrical transformer boxes, scattered across 62 sites on Songjiang Road, Fuxing North and South Roads, the Beimen area, Xinsheng South Road, and Roosevelt Road.

4. Close-up of a new transformer box on Songjiang Road.

Commencing in May, boxes on the five selected road sections gradually colored and their textual content redesigned, with warnings for pedestrians and drivers separated to make them easier to read. The cement bases were also redesigned in the correct proportions.

Boxes located in areas with high foot traffic, and those above a certain height, were painted with different color schemes, so that passersby could think them over and choose the best color scheme for their city. On the back of the boxes were painted the words DzCity Color Matchdz, below the color samples used for the box with an additional color and its name.

After investigating the boxes and streets and analyzing the results, fifty traditional Chinese colors were chosen, each with a unique name such as Golden Garland (烏金) and Crimson Red (緋紅). The links between their Chinese names and English translation are also a way to encourage imagination and cultural insight. The design team believes that we have to direct our attention to the environment and its colors before we can start to change the urban landscape and design.

On June 14, transformer boxes on sections of Fuxing South and North Roads were painted dark brown. Neighborhoods in Beimen, Xingshen South Road, and Roosevelt Road Road will follow, and the project should be completed by October.

In addition to the redesign of transformer boxes, the 570-day Urban Landscape Planning project was launched to redesign cycling paths and public plazas. In the future, human-made unidentified flying objects will be seen landing on the cycle lane along Fuxing North and South Roads, and people walking through the square in front of the NTU Sports Center can expect to see a track-related creative image, while the tiles on exterior wall of MRT Wanlong Station Electrical substation will be well-merged into the environment.

These projects encourage cross-field discussion, and the public has been invited to help actualize the vision and reform the urban landscape. Eight workshops and sites landscape for projects are underway. Citizens from all walks of life are being encouraged to help create their ideal urban lives.

The Urban Landscape Planning project is aimed at enriching the experience of street aesthetics. Workshops provide residents with an opportunity to get involved in projects and appreciate the importance of environmental aesthetics. It is expected that public participation will help build local consensus on urban aesthetics.

5. A color experiment by City Yeast in March 2016 was used to raise awareness of environment aesthetics.

The Urban Landscape Planning project is expected to discover a color strategy to change the city. The team has tried to establish a set of new designs and a colorsystem for the capital, as they believe it is only when the environment and its colors receive greater attention that we can begin to change the urban landscape anddesign.

To learn more about the project please visit: https://www.facebook.com/taipeiworlddesigncapital/.