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Tradition and innovation meet at Ximen Red House after renovation

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Photo by LRM
Ximen Red House reopens to the public March 1, 2018 after one and a half years
of renovation work.

By Yali Chen

Taipei’s historic Ximen Red House is where tradition and innovation meet. After one and a half years of restoration work under the cooperation of Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and Taipei Culture Foundation, the Ximending’s most iconic building reopened March 1, 2018, hoping to establish itself as a hotspot for cultural and creative industries in the capital.
Charlene Chao, Director of the Red House and Taipei Cinema Park, said that the historic building was in urgent need of refurbishment, as well as rewiring and upgrading of mechanical and electrical (M&E) services due to the much-needed conservation of the century-old building and its artifacts.
The renovation work aimed to upgrade and expand the aging facilities of the Red House to enhance its capacity in promoting Taipei’s cultural and creative sectors and facilitate its long-term development as one of the most important cultural centers in the capital.

Art editor Img
Photo by LRM
During the restoration work, the truss structures are reinforced to support
the umbrella-like roof on the second floor of the historic building.

The old building had been temporarily closed to the public from August 8, 2016 for a period of one and a half years until late February, 2018, Chao said. In an effort to provide a better visiting experience, the DCA spent nearly NT$50 million on the refurbishment work, including structural reinforcement; facade restoration; roofing, window, and door repairs; replacement of water pipes, electric circuits, and air conditioners; improvement of automatic fire alarm equipment and lighting facilities; and replacement of the flooring material.
“Increasing the amount of natural light can make the space look lighter and brighter. All the dirt on the exterior wall of the Ximen Red House was also completely cleaned to make the whole building bright red,” Chao said. “While walking into the Red House now, you can see an eye-catching retrospective exhibition chronicling the development of the building starting from 1908 through 2018.”
One of the most important characteristics of the Red House lies in steel trusses used to support the umbrella-like roof in the second-floor theater of the century-old building. The truss structures were also reinforced during the renovation work.

Chao assured that the originality of the building had been preserved, stressing: “The Red House is an important historical site for tourists from Taiwan and overseas, and has historical value.”
The Red House is an octagonal-shaped two-story structure, designed by Japanese architect Kondo Juro. It was built in 1908 to serve as Taipei’s first public market.
The building features an octagonal entrance and cross-shaped floor plan – a bagua design considered boldly creative then. The cross-shaped building was incorporated to the rear of the main octagonal-shaped structure. Thus, the Octagon Building, Cruciform Building, plus the adjacent south and north squares are now collectively known as the “Ximen Red House.”
In those early years, the Red House market attracted a large number of visitors for trade and entertainment. Vendors sold flowers, books, clothes, dried goods, local produce, and imported goods from Japan. During festivals, residents from neighboring districts met at the market entrance because it was a popular spot in the Ximending district.
During the period of Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945, the red-brick octagonal structure came to symbolize the bustling commercialism of the Ximending district. After 1945, the Red House became a popular performance theater for Chinese storytelling, operas, stage play, and folk art performances.
In the 1960s, it was turned into a movie house and became very popular among westernized youngsters with the playing of second-run western films. But the theater fell into disrepair and the west area of Taipei including the Ximending area went into the worst downtime because of the rapid development in the east urban area of Taipei in the 1990s.
After a devastating fire that burned down the Cruciform Building and South-North Square in 2000, the Red House was rebuilt by the joint effort of the city government and local community. Reopening in 2002, it housed a small café and a display on the history of the octagonal structure on the first floor, giving live theater performances on the second floor.
In the same year, the nonprofit Paper Windmill Arts Foundation shouldered the responsibility for restoring the Red House Theater to its former glory. But, unable to balance the books, the foundation decided not to renew its bid for management of the property when the contract expired five years later.
In November 2007, the DCA commissioned Taipei Culture Foundation to manage the Red House complex in its entirety, including the main Octagon Building, the adjoining Cruciform Building, and the adjacent squares to the north and south of the central structure.
The Red House underwent a series of cultural transformation to provide better services for the general public. These days it becomes a multifunctional cultural center with regular live performances and art exhibitions.
The first floor of the Red House incorporates a café and gift shop, and also functions as a venue for art exhibitions. A special exhibition of old photographs is being held at the Central Display Area on the first floor. Running from May 8 until June 30, the exhibition showcases an array of black-and-white pictures taken by Wang Gui-lang – a photographer born in a farmer’s family in Changhua County.
“Through the lens of photographer Wang Gui-lang, you’ll find a rustic view of rural life in early Taiwan and look back on the prosperity of the Ximending commercial district,” Chao said. “Vintage cameras and photography gear that Wang has collected for many years are also on display. The photo exhibition is definitely worth a visit.

Art editor Img
Photo by LRM
Charlene Chao, Director of the Red House and Taipei Cinema Park, introduces a special exhibition of old photographs on the first floor of the Red House.

A permanent exhibition on the first floor showcases an array of pictures chronicling the development of the Red House starting from 1908 through 2018. The exhibits also include a brick used for the building construction in 1908, two bricks used for the renovation work in 2002 and 2018 respectively, as well as billboard paintings, movie posters and tickets in 1963. The interior setting and decoration on the first floor are reflecting the old time of Taiwan.

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Photo by LRM
A brick used for the construction of the Red House in 1908.

The second floor of the Red House functions as a theater, hosting a wide variety of programs such as theater shows, musical performances, weddings, receptions, corporate events, and cocktail parties.
Celebrating its reopening after one-and-a-half-year renovation, the Red House has worked with Taiwanese (Gezai) Opera Association in Taipei to promote the art of Taiwanese opera. The association’s director Chen Ya-lan, a disciple of renowned Taiwanese opera singer Yang Li-hua, founded a Taiwanese opera troupe of the same name.
Chen’s troupe launched a new grand production starring young performers. With black humor, the performance will be given on the second floor from June 29 to July 29 this year. Audience interaction added into the comedy aims to change the stereotype of Taiwanese opera.
Besides, the one-month event also includes summer camps for parents and kids, workshops for those who love Taiwanese opera, and seminars on the influence of big-name TV Taiwanese opera star Yang.
“The new production is a marvelous example of the Red House, where tradition meets innovation,” Chao said. Taiwanese opera is a genre of the traditional arts. Chen hopes that her latest adaptation will attract more young people to visit the century-old building.
The back of the Cruciform Building is the well-known cultural and creative development center – “16 Creative Boutique,”which sells the creative works and fashionable products of local designers. This is the place that visitors can definitely expect the birth of talented young designers, and their new name brands.

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Photo by LRM
The Red House has become a multifunctional creative and cultural center
selling the works of local designers.

During weekends, the north square of the Red House has become the “Creative Bazaar,” where at least 40-50 booths are set up for college students, young designers, and young musicians to show their talents and sell their creative products.
In recent years, the Red House has been successfully transformed into a multifunctional cultural center with regular live performances and exhibitions. Come to the Ximending area to enjoy youngsters’ fashion and creativity in Taiwan, and also visit the historic building to better understand its evolution from a public market to a performance theater, a movie house, and a theater/crafts center.