Why is Taipei the World Design Capital 2016?

The tiny but tough capital of Taiwan has earned its status as high-tech hub of the Chinese-speaking world – but now coffee shops, train stations and even street corners are showcasing its cultural status as a design haven

The bid was contained in five scrolls. Each page glued in succession by one edge to its backing so that they overlapped and fluttered as dragon scales. And the cover consisted of 16 characters made famous by the Taiwanese calligrapher Tong Yang-Tze.

The words of the inscription, “ru qie ru cuo, ru zhuo ru mo, ru jin ru xi, ru gui ru bi” (“like cutting and filing, like chiseling and polishing”; “like gold or tin, like a jade scepter or a jade ring”), are quoted from a poem in the ancient Chinese anthology The Book of Songs.

Alluding to the spirit of continually pondering and reflecting, and constantly striving to improve – the quote is the hallmark of a World Design Capital.  

Book binding design capital bid Taipei
Each page is glued in succession by one edge to its backing to flutter as dragon scales

Awarded biennially to cities and this year under the theme 'Adaptive City – Design in Motion', it is Taipei that has most recently claimed the title for its city’s distinctive culture and fields of industrial, graphic, architectural and interior design.

The WDC Taipei 2016 logo, a structured intersection of a latitude line and a longitude line that not only symbolises a combination of rationality and emotion, but locates the coordinates of Taipei among international cities, begs the question: exactly what has elevated Taipei onto this global stage, and how may other countries emulate their success?

Taipei 2016 world design capital
As part of Taipei’s WDC 2016 Program, dozens of design activities have been launched involving over 680 designers and over 200,000 citizens

As part of Taipei’s WDC 2016 Program, dozens of design activities have been launched involving over 680 designers and over 200,000 citizens. The city has long participated in the internationally recognised World Industrial Design Day and has held numerous workshops and activities throughout the years to encourage citizens to take part. It will also be among five cities participating in Dubai’s Destination at Downtown Design week, in October, which lets visitors sample new brands and products from all over the world. Taipei’s offering in Dubai Design Week promises ultra-minimalist designs and neo-contemporary tea sets, according to the organisers.

Workshops such as ‘idea TAIPEI’ and the bottom-up ‘Stir Design Plan’ have been supporting budding Taiwanese designers, and inspiring creativity amongst the country’s youth in order to sustain the city’s continual urban evolution for years to come.

Taipei Liberty Square Gateway and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Taipei Liberty Square Gateway and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial HallImage: Sean pavone

The 26 “Public Policy by Design” top down projects initiated have also given Taiwanese designers the opportunity to be involved in official policy making to find innovative ways to use the limited resources available and incorporate design to improve the quality of life in Taipei. The Taipei Public Library in Beitou Park has evidenced how design can be used to foster sustainable social and environmental development as it is a widely used public facility that uses green technology in its architecture.

Similarly, the Addiction Aquatic Development is a redesigned fish market that has also doubled up as a Japanese restaurant that uses locally sourced fish from the market, optimising economic and social development simultaneously.

Taipei's famous rainbow bridge at songshan district, in the night
Taipei's famous rainbow bridge at songshan district, in the night

Overall, the theme of Taipei’s design development encompasses the tradition and culture of Taiwan, while acknowledging the modern global influences driving its progression. The focus aims to incorporate design into the four core areas of Taipei’s development: Life Quality and Health; Ecological Sustainability; Urban Regeneration; and Smart Living.

From a calm city, to a fast-paced and ever growing global hub for design, the transformation Taipei has undergone so far has been immeasurable. It is clear that the legacy of the WDC will be one that is prominent and long lasting.