Taiwan rail trains' 'aesthetics renaissance' sparks debate over design process

Design for sightseeing trains at core of broader debate about implementation of design projects in Taiwan

(TRA Facebook photo)

(TRA Facebook photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A railcar beautification project for Taiwan’s islandwide sightseeing trains has earned accolades, but it has also shed light on the notoriously unsightly aesthetics of public projects in the country as well as the much-criticized design tender process.

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) drew fire over the design of its Formosa Express train fleet unveiled earlier this year at a cost of NT$79 million (US$26 million). In response, the TRA decided in April to establish a task force dedicated to overhauling 13 of the total 29 cars in an “aesthetics renaissance” project, reported CNA.

The project has proven a success, as the commissioned design team — award-winning J.C. Architecture (柏成設計) — breathed new life into the seats, window curtains, and lighting. Inspired by the island's picturesque scenery and unique natural characteristics, the team sought to give trains the impression of moving like an “autumn breeze” and blending in with their surroundings.

While Taiwanese architect Roan Ching-yueh (阮慶岳) lauded the new decor, he urged the TRA and government agencies to acknowledge the real problems behind the project in a Facebook post on Thursday (Dec. 19). The fact that such an outstanding team had failed to enter the design process in the first place reflects the flaws in the decision-making process of all public projects, he reckoned.

Roan cautioned against what he called a “one-time performance” and the setting up numerous task forces for aesthetics improvement. A more open, credible selection process that reduces red-tape and unnecessary administrative hurdles is vital to the promotion of the true “aesthetics renaissance,” he argued.

(CNA photos)