When the Japanese established their rule in Taiwan, they set about the task of transforming the face of the city. Architecture had a political and social function. The Japanese constructed edifices that symbolised modernity, power, and efficiency. Their architecture reflected the Japanese desire to emulate the West, its technology, institutions, and way of life. As I mentioned in a previous post, Western-style buildings also had an important psychological function: They showed that Japan was equal to the West. Western-style buildings were to the Japanese what skyscrapers are to us nowadays – symbols of power, technological and social progress, and of status in the global community.
|The Judicial Yuan (司法院), completed in 1934|
Upon their capture of Taipei the Japanese found a city built according to traditional Chinese patterns. There were gates, city walls, yamens (offices of imperial administrators), temples, and so on. While in some areas this kind of buildings remained untouched, in other areas, especially in the government district, the Japanese tore most of them down and created an entirely new colonial capital.
An example of this urban restructuring was the High Court. Nowadays, this is the seat of the Judicial Yuan (司法院). It is located right next to the Office of the President, and opposite Jieshou Park.
Until the 1920s, instead of the High Court you would have seen a completely different type of construction: the Temple of the Chinese God of War, Guangong. Nowadays few people realise that prior to the Japanese colonial era a great part of the government district was full of Qing Dynasty buildings. Where the Office of the President now stands, there was an ancestral hall (宗祠); Taipei First Girls High School was a Temple of Confucius (文廟); National Taiwan Museum was a Tianhou Temple (天后宮); Zhongshan Hall was the seat of the Qing Taiwan Provincial Yamen (布政使司) etc. (see Zhuang Yongming: Old Taipei Streets [莊永明: 台北古街]. Taipei 2012, p. 2).
The Temple of Guangong was demolished by the Japanese in 1929, and the new building was completed in 1934. The structure was designed by Japanese architect Ide Kaoru (1879-1944), who also designed other famous landmarks of Taipei, such as National Taiwan University and Zhongshan Hall. The High Court was built with reinforced concrete bricks, a new technique that had already been used for the Office of the governor-general. The style of the construction is a singular mix of Byzantine, Arabic, and Renaissance elements. Remarkable is the octagonal tower, a feature of Japanese imperial architecture. After its completion, the High Court was, along with the Office of the govenor-general, one of the tallest buildings in Taipei, a sort of skyscraper of that time (note).