Travellers and photographers everywhere are constantly searching for that unique experience. That unique shot of that unique place that gets the respect and awes from friends and magazine editors. With the ever-expanding tourism industry, these places are becoming harder to find everyday, especially if you aren’t friends with a local. Traveling to unfamiliar places, it is easy to carted around to the typical tourist sights and being charged handsomely for it. Getting to those untouched gems off the trail takes research and effort. Most of the time, its because of these two requirements these places remain so beautiful in the first place; and make it that much more rewarding for those who actually get there.
Taiwan being an undiscovered gem in East Asia it-self, it is full of these uncharted areas, making it a brilliant destination for those in search of a unique experience. This weekend I rediscovered one of these destinations in which I’ve labeled the ‘Formosa’s Futuro Village’. Below is its colorful story, I hope you enjoy it.
The 1970’s was an interesting time for the entire world. New fashion trends, music styles, and lifestyle perspectives were emerging like never before. People not only had ideals now, but the money to buy them as well. Trends were also emerging in the architecture design industry, attempting to satisfy the thirst of those in search of a unique home to match their new unique views on life. In an era where it was believed robots and machines will eventually cure all of humanities inconveniences, a Finnish architect Matti Suuronen designed a new house he christened the ‘Futuro’.
This new house was designed to eventually be the world wide standard of all houses, to enable worldwide travel and living for everyone. Built out of reinforced fiberglass, this 16-piece ‘pod’ or ‘flying saucer’ like shape house was designed for easy transport and to be sustainable in any environment. The basic idea was, you buy one house when you live on the beach in Hawaii, and when you want a change of pace and move to the Swiss alps to live in a skiing village, you simple fly your house over piece by piece to be reconstructed. All that was needed were four concrete pillars as the base, and the house could be placed on top of them, enabling it to be positioned almost anywhere.
Besides the unique transportable design of the house, the interior was also designed with ultimate convenience in mind. The living room had a series of reclining chairs, on which people could sit comfortably or even pull down n’ out to make into sleepers for guests. These chairs were along the outer wall facing the center of the house where the kitchen and bar area were located. This would have made for a great conversational dinning and living room area all in one compact space. Along the backside of the house, the master bedroom and bath were kept tucked away with privacy and intimacy. An interesting environmental appeal to this house was that using the electric heating system, it could go from -20 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in only 30 minutes. Incredibly sustainable.
Sadly, there were less than 100 of these houses constructed worldwide, which is commonly blamed on the Exxon Mobile Crisis and the dramatic price increase of oil. The domino effect of the increase made the plastics for these homes more expensive to produce and naturally people began to loose interest. Matti Suuronen dream of a futuristic world with traveling flying saucer houses whizzing through the air under helicopters died hand in hand with his design in the 1980’s.
Before the Futuro’s fate ran its course however, one savvy Taiwanese businessman shared Matti Suuronen’s dream and took action with it.
Mr. Su Ming was a Taiwanese businessman with a vibrant past in the military during his earlier years. One of his first ventures was a now popular brand of Sarsaparilla soda sold throughout Taiwan. In its beginning days, it wasn’t very popular with the local’s taste buds and got off to a slow start. However, with the American establishment of military bases in Taiwan as a post for the great East Asia, western tastes for both culture and foods began to develop in the country. Along with this, Mr. Su Mings’ carbonated beverage sales exploded and he established a new factory, becoming a new rich member of high society.
With his new money, Mr. Su Ming was anxious to invest and decided to aim for an up scale market of Taiwanese citizenry shopping for vacation homes. He decided that water sports and beach living were the appeals he needed to create a beach side community for the high class Taiwanese. With this in mind, he picked out a beautiful beach front location along the North Eastern coast of Taiwan, made a property investment, and began to construct a futuristic housing community filled with Futuro design houses as well as Square shaped beach villas. His market was the super rich of Taiwan, as these beach villas were originally priced at around what today is equivalent to $94,000 US Dollars.
Informed by the local property manager, I was told that eventually investors lost interest and the project ran out of money. He explained that many of the investors could afford to go abroad to other exotic locations and private villas, leaving little desire for a simple vacation on home turf beach property.
Moreover, in an interview with a local dance instructor at the neighboring spa and hotel, I was informed that the weather conditions of the area were extreme year round; Summers being unbearably hot, and winters bringing intolerably strong winds and crashing cold waters to the beach. She explained how it was a less than ideal placement for vacation homes and that the neighborhood had been vacant for 20-30+ years.
The current day result is the ruins of a once futuristic beach side villa neighborhood, deserted and unsettling, giving us a small window into what was once a successful business mans dream.
Trying to catch the morning magic hour for the shoot, I headed out around 5:00 A.M. to catch the first bus over to the now abandoned beach resort. This was only possible because Taipei’s transportation system is resilient, making life easy for those who choose to avoid the danger of driving scooters in the hectic traffic. Winding through the mountains and watching while the scenery changed from high rise apartments to jungle covered green hillsides and temples, I couldn’t help but begin to appreciate how easy it was to get out of the mess in Taiwan. In only about an hour, I was already coastline. DSLR and tripod in hand, I got off the coach and spotted the first Futuro.
The morning was overcast, as it usually is on the Taiwan coastlines, which brought a whole new feeling to the scenario. With rolling grey clouds, dispersed sunlight, and the Futuro house on approach, I felt like I was literally about to be abducted. The eerie weather and abandoned structures really worked well together, giving me a hair-raising sense that I should get in, shoot, and get out.
While wandering through the planned community lined streets, the color contrasts and random objects of the ruins presented an amazing window to into the past. All of the Futuro style homes were either a dull orange or faded light yellow color, indicating their age and rough past life. There were rust stains running down the sides of each home resembling bleeding scars caused by years and years of the harsh environment pounding down on them. The wind canopy’s steel poles on each of the square homes front porch had been mangled by the intense winds, as if they were pipe cleaners bent by a child.
Overgrown, most of the homes had clearly been deserted for a long time. Remarkably however, there were still some in which had rusted padlocks on the doors, television sets inside, and appeared to still be inhabited. This gave me the sense I was in some sort of abandoned town horror film and continually checked the shadows to ensure there was nothing creeping behind me to put an axe in my back.
I did venture into a few of the homes that weren’t barricaded with wooden pole and barbed wire locks for a better look. I found Japanese influenced tatami rooms, twin beds with sheets still on them, and even toothbrushes alongside a bottle of head and shoulders shampoo in one bathroom.
Kitchens with stoves, refrigerators, and air-conditioning units still hung on the wall all screamed at the modernity the entire project was aimed at back then. What I did find quite appealing, was that in front of the beachfront square villas, and underneath many of the Futuro designed homes, there were tables and seating along with barbeque pits and gardens. It resembled what I thought of as a camp ground, where families could get together and cook outside to enjoy nature and the company of their loved ones. An interesting contrast of feelings and mood for such a place.
Overall, the energy was a bizarre mix of extreme creepiness countered by that of an feeling that it actually could have been a very pleasant community to live in had it succeeded. The villas interior design along with the quaintness of the community could have been a very nice place for a camping vacation getaway right only a short drive from the capital.
Lessons & Enlightenment
The beach side villas established by Mr. Su Ming provide a unique and interesting view into the past of Taiwan and world trends in general. The place is a not-to-miss opportunity for any traveler or photographer coming to Taiwan searching for a one of a kind sight. Fortunately, it has so far been able to avoid the bulldozer, unlike its unlucky West coast brother Pod Houses in SanZhi, but its impossible to know when their day will finally be numbered.
Just a short time out of Taipei, it also is a nice reminder of how incredible of a travel destination Taiwan is. Being one of the undiscovered gems of the east, Taiwan’s scenery and culture remains rich and unique, yet the modernity of the country makes it all very accessible. The undiscovered Futuro Village of Taiwan is an amazing travel experience and I would highly recommend it as a day trip for those who are interested in a place that is off the beaten path, has a unique and rich story, and is all in a very photogenic package.