During my travels on the MS Westerdam in November, I (Merge) stopped for one day in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the country’s second-largest city. I was a little under the weather that day, so I planned to stay close to port. Fortunately for me, I did not have to go very far to experience two of Taiwan’s defining distinctions – architecture and art.
No really, I didn’t have to go very far at all! The Kaohsiung Port Cruise Terminal is a significant architectural landmark, and it was just outside my cabin window! The terminal is distinguished by its contemporary design that mirrors the maritime environment. The building’s exterior, characterized by flowing lines and an undulating form, evokes the imagery of waves, seamlessly integrating the structure with its coastal setting. This design not only serves an aesthetic purpose but also symbolizes Kaohsiung’s deep connection with the sea and its history as a port city. Inside the terminal, it was just as beautiful. The use of glass and steel creates a sense of openness and transparency, inviting natural light into the interior spaces. This choice of materials not only enhances the terminal’s visual appeal but also aligns with modern architectural trends emphasizing sustainability and energy efficiency. The extensive use of glass gave me panoramic views of the harbour as I wandered through.
I discovered that the Kaohsiung Port Cruise Terminal is not merely a transit point; it serves as a cultural ambassador for the city. The terminal often hosts art exhibits and cultural displays, representing Kaohsiung’s rich heritage and contemporary artistic scene. In fact, while I was there, there was a calligraphy demonstration and workshop under way, put on specially for the Westerdam visitors. I was there during a lull, so two friendly volunteers sat me down and asked me questions about Canada. And I learned more about Chinese calligraphy. Chinese writing is a logosyllabic system which is a type of script or way of writing where each symbol or character represents either a word (logogram) or a syllable. In simple terms, it is like having a system of writing where some of the characters stand for whole words, and others represent the sounds of syllables. This is different from English which uses alphabets, where each letter represents a single sound, and you combine them to make words. The volunteers then called over the elderly calligraphy master who created a calligraphy artwork for me in Mandarin Chinese. He then helped me create my own version. What was interesting was that a single symbol he scripted meant “rich” and the same syllable doubled that I scripted translated to “prosperity”.
Another iconic building that I was able to see clearly from the ship’s upper deck is the 85 Sky Tower, also known as the Tuntex Sky Tower. Standing at a height of 378 meters, it is not only the tallest building in the city but also an embodiment of Kaohsiung’s rapid urban development and modern architectural aspirations. Its unique shape, resembling the Chinese character for “tall” (高), integrates cultural elements into a modern skyscraper design. The building is composed of two separate towers that merge into a single structure at the 35th floor. This design feature is not only visually striking but also serves a functional purpose, as it provides structural stability and supports the building’s complex systems. The tower houses a mix of office spaces, residential units, and a luxury hotel. There is an observatory deck is located on the 74th to 76th floors that is open to visitors.
Another building, clearly visible from the ship’s upper deck, is the spectacular National Kaohsiung Music Center, dedicated to promoting the performing arts. The primary feature of its design is the use of sweeping, wave-like forms, which not only reflect Kaohsiung’s maritime heritage but also create a visually striking facade. This design choice is more than just an artistic statement; it also serves practical purposes, enhancing sound quality within performance spaces and providing natural ventilation. The outside is a combination of glass and metal, which allows the building to change appearance under different lighting conditions, and meant to symbolize the dynamic nature of music and performance art. The main building has four indoor performance halls – an Opera House with 2,236 seats, a Concert Hall with 1,981 seats, a Playhouse with 1,209 seats, and a Recital Hall with 434 seats. On the south side, there is an outdoor theater that connects to the central lawn of the Metropolitan Park, capable of accommodating 30,000 people for outdoor performances. The Concert Hall is equipped with a pipe organ featuring 9,085 pipes, making it the largest pipe organ in Asia.
I hope to return to Kaohsiung again, and when I do, visits to the 85 Sky Tower and the Kaohsiung Music Center will be on my must-do list!