Words by: Jenna Lynn Cody
Photos by: Not Just Library, Samil Kuo, Yenyi Lin
Sometimes, amid the noise of the city, people have an urge to find a touch of respite, some greenery or calm. What’s more, creative experiences that go beyond the latest busy shopping mall and cacophony of people, traffic and light and allow one to recharge on a deeper level are all the more valuable to survive city life. Reading a book in a quiet garden, arranging plants in a beautiful container or contemplating a paper-based art project are all restorative experiences that can take one out of the daily grind and bring a little peace to one’s life.
While the lanes and back alleys of Taipei can be quiet, contemplative places, you’re still never too far away from a busy street in this compact city. Places where one can truly escape, be creative, read a book or just enjoy the quiet — urban oases — are rarer. However, after searching Taipei for such spots of calm which also offer extraordinary experiences for creativity and reflection, TAIPEI found three that stand out: Succulent & Gift (有肉), Fenko Catalysis Chamber (鳳嬌催化室) and Not Just Library (不只是圖書館). Let’s explore them together.
SUCCULENT & GIFT
Tucked away in a quiet lane off Daan Road (大安路), Succulent & Gift is more than a shop selling succulents and pots. The greenery outside spills into an airy botanical-industrial space filled with succulents arranged in an array of Taiwan-made designer containers, including ceramics, cement, glass and wood. From cacti taller than most people and spiky succulents in fat ceramic pineapple containers to air plants in wood-cut holders, anything is possible.
Relaxing yet hip music plays in this urban garden as you browse or participate in one of Succulent & Gift’s many individual, group, family and team-building courses, from arranging or caring for succulents to making your own cement or glass pot, as well as family activities that include succulent-themed watercolor, clay art and cookie decorating. Some courses are available in English on request, or in Mandarin with English support.
When we visited, a group of friends chatted merrily while smoothing down the surfaces of their handmade cement planters, each having chosen a unique color palette. Their stress, like the rough nubs on their creations, seemed to be melting away.
Customers can choose their preferred succulents and pots themselves as well as create their own arrangements down to the gravel type and color, or leave the plant choice and arrangement to the knowledgeable staff. In addition to landscaping services, houseplant consultations and nationwide delivery, Succulent & Gift also provides plant care services; if one of your purchased plants looks sickly, they’ll help you nurse it back to health.
Fortunately, succulents are easy to care for, requiring sun but little water, and most are non-toxic to pets.
Succulent & Gift strives to be not only Taiwan- focused, but neighborhood-focused as well, with several local cooperative efforts. This allows each business to offer promotions and discounts at neighboring retailers.
Add: 19, Ln. 76, Siwei Rd., Daan Dist.
Hours: 11:00am - 6:30pm
FENKO CATALYSIS CHAMBER
From the outside, Fenko Catalysis Chamber looks like a high-end paper store. Inside, however, it’s much more than that. Located a few doors down from Suho Memorial Paper Museum (樹火紙博物館), created in memory of Chang Chun Cotton Paper Mill (長春棉紙廠) owner Chen Suho (陳樹火), it’s not surprising that Fenko Catalysis Chamber is set up in memory of Chen’s wife, Lai Fenko (賴鳳嬌). Complementing the Suho museum experience, Fenko offers a range of paper products suitable for any number of creative pursuits. Most commonly, those looking for materials for a creative endeavor make an appointment, and plan their paper art project with the staff, who can provide advice on design, materials and volume. Talks and workshops are also held.
In chemistry, catalysis is the acceleration of a reaction due to a catalyst. This “catalysis chamber,” then, is a place where one’s ideas and creative sparks may catalyze into plans and projects. Or, as Fenko puts it, it is a “catalytic room for behavior, material and people. Time, space, fiber, everything in nature, your talents, experience, expertise, concepts and actions can all be transformed into inspiration, creation, trends and insights.”The vagueness here is intentional, as Fenko is “not in a hurry to define itself.”
For casual browsers, a large sheet of cloud-like tissue hangs artfully above spools of paper that seem to float in mid-air. Gentle lighting and a moss wall (designed as Fenko Moss) with the relaxing pattern of falling water soften the industrial design, and the burgeoning mosses on the wall also bring an atmosphere of calm. A wall of papers can be perused at your leisure: each offers bilingual descriptions of paper type, features, uses, manufacturing process and the thought process behind its design under each magnetically-attached sample.
Walking deeper into the Fenko, you will reach a greenhouse-like room with sunshine coming in through the glass ceiling. The space is called the “Moss Chamber,” and this is where all the paper experiments involving water take place. Exploratory workshops and collaborative creations for paper, fiber and dying are often hosted in this room.
A variety of Taiwan-made papers created in Fenko are based on the experiments in the Moss Chamber, including The National (台灣紅), a bright pink with gold fibers, inspired by the cheerful hues of Hakka- style flower fabric and dubbed the "color of Taiwan.” Floral Red (花布紙—紅) imitates that same fabric, made by layering ten different colored sheets. Rice Husk paper (稻禾紙), where the husks form small nubbins between the white paper fibers, reminds one of Taiwan’s agricultural roots.
In Fenko, you will also learn that in addition to trees, papers can be made with different materials such as pineapple, banana and bamboo fiber. These plants have stronger fibers for paper-making, enabling more creative applications and even making paper water resistant. Fenko also produces paper yarn and has designed a water-resistant overcoat made with it. Here papers can be turned into outdoor installations, cosmetic products and 3D and fiber art projects.
This may seem like a lot, but what you get out of Fenko is what you bring to it. Surrounded by every paper possibility, at a “lab table” with staff who can provide advice, the catalysis you experience is the one you create.
Add: 74, Sec. 2, Changan E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist.
Hours: 1:00pm - 6:00pm (Closed on Saturdays & Sundays)
NOT JUST LIBRARY
Picture an oasis within an oasis. Imagine yourself emerging from the streets connecting the modern Xinyi financial district with the nearby Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (松山文創園區), which once housed the Songshan Tobacco Factory (松山菸廠).
As you walk through the renovated factory buildings of the park, getting a bit lost among the outdoor spaces converted to tropical gardens, design museums, shops and cafes, you’re already in one of the more peaceful parts of Taipei — on weekdays, at least. At the eastern end of the park, when passing palms and fountains, stone paths and wood-framed industrial warehouse windows, you’ll come to the old bathhouse, where female workers at the tobacco factory once removed the smell of their day’s labor.
However, like the factory this site once housed, the bathhouse has been converted to a space where one can “bathe in books” (metaphorically, of course). As with entering a bathhouse, leave your shoes at the door at Not Just Library and don a pair of woven slippers. For an NT$80 entrance fee, you can peruse books on art, design, industry and architecture from their collection, with plenty of English options available. Not Just Library is Taiwan’s first — if not only — design-themed library, with this theme tying into other popular parts of Songshan Cultural and Creative Park: the Taiwan Design Museum (台灣設計館) and Golden Pin Design Awards (金點設計獎) shop, where design goods honored with the prestigious award are sold.
The space is divided into a series of rooms, including a sunken, bath-like reading room inspired by the site’s original function and a tiled room, with original 1930s bathhouse tiles. The old semicircle bath pool stands in the middle of the reading room, serving as seats for readers.
On one wall, old library cards contain recommendations from prominent visitors. Although you can’t take out the books, Not Just Library hosts lectures and exhibitions in addition to being a reading and meeting space. Some areas are clearly intended for quiet reading and contemplation, whereas others are designed to allow conversation to flow more easily. The large factory windows provide ample natural light and maintain the history of the site. One, however, has been converted into a door.
This is an oasis within an oasis within an oasis — open that door, switch your woven slippers for plastic ones, and descend into a small garden that was once “an abandoned place, full of trash.” Now, artfully placed tables and chairs line a gravel path across an interior garden bursting with tropical greenery. On pleasant days, visitors can bring books from the collection outside to read, or simply come out to enjoy fresh air in a quiet garden. Parents sometimes bring children here as an enclosed outdoor space to play while they read, work or chat quietly.
Add: 133, Guangfu S. Rd., Xinyi Dist.
Hours: 10:00am - 6:00pm (Closed on Mondays)
Imagine leaving an apartment filled with traffic noise, walking down congested streets and passing coffee shops full of customers, not a single table available. Perhaps you want to bring a little peace to your living space by adding an arrangement of succulents or paper art to your wall, designed and created by you. You can also walk through the long, cool halls of the old tobacco factory, slip off your shoes and sink into a world of beautifully-illustrated books. Here in Taipei, you can find places to fulfill your desire for calm right in the city center.