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LILA 2023 Project of the Year


The Dark Line is a former railway that, for most of the 20th century, served as the main transport route for coal to nearby ports. After the closure of the mines, the area, due to its scenic qualities, became increasingly popular with visitors. Now the Dark Line is a part of the tourism infrastructure emphasising the area’s industrial heritage.

The Dark Line is a generous, confident and yet careful intervention that materialises through a sequence of uniquely moulded rebars. The choice of the material fits the postindustrial site and handles all topographical anatomies, the site’s historical charge and its purpose seemingly effortlessly. Complementing the lush green vegetation, the dark brown steel carries a dense atmosphere along the former railway and beautifully balances the transitional character of this space with a sequence of ambiences where one can stop, rest and observe.

From a phenomenological perspective, the rebars are, essentially, materialised cross-sections that outline the elements such as fences, benches, and pavement. Elements are described by shaping the rebars as if they exist only through a series of descriptions.

Besides the well-crafted material, the jury appreciates how masterfully the designers embraced and responded to simple spatial facts that often go ignored in landscape architecture, those concerning the shifting conditions of light, surrounding vegetation, morphology and cultural memory.

The jury finds the Dark Line project as a sublime intervention that respects the local ecology and greatly enriches the site’s functional, historical and aesthetical dimensions with incredible charisma and grace.

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THE SITE

In this tropical mountain region of Taiwan, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Japanese colonial administration undertook a colossal railway project to transport to the large ports of Keelung and Taipei, the abundant coal produced in the surrounding mines.

When they closed, tourism became the main economic asset of the region.
The New Taipei Municipality initiates a program to network abandoned industrial sites and old trails.

THE COMPETITION

In 2018, a competition was launched to create the section between MUDAN and SANDIAOLING,
which includes two historic railway tunnels and a connection to be invented to replace an old bridge washed away by floodings.

Our response takes a clear option: Preserve the post-industrial landscape in all its historical AND ecological depth.

The fact that a structure that required such considerable investment should be abandoned to the vegetation and bats, its mouth filled with silt and rocks, expresses the power of the changes in History.
The passage of time has produced ecological, atmospheric, acoustic, chromatic and luminous variations along this route, which are the core of our proposal.

Despite this attitude of withdrawal in favor of the encountered atmospheres, strong interventions were necessary to open this route to the public.

The challenge was to conceal the project’s efforts to let the ancient structure and the landscape speak for themselves.

ONE SINGLE MATERIAL

The iron, repeated endlessly, makes us forget its presence.
The project evokes the 2 great phenomena that have impacted the site over the last 100 years:

– the rebars built a new railway
– the gaps between the bars show the powerful action of the tropical nature

By lifting and bending almost imperceptibly, the rebars gradually give shape to all elements of furniture or signage. They form railings, benches, bicycle racks, small amphitheaters, kilometer markings…

A CONSTRUCTIVE SYSTEM ADAPTED TO THE SPECIFIC PRODUCTION CONDITIONS IN TAIWAN

Midway between industry and crafts, SMEs are capable of both efficient mass production in the workshop and “haute couture” adaptation on site.

In the tunnel

– We enter as if on tiptoe
– 2 metal beams build new rails above the existing ground left untouched. They allow the circulation of a transport and custom-built lifting shuttle and serve as support for the rebars grating panels, manufactured in workshop.

The footbridge

In the gorges, the vertical wall and its luxuriant vegetation is preserved, while suspending a footbridge from it.
– A series of concrete masses, leaning punctually on the cliff, between the trees.
– the metal brackets are craned from the road above
– the decking frames, all identical, manufactured in workshop, according to a rigorous geometry, are laid in one direction and then in the other, to create the curves.

A SUCCESSION OF CONTRACTED ATMOSPHERES

At the start of the route, the decking is raised to leave the old ground unbroken. Trees and grasses grow through the bars as well as the fauna that inhabits them.
The atmosphere is one with undergrowth, of birdsong, insects chirping, leaves rustling, as the water flows below.

We enter the cavernous darkness of the tunnel.

The light bathes the foot of the vault, guiding the visitor’s steps.
It reveals the variations of the original ground under the slatted floor: rocks, meandering seepage water, colored silt, ballast.

The light source is invisible, sparing the intrados, where the bat colonies hang in semi-darkness.
The black of the walls, lined with smoke residue, sometimes gives way to the wet, glistening, multi-colored surfaces of forming limestone concretions.

At the end of this long underground gallery, we arrive at the at the bottom of a high vertical light well. A gap towards the sky left by the bed of an ancient torrent. The sun’s rays filter through layers of the foliage on the cliffs. They produce, in contact with the vapors exhaling from the tunnel, an unreal atmosphere of a fantastic tale.

After this stop, we enter the second tunnel, which after a wide curve opens onto the gorge.
There, a water mirror lets the opposite bank penetrate under the vault. It tells of the void left by the vanished bridge. Fed by natural flows, this mirror extends above the gorge, in a waterfall.
From the inside, the visitor’s silhouette remains suspended between its own reflection and the plant background.

Deviating to the side, the footbridge attached to the vertical wall of the gorge is facing due west. There, the seasonal variations are very sensitive.
In winter, a foggy sky lets you guess a succession of uncertain reliefs in the distance.
In summer, on the other hand, the violent luminosity marks everything.

While in the straight tunnels, we explore the depth of the ground and its half-light, we now discover the distant reliefs, from a tortuous balcony that fits closely the sinuosities of the cliff. Here, we walk on the luxuriant canopy, between the highest trees that emerge through the decking.

Project Data

Landscape Architecture: mICHELE&mIQUEL and dA VISION DESIGN

Client: Public Works Department, New Taipei City Government

Internal team:
mICHELE&mIQUEL: Michèle Orliac, Miquel Batlle, Jerôme Lanche, Maria Fandiño, Giovanna Bartholeschi, Jean Orliac, Grégoire Orliac Denis Wanders, Adrià Fenoll
dA VISION DESIGN: Chung-Hsun Wu, Jerry Chang, Ming-Hsien Liu, Lilian Chang

External collaborators:
Lighting designer: ARTEC 3 STUDIO
Structural engineer: YU SHENG engineering consultants, elements structural engineering associates
Géotechnical engineer: GEOLITHE engineering
Tunnel structural consultant: SINOTECH engineering consultants INC
Electrical engineer: YUAN DIAN Engineering Consultant

Building Company: DAO TIAN Construction Co., Ltd

Photos crédits : Yu-Jui LU, mICHELE&mIQUEL

Images credits: mICHELE&mIQUEL

Location: Sandiaoling, Ruifang District, New Taipei City, Taiwan

Design year: 2019-2020

Year Completed: 2022

 

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