Architecture as a way to experience local history: The British Consulate at Takow, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

  1. The spark from the British Consulate at Takow  

Sitting next to the Shaochuantou port, the British Consulate at Takow in Kaohsiung,  Taiwan witnesses the commercial development of the habour city since it was  completed in 1879. It was recognised as one of the listed historical buildings in 2005, and since then, it became a pride to the local community. Since the Consulate sits just  beside National Sun Yat-sen University, where I am currently undertaking my  undergraduate studies, I pass this historical site almost every day yet never entre the  site. After I visited the site, I noticed that the building has a great historical  significance to understanding the history of Kaohsiung.  

The British Consulate at Takow was the first building designed, executed, and used by  the British Government in the southern Taiwan. The Consulate complex consists of  two main buildings and steep steps connects them. The upper one on the hilltop was  built for the Consular as his Residence, and the other building on the foothill was for  the Consular Office. Over the centuries, the British Consulate at Takow was  repurposed many times during different periods. After the 1920s, it was sold to the  Japanese government and played a vital role in the aquatic industry when Taiwan was  colonised by the Japanese. When I entered the Consular Office for the first time, what  strikes me the most was the wooden structure of the roof, as it reminds me of a Japanese wooden building that I saw in the neighborhood area in Sizihwan. This made  me confused. What happened to the British Consulate during the Japanese colonial  period? Was it still serving as a consulate? What was the relationship between this  consulate and society? 

This paper begins with the brief history of the site and the focus is laid on the  development of the lower building, that is the Consular Office, under Japanese rule. In  so doing, I wish to share with you my journey of exploring the hidden stories behind  the the British Consulate at Takow. 



  1. A consulate with potential for aquatic research 

As Kaohsiung harbour was opened to the foreign in 1863 due to the Treaty of Tientsin  signed by the Ching dynasty, international merchants came along and the commercial  activities began to flourish. Due to the more prosperous trading condition, the British  traders and businessmen required a site to protect its expatriates’ property, deal with 

business matters, and communicate with the Ching dynasty. Therefore the British  Consulate at Takow was built, aiming to address business affairs among traders, locals  and the authority. However, in 1895, Japan defeated the Ching dynasty in the Sino Japanese War and took control of Taiwan. Since then, Taiwan became a Japanese  colony and the British Consulate at Takow started to serve different use during that  period. 

In the early 20th century, the Japanese considered Taiwan a potential site to develop  aquatic industry due to its abundant marine resources. They established several  research stations in port cities such as Danshuei, Penghu, Jilong and Taiwan (now  known as Anping). Moreover, with the potential for the fishing industry and the traffic  convenience at Takow, the British consulate was turned into Kaohsiung Aquatic 

Research Station in 1932 and dedicated to the aquatic industry such as fishing  resources investigation, can processing and aquatic technician training. 

In 1937, Second Sino-Japanese War broke out. During the war, the Japanese  government badly needed leather shoes for soldiers. Nevertheless, there wasn’t  enough leather in Japan. Given the growing demand for leather, researchers in  Kaohsiung Aquatic Research Station tried to find out the way to produce leather by  using shark skin, and that was then aquatic products industry and marine science  research in Kaohsiung started to take off. 


  1. The convergence of the west and the east: Hip roofs and truss systems It is suggested that architecture is a vehicle to “tell us about the history of a place”. 

Due to the importance of Kaohsiung Aquatic Research Station, the Japanese  government made an effort in renovating the building, especially on the roof structure.  Hence, In this part, we are going to concentrate on the roof structure of the consulate,  from the outer shape to its interior design. Hip roofs reflect the climate in Taiwan and  the truss systems show the convergence of western and eastern architecture skills. 

Plus, by following the texture of the wooden design, the British Consulate at Takow  shows the evidence of imperialism when the Japanese took control of Taiwan. 

Since Taiwan falls between sub-tropical and tropical climate zone, it brings heavy  rainfall during summer and autumn, especially when typhoons hit. Therefore, to  disperse heavy rain and strong wind, a pyramid-shaped rooftop is the main feature of  hip roofs, which drains rainwater efficiently and makes the building lighter. Hip roofs  can be found in the British Consulate at Takow, and it is also the standard roof style in  Taiwan. 

Truss, support for a roof, is mainly composed of a horizontal, thick piece of wood,  and a vertical pole. Looking up to the roof truss in the consulate, there are two  different types of truss systems. One is king post truss from the west, and the other is  Japanese roof truss that originated in Japan. 

King posts mainly consist of four elements, horizontal tie beam, vertical king post,  inclined rafters and struts connected to the tie beam and rafters. This system utilises  thrust force created by the interaction between each element to prevent the tie beam  

from dropping down, also, to remain the stability of rafters. Each element takes either  only compression or tension, preventing neither of them from being overloaded.


Desai, Janvi . “King Post Truss: All You Need to Know.” GharPedia, June 27, 2017.  

In essence, king post systems were mechanisms from western society, which were  previously used in Roman, medieval architecture, and some Gothic Revival  architecture. Since building mechanism is one of the most significant evolutions in  western civilisation, during the Period of Meiji Restoration, the time Japan learned  new techniques from western countries, architecture concepts and building  mechanisms were thus introduced into Japan. Consequently, new architectural skills  were brought to Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period. As for the consulate,  after the Japanese government obtained land ownership in 1926, the consulate carried  out renovation, including the adoption of the king post truss system.

Different from king post system, Japanese roof truss lacks struts. Japanese truss  system is comprised mainly of vertical columns and a horizontal beam. The bending  torque is created when the weight of the roof is transferred by short columns to the  beam. After that, the beam sends back this force thus supporting the entire roof. 



A question arises as to: Why did the Japanese choose timber as truss materials? Where  did those timbers come from? 

Due to sub-tropical weather and huge altitude gradient, Taiwan owns high vegetation  diversity which is adapted to warm to cold climates. The forest ecosystems from moss  and lichen to cypress and cedar can all be found in the mountains. Without a doubt,  Woods are general building material in Taiwan. Also, Taiwanese alpine plants, such as 

Taiwan red pine, Taiwan spruce and Taiwan red cypress are used in the British  Consulate at Takow for its truss system. 

When Taiwan was under Japanese Rule, cypress was seen as a premium architecture  material. Hence, the Japanese cut down red cypress in the mountains and imported  cheaper Japanese cedar from Japan. After that, they sent Taiwan red cypress back to  Japan for industry development in order to stabilise its regime. Besides, pine was then  commonly used in Japanese architecture so that the majority of truss was still made of  Taiwan spruce and Taiwan red pine, adding a small amount of Taiwan red cypress and  Japanese cedar. 


  1. The British Consulate at Takow acts as a platform to reconnect with city  development 

The British Consulate at Takow tells the history of Kaohsiung and the local  community of Sizihwan. It is a cross-cultural art piece shaped by the passage of time.  The building itself reflects the climate in Taiwan and it is crisscrossed by both the  Western architectural techniques and the Japanese construction methods. In my point  of view, what we see is not just a physical building. Architecture provides a brand-

new perspective for us to look into the society and becomes a way to record any tiny  change in the city.




高雄州水產試驗場(英國領事館)及前清打狗英國領事館登山古道調查研究暨 修復計畫:高雄市市定古蹟. Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Kaohsiung City Government, 2008.  

渡邊義孝. “《臺灣日式建築紀行》:巡訪島國的和風建築與遺跡.” The News  Lens, January 30, 2019. Desai, Janvi .  

黃馨瑩. “日治初期水產政策的推動:水產博覽會對臺灣水產業的影響(1895- 1910).” 臺灣師範大學歷史學系學位論文, 2012. 1610201315285200. 

Bureau of Cultural Affairs Kaohsiung City Government. “History.” The British  Consulate at Takow, n.d.$1006&IDK=2&EXEC=L &DATA=1549&AP=$1006_HISTORY-0^$1006_PN-1.

“King Post Truss: All You Need to Know.” GharPedia, June 27, 2017. 

Oakley, David Charles. The Story of the British Consulate at Takow, Formosa. Bureau  of Cultural Affairs, Kaohsiung City Government, 2013. 

Wikipedia. “King Post,” n.d.