Architecture as a way to experience local history: The British Consulate at Takow, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. https://gharpedia.com/blog/king-post-truss/.
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.
- 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. https://tm.ncl.edu.tw/article?u=022_005_00004971&lang=chn.
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. https://www.thenewslens.com/article/112954. 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.
Bureau of Cultural Affairs Kaohsiung City Government. “History.” The British Consulate at Takow, n.d.
“King Post Truss: All You Need to Know.” GharPedia, June 27, 2017. https://gharpedia.com/blog/king-post-truss/.
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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_post