Taipei: Designing the Future of Urban Living

Future Cities is a collaboration between Skift and MasterCard exploring how major destinations are using smart design to meet the needs of rapid urbanization.


Taipei is emerging as one of Asia’s leading innovators in urban planning and design, green architecture, public transportation and smart technology leveraging the Internet of Things. Home to the annual Smart City Summit & Expo, the Taiwanese capital is aggressively developing new smart city infrastructure to maintain its high livability standards and clean air index in the face of massive population growth.

According to MasterCard’s 2015 Global Destination Cities Index, Taipei ranks as the fastest growing metropolis among the top 20 cities worldwide in terms of of international overnight visitors, with Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore being the top feeder cities. Rising prosperity in China is for the first time enabling middle-class consumers to make overseas leisure trips – and one of the first destinations they are exploring is neighboring Taiwan. So Taipei is working overtime to lessen the anticipated environmental impact by focusing on advanced sustainability and mobility.

1. World Design Capital 2016

Taipei will be the official World Design Capital (WDC) in 2016 with the theme: “Adaptive City – Design in Motion.” Awarded by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, the prestigious bi-annual designation was given to Taipei for its holistic emphasis on human-centric “design thinking,” which prioritizes the overall urban user experience and environmental impact as much as outward aesthetics.

According to the academic report, “From Adaptive Design to Adaptive City – Design in Motion for Taipei City,” prepared by universities in Taiwan, Singapore and Britain: “The WDC seeks to promote global understanding of design as an economic development tool. [It shows] Taipei City to be a city of sustainable development with respect to life quality and health, ecological sustainability, smart living and urban regeneration.”

In preparation for World Design Capital 2016, Taipei’s government defined 16 core projects to embark on a “collective urban transformation movement” to make Taipei a smart city of the future.

These include a new City Museum Cluster formed around six existing venues within the Taipei Expo Park, which will be redesigned along the lines of a large urban park. Green space is a big priority to the Taiwanese. According to the Asian Green City Index, Taipei has one of the highest ratios of green space per capita out of the 22 cities evaluated.

Other WDC infrastructure projects include employing industrial designers to build smarter public transportation and wayfinding signage, new bioethanol recycling centers to convert residential waste into energy, and new co-working educational spaces designed for different age groups to develop new clusters of knowledge networks.

Taipei is also producing a series of special events aligned with those held in the past four WDC cities. According to the WDC website: “Throughout 2016 a succession of activities large and small will be happening all over Taipei, like little sparks of experimentation, not only in formal venues but also in places such as coffee shops, MRT stations or any street corner, turning Taipei into a garden of design for the delight of visitors and residents alike.”

Skift Take: The World Design Capital designation provides Taipei with a new platform to attract an entirely new audience who haven’t traditionally viewed Taiwan as an international hub of global design leadership.

2. The Shift Toward Sustainable Architecture

In 2001, the Taipei government had continuously updated its “Intelligent Green Building Promotion Program,” which is designed to enhance building energy efficiency, mitigate Urban Heat Island effect, and develop the green energy industry in Taipei.

Referring to the program, an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation report reads: “The enforcement of the mandated green building standards in the Building Technical Regulations has effectively extended the green building design for all newly-constructed buildings in Chinese Taipei.”

The crown jewel of that program is the 1,671-foot Taipei 101 skyscraper shaped like a stack of eight Chinese takeout boxes placed on top of each other. Once the world’s tallest building (until 2010 when it was superseded by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it’s still ranked as the highest green building on the globe. Taipei 101’s LEED Platinum certification is unusual for a building of this scale and complexity, which is why it’s used worldwide as a template for green systems and smart technology in “supertall” buildings. To maintain that leadership position, Taipei is undergoing a “v4 Platinum” re-certification while implementing the latest green technology.

“Taipei 101 will be taking on the challenge of pursuing LEED v4 Platinum recertification to solidify its leadership position as one of the tallest buildings in the world,” says Christina Song, chairman of Taipei 101. “Although the building’s height can be easily surpassed, surpassing our sustainability efforts and world class management will be difficult.”


Likewise, Taipei’s EcoARK Pavilion is the world’s first event venue made primarily out of plastic garbage. The nine-story structure weighs 50 percent less than a conventional building, but it is strong enough to withstand typhoons and fire. And presently in development, the ultra-green Wood Shed is an adaptive reuse building that blends into its natural green surroundings at the periphery of Taipei’s city limits.

Furthering the government’s commitment to developing green public buildings, the Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch has become a popular tourist attraction based on its sophisticated and attractive sustainable design. Resembling a giant wooden ark, the spectacular structure is constructed out of wood and tall glass walls to envelop library users in a forest of greenery.

Skift Take: Taipei 101 was designed to position the city on a global stage as a forward-thinking visionary for sustainable living and development amid surging urban growth.


3. This Is What Smart Public Transportation Looks Like

Taipei is developing smart public transportation systems to help alleviate some of the pressure on the city’s roadways. For example, the exceedingly popular YouBike public bike share network is arguably the most successful program of its kind ever developed. In 2014, there were over 6,400 bikes in the system and 22 million bike rentals, double the 11 million rentals in 2013.

To further expand the rising number of cyclists around the country even more, Taiwan’s central and local governments are in the process of developing over 2,200 miles of new cycling paths. By making bicycling so convenient, as well as cheap and trendy, the government has encouraged many people back on two wheels.

“We’re promoting bicycling to reduce energy use and pollution, and to use bikes as a form of exercise, recreation, tourism and transportation,” says Chen Shyan-heng, head of the Environmental Protection Administration’s air quality protection department.

The Taiwanese government is also upgrading the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail system. In 2016, phase one of the new “Circular Line” high-speed rail route will radiate out from the center of the city to connect 10 existing MRT routes. By integrating the latest telecommunication technology with an intermodal urban mobility system this will help both locals and visitors navigate all of Taipei’s various districts much more quickly and efficiently.

For air travelers, the U.K.-based aviation review firm Skytrax ranked Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TTIA) #18 in its 2014 global airport rankings, up six places from the year before. Taiwan’s government and private sector are investing over $15 billion to convert Taipei into a true global aerotropolis. It is the largest development project ever in Taiwan, encompassing over 26 square miles of what’s being positioned as a next generation gateway into the heart of Asia. The expansion of Terminal Two will accommodate more double-decker Airbus A380s beginning in 2016, and a new Terminal Three is scheduled to open by 2020. A new MRT station will also open by the end of this year.

“The airport is expected to see 34 million travelers this year, with capacity set to grow by a further five million under the current expansion project,” says Minister of Transportation & Communications, Yeh Kuang-shih. “Once the new terminal is inaugurated in 2020, TTIA will be able to service 47 million people per year.”

Skift Take: The only way Taipei will be able to accommodate the massive influx of new visitors and locals without creating a serious environmental impact is by significantly improving its low-carbon logistics and mobility infrastructure.


4. Smart Cities & the Internet of Things

Taiwan has the world’s largest public broadband system and a high internet penetration rate of 80%, so it’s well suited to support the rise of interest in the Internet of Things (IoT)—where man and machines communicate to each other across large networks of individual networks. In addition, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau rolled out the “iTaiwan” free Wi-Fi internet service in December 2013, making it easy for international visitors to get online at over 5,100 participating public hotspots across the island.

Every year, the Smart City Summit & Expo takes place in Taipei where the world’s leading high-tech researchers, developers and academics meet to discuss the future. In 2014, the event organizers at the Taipei Computer Association formed an alliance with IBM Taiwan, the Information Technology Research Institute (ITRI), the Institute for Information Industry (III) and various tech companies to establish the Smart City & IoT Industries Alliance.

“Smart cities are crucial to being the field for applying the IoT,” reads the Alliance mission statement. “The IoT is a vital foundation to the realization of intelligent communities.”

The Alliance website compiles high-tech IoT experiences in Taipei to illustrate new developments in smart transportation, building, education, healthcare and energy conservation. For example, the Tpark Smart Campus is the headquarters for the Institute for Information Industry. The new sustainably developed park ecosystem was designed with “intelligent living” in mind, ranging from advanced communication systems to smart building clusters, and it’s open for the public to tour. Visitors interested in a “Knowledge Tour” simply download the Mobile Intelligent Guide app, which will push audio and video content to the user’s smartphone using NFC, iBeacon and GPS technologies.

This is one more way that Taipei is educating people using smart technology and design to position itself as a leader in sustainable urban living.

Skift Take: As the headquarter location for the Smart City Summit & Expo, Taipei can leverage all of the knowledge sharing to promote its domestic smart technology companies to corporate and government customers around the world.


Future Cities is a collaboration between Skift and MasterCard, exploring how major destinations are preparing for the new age of urban mobility. From connected infrastructure to smart technologies, this series explores how global cities are creating seamless and personalized experiences for visitors and residents.

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