When I first entered the Jade Eco Park two years ago, the scene was interestingly familiar to me, for I was a weather forecaster before I became an architect. I thought that I walked into a garden with weather devices or onto a field with an Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS).
The Jade Eco Park has been designed by Philippe Rahm architectes with Mosbach paysagistes and Ricky Liu & Associates on a defunct airport in Taichung, a major city in central Taiwan with a population of 2.7 million. Jade Eco Park is the centerpiece of the progressive urban reprogramming plan. It connects universities, a museum (designed by SANAA), a research campus (by SOM etc.), as well as large residential and commercial development projects.
At first glance, it is a lush urban park with a lot of unfamiliar apparatuses: white climatic devices between trees and grass fields. Within only a few minutes, unexpected things start to happen: a sough appears, the breeze subtly accelerates, clouds of mist float around, the color of the light changes, and the temperature declines. Unlike a relatively mute and passive meteorological observation field, the park interacts with its visitors. One wonders whether architecture has become a part of action instead of being the backdrop for it.
The Jade Eco Park is the first of its kind at this scale. The experience it offers is unique. In the hot and humid summer of Taichung, which does not exactly offer ideal conditions for outdoor activities, the sensitive park shows how one can influence the environment in unexpected ways by precisely measuring the surroundings and turning it into a series of climatically conditioned rooms with invisible walls.
There are not only artificial but also natural «climatic devices»: trees of selected species with the density required according to Computational fluid dynamics simulation (CFD). As soon as visitors approach a device – without necessarily penetrating a visible boundary – they feel that in its surrounding something is different: some places are dryer, some zones are cooler, and in some areas the air is fresher.
The boundaries can only be rendered visible by overlapping different layers of CFD maps measuring temperature, humidity, and air purity. Sensors installed throughout the park allow real time CFD map construction. As a result, the climatic devices can be operated accurately to enhance the existing conditions or to create new ones.
That may sound abstract and scientific, but in fact, the park is easy to understand. First of all, visitors can just walk around it and enjoy the greenery and scenery as in any good urban park – with the major difference that at some places they will feel more comfortable than they usually do. Without scientific knowledge in mind, they may also choose a specific «climatic room», a cool, warm, dry or humid one, etc., depending on their desires. If they want to understand what is going on in a given zone, the explanatory smartphone app the park offers is very helpful.
In order to show how the artificial climatic devices work, I have picked three examples. The first one, named Cold Light, functions as sunglasses for the park. Scientifically speaking, it is a light filter that absorbs different wavelengths of light. Only violet light, the wavelength within the visible spectrum that produces the lowest heat, is able to penetrate. Since visitors feel cooler within this device’s range of influence, it is no surprise that in summertime they always welcome large-scale sunglasses!
The second one, named Stratus Cloud, aims to produce atmospheric effects and lower the temperature in the park by emitting mist. The cloud is brought to treetop height, from where it cools the park together with the trees around. It reminds of J. M. W. Turner’s paintings and has similar visual characteristics as Fujiko Nakaya’s installations. As a cooling sculpture, it also leaves very interesting marks on CFD maps.
The third one is called Anticyclone. Its aim is to chill the air by underground heat exchange. Cool air is attracted through underground channels and reaches visitors at ground level by means of jet nozzles installed under the pavilion ceiling.
In his famous paper, «Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology», Manfredo Tafuri (1935–1994) quotes Marc-Antoine Laugier’s (1713–1769) writings to introduce the concept of «chance (or unexpected) elements». Tafuri juxtaposed with this concept Alexander Cozen’s (1717–1786) theory of «blots». He considers that Laugier’s urban intervention and Cozen’s painting/landscape theory – whether by coincidence or not – «share a method based on selection as a tool for critical intervention in a ‹natural› reality». The «chance element» could be interpreted as a design catalyst for urban intervention. It is a strategy which brings about unexpected observations through deploying minor elements such as squares, intersections, and installations in a city or on a large-scale field.
Philippe Rahm’s Jade Eco Park exemplifies the reinvention of «chance elements» in the twenty-first century. Both artificial and natural climatic devices coexist with the environment and function as a set of distributed, networked senses able to produce responses. Similar to urban squares and intersections, where spatial voids and traffic flows provoke surprising and amusing activities, climatic devices catalyze whimsical experiences and perceptual comforts through conditioning energy.