On a recent trip to Taiwan, I was excited to go visit Fugee, a small fishing village on the island’s north coast, as in 2003, I was part of a jury that selected the Spanish architect Vicente Guallart as the winner in a competition to create a new port and commercial center there.

Guallart’s proposal was by far the most imaginative entry in the competition. It envisioned an encampment of conical tents whose steep peaks would create a natural microclimate, beneath which fish stalls and restaurants could shelter right next to a reconfigured harbor where the boats would dock. New landscape and pathways would ease the transition from the cliff behind the port, and connect bits and piece of infrastructure—including a dam, a lock, and storage tanks—both visually and physically to the rest of the community.

After many delays and political imbroglios, the project started at the end of 2006 under the supervision of local architect J.M. Lim, and the first phase, which comprises the main collection of tent-like structures, was finished over a year ago.

When we approached the project a few weeks ago, we found it surrounded by fences. And after we found a way in, guards chased us away. They even stopped us from taking photographs. The green banding of the paint around the cones was fading, metal downspouts and connections were rusting, and some of the concrete seemed to be chipping. The whole place looked like an instant ruin. When I queried Lim about this, he answered:  “Fugee fishing port project ... [was] completed almost a year ago. However, it took Taipei County quite a while to find an operator to run the daily business. In Taiwan, we call this an OT Project (Operate and Transfer) which is built by the government. In fact, the bid .. [was] award[ed] to an operator this May, and I was told that this place will start to run later this year.”

This response immediately raised a red flag for me, as I was primarily in Taiwan as a member of a jury of another competition, for Keelung Harbor, that will also have a large “OT” component. My first thought was a fear that I would be visiting a much larger ruin than Fugee in a few years in Keelung

Beyond these operational problems, though, I have to say that the built Guallart project is also a pale reflection of the original conception. This is, to a certain extent, unavoidable, and points out both the strength and weakness of architectural competitions: They elicit the most visionary responses, showing everybody involved what the possibilities might be. But translating something that has gone that far out into the realm of the imaginary into reality is always difficult. Usually, I would mention the Sydney Opera Hall, here, but I am instead reminded of the Contemporary Art Center in my own Cincinnati—for which I was also on the jury that chose Zaha Hadid. It is a fine building, but nothing like the translucent spiral of floating planes that awed us into selecting the scheme.

In Taiwan itself, Guallart’s own design for a small esplanade next to the harbor lacks many of its essential components.  What is even worse, the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum, for which we picked Antoine Predock as the architect in 2005, will now be designed by a local architect with a not-very-promising scheme [link].

In the case of Fugee, what were supposed to be light tents are now rather heavy structures, though Guallart and Lim did manage to preserve the open feeling of the underside, which you can still imagine filling up with stalls, lights, and lots of both fish and people. Without some of the essential landscaping elements, however, they feel not only not as soaring as they should be, but also rather disconnected from both sea and land.

I do hope the Fugee Fishing Village opens, and I do hope that its landscape will be implemented. I also hope that the competition on which I am currently working, and all the others out there, figure out some way to make sure that vision becomes a reality. An immodest proposal: the work of a jury should not be done when they have chosen the winner, but should continue all the way through construction, to help ensure that outcome.