Artists turned an abandoned water tower into a starship. The fallen leaves and moss inside, along with the greenery above, give free flight to the imagination. (photo by Kent Chuang)
From Miaoli’s High Speed Rail station, you can reach the Shangrila Paradise theme park—or CMP Village, as it’s now also known—in ten minutes by taxi. Waiting at the park entrance for our appointment, we see old signs advertising the theme park, as well as some photographs for the bygone TV show 100 Battles, 100 Victories. The spirit of the old theme park seems frozen in time on that wall. We follow CMP Village CEO Jonas Ho past an unremarkable fence and along a path before arriving at a broad grassy clearing surrounded by forest. Here there is a giant woven bamboo installation, along with more than a dozen tents arranged in a semicircle. It is as if we have left behind the rundown old park and walked into a modern-day Shangri-La.
Brightness amid banality
In 2012 the CMP Group bought Shangrila Paradise, located on 40 hectares of forested foothills at elevations ranging from 50 to 100 meters. “For Taiwan, it was a rather unremarkable site.” Such was the first impression of Mai Shengwei, the park’s current chairman.
CMP initially hired an internationally renowned architecture firm, which after two years’ work came up with a concept for an international holiday resort. In the unanimous opinion of CMP’s top management, “It was glamorous, but it had little connection to local culture.” After rejecting the resort concept, they recruited a new management team from within the CMP Group and gave authority over new plans for the site to Jonas Ho, executive director of the CMP PUJEN Foundation for Arts and Culture.
To give the park a new identity, Ho sought out the Japanese architect Hiroshi Nakamura. After much discussion, Nakamura came up with three major guiding principles for the site’s future: craftsmanship, ecological sustainability, and a philosophy of life. “It sounded a little grandiose and hard to understand, but to comprehend it we needed to put it into practice!” says Ho somewhat bashfully.
Ripping out Shangrila Paradise’s trademark European-style gardens and replacing them with a lawn, Ho came up with the idea of a glamping venue. “Everywhere has lawns. Who’s going to want to come and camp here?” asked Mai Shengwei at first. Jonas Ho invited landscape artist Wang Wen-chih to design an installation that became “Bamboo Woven Sky.” With Wang leading theme park staff, they brought in more than 5000 lengths of bamboo and spent 40-some days weaving two large bamboo domes and a passageway connecting them. Named Shan Na Village in Chinese after the Hakka term for a mountain village, it was the first part of the CMP Village plan to be completed.
At CMP Village, planning department members are called “village heads,” and visitors are dubbed “villagers.” Upon entering the village, you discover a well-appointed place with distinctively designed tents, and also meet village heads who have prepared a variety of interesting projects. For instance, the “Department Store in the Hills” makes use of the park’s natural environment to create substitutes for regular consumer goods, turning pine needles into tissue paper and celery stalks into drinking straws. As you explore with a map, nature becomes a marvelous marketplace.
A machinery-based theme park loses its novelty over time. “Yet nature and culture only become more interesting as time passes,” notes Ho. “That was our logic in planning CMP Village.”
In the sunshine, the large woven bamboo installation and the array of tents complement each other beautifully. It’s hard to imagine that in five years’ time all this will be a lake. (photo by Kent Chuang)
Mountain children dancing
The second project at CMP Village, “Sweet Dream Village,” involved the installation of distinctive glamping tents along with three treehouses. For treehouse lumber, the choice of Taiwan-grown Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) alludes to Miaoli’s disappearing charcoal industry. The wood itself has undergone different degrees of carbonization, resulting in layered colors and resistance to insects, extending its useful life while also drawing attention to local history.
For Sweet Dream Village, the designers created an immersive travel experience, inviting guests to gather in the evening. Equipped with earphones, visitors enjoy an immersive theater-like experience while exploring every nook and cranny of the park. For dinner, guests get together under the stars to enjoy a meal of local delicacies. Then for breakfast they gather ingredients from within the park before baking a pizza in a wood-fired oven. The project brings out the inner children in visitors. They climb and play in the treehouses and load tung-tree seeds in slingshots, squealing with delight.
CMP Village reinterprets the way people approach nature. Ho believes it’s important to introduce an aesthetics of life while conveying the principles of conservation and environmental protection. But few people are likely to remain enthusiastic if they have to put up with makeshift conditions while being feasted on by mosquitoes. Camping will resonate with most people only when combined with aesthetics, artistic and cultural activities, and opportunities for photos and social media check-ins.
Consequently, CMP Village pays meticulous attention to details. For example, even the shower rooms have been given a forest theme. Here old streetlamp covers have been turned into handbasins, and discarded fans serve as shelves. Mirrors are supported with metal rods that spread irregularly like vines, as if to echo the natural scenes outside. Inside the shower rooms there are neon lights and television screens, which are used for karaoke at night. Guests can select songs and sing along as they shower.
Letting art and culture echo in the forest
The Forest BIG is in the section of CMP Village deepest in the forest. Jonas Ho chose the name to stress humans’ insignificance in comparison to nature, hoping that people who come here will learn to humbly coexist with the natural environment.
Before entering The Forest BIG, village staff take guests to pay their respects to a large statue of the bodhisattva Guanyin. The hope is that the ceremony will tell the forest: “We have come.” It also settles participants’ spirits and slows their pace. When we encounter a spider’s web, Ho makes a humble apology as he gently moves the web aside. “We do our utmost to disturb things as little as possible,” he says. “That is the ethos of The Forest BIG.”
The location of The Forest BIG is a former shrimp fishing pool and cooking area that been left unused for more than 20 years, so it retains more of the natural ecosystem than other areas of the park. CMP Village tore out the cement walls of the pool to make an ecological pond, planting wild ginger flowers around it to attract insects. The Forest BIG hired former Cirque du Soleil dancer Billy Chang to conduct a dance therapy program here. Inspired by the natural setting, his body moves and changes, offering a feast of art and nature.
Bringing artists together with nature to spark inspiration has been The Forest BIG’s direction since its inception. Experts from realms such as floral art and architecture have demonstrated their creativity here. This year CMP Village is preparing to launch The Forest BIG 2.0, which will match ecological experts with arts luminaries. The stimulating exchanges should produce still more experimentation.
Measured against the forest, people are tiny. Try learning a philosophy of life from nature! (photo by Kent Chuang)
A 100-year forest plan
CMP Village’s tripartite plan is just a warm-up for the park’s future—ideas are in the works to launch a new form of tourism, combining nature, aesthetics, and local culture. Jonas Ho is still drawing up the blueprint. He points to the lawn of Shan Na Village and notes that five years from now it will be a lake. The park will have its own wastewater treatment system, filtering water through various ecological layers before returning it to the lake.
Ho explains that he has a forest creation plan with a timescale of a century, to turn 6500 square meters of parking lot into woodland. He cites the example of the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo: A century ago it was farmland, but today it has become a precious urban forest. Furthermore, planning the forest won’t just be a matter of letting things go for 100 years. Instead, designers have divided the century up into ten-year plans envisioning the relationship between humanity and the land, employing different management methods at different points in time.
When asked about the park development plan, Ho always jokes, “We’re lazy, so we referenced an aerial photo from 30 years ago, before the theme park was built, and then calculated the appropriate development ratio based on Taiwan’s population and forest density.” With sustainable architecture and with artists and other professionals in residence, CMP is creating a new Shangri-La suffused with an ethos of practical sustainability and an aesthetics of life. For entrepreneurs, time is money. But at CMP Village, time is a catalyst for making the park a richer place, where villagers spend their youths building lakes and planting trees, confident that Mother Nature will repay them in full.