Black Village: The New Design Student of the Old Factories

Author: Weiyan Lin

The Maker X Localized Manufacturing project visits experienced and skillful factories in the hope that young makers and old craftsmen can create new things together and to connect all of Taiwan’s manufacturing energy. While inside Lane 193 Zhongzheng North Road, Sanchong District, there is another design studio that agrees with the course, and they chose to work locally, they are the “Black Village.” Besides keeping a record for the history-rich industrial district, it also servers as the liaison for designers, makers and the local factories.

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Visit to the DHH Studio, which also the base of Black Village. (Photographer: Owen Ou)

This visit consists of three parts, and they are as follows:

Part 1 Old factory, new life, the Black Village

Sanchong has rather busy streets, but once you’re inside Lane 193, all you see are factories, and all you hear are the sounds of metal being milled or machines running. There are over a hundred small factories here, doing anything from molding, model production to injection, you name it. A production chain is naturally formed here.

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Lane 193 Zhongzheng North Road is filled with factories. Photographer: Yanwei Lin(林彥維)

The Black Village Project was born for these factories, and its base of operation is located in the same street, called the Dong Hai Hospital Design Studio. Their major promoter is also the person in charge of the studio, designer Gina Hsu, who has always been dedicated to designs with local elements.

Once inside the studio, most people will be attracted by the interesting interior design. The owners’ design works can be seen filling up three or four huge cabinets and a desk illuminated by flask pendant lights. What’s also interesting is that, many hospital devices and signs are placed all over the place. For example, when everybody signed up for attendance, it was on an operating table. These all came from the deserted Dong Hai Hospital, where Gina Hsu was from. From these decorations we can feel the passion Gina Hsu has for preserving old things. As a matter of fact, this studio used to be a gas cylinder factory her grandfather was running.

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The high ceiling studio was refurbished from an old factory, and is filled with designers’ works and collections.

When Gina Hsu was in industrial design, she used to ask her grandfather all about his opinions on production, and learned the skills and experience of this old factory; when her grandfather was about to shut it down, she felt sorry for it and thought about the things she could do. She originally proposed to take over the factory herself but her grandfather told her that she was not meant for this job. At first, she tried to prove him wrong by going deep into the working environment of the craftsmen and had to agree with him that she really wasn’t meant for this job.

After letting go of the idea, she soon realized that she should be doing something she’s good at. She can’t operate the machines and forge models under such a high temperature like those experienced craftsmen, but she can use her profession in design to conserve the appearance of the factory both realistically and artistically, just like what she did with Dong Hai Hospital, connecting it with the people.

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Designer Gina Hsu shares her experience of Black Village(黑色聚落). Photographer: Weiyan Lin(林彥維)

Together with her husband, Gina refurbished the old factory into their new studio, and the base to connect with all other factories of Lane 193, hence the Black Village was born. As time went by, she shortened the distance between these old craftsmen and the outside world. Through some field research she turned Lane 193 into the center of Sanchong’s industrial map, and made these factories the protagonist of a documentary called Portrait of the Factories, which vividly depicts the oral history and images of these factories and it will certainly be valuable in the future.

Besides the documentary, Black Village also takes inspiration from local materials. They welcome designers to visit them and meet with the factories of Lane 193. This allows the designers to exchange ideas among themselves, and also talk to the factory craftsmen in person, so they can understand the feasibility of the designs more clearly, and these factories also get the opportunities of new customers.

Gina is also a teacher at the Department of Industrial Design, Shih Chien University, so the studio also happens to be the “field trip” spot for her students. She brings them to Lane 193 to learn from these experienced craftsmen on how to operate the machines, and uses Black Village as the place for her students to exhibit their works. Many seminars are held here as well, designers are invited to talk about their overseas exhibition and study experiences. There are occasional art and craft workshops too, to attract people to pay Lane 193 a visit.

Since the project initiated two years ago, everything Black Village does connects to and revives these old factories. Young designers get to know the traditional crafts, so that the craftsmanship of the older generation continues to shine in the new generation. This meetup opens another door for the makers and localized manufacturing.

Part 2 Innovation of tradition-WKIDEA

Tradition has to be passed down and carried on, by not only the persistence and new ideas of the craftsmen, but also the younger generation that understands it and is willing to learn new knowledge. If Gina Hsu’s Black Village is a bridge between tradition and creativity, then the other guest invited to this event, Shih-Min Kang, would be the man who walks on it, the man who recreates the value of traditional industry.

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Shih-Min Kang shares his experience in digital woodworking. Photographer: Yanwei Lin(林彥維)

Shih-Min Kang is the owner of WKIDEA in Sanchong, which is where he grew up. His family runs a factory too, but he doesn’t like smell of metal while it’s being processed. When he got his own job, he was an engineer in a Japanese company, and received a gift of woodcraft from a Japanese friend at one time. He liked it, and  thought about making one for himself.

When he proposed the idea to woodworkers or woodworking factories, they all rejected him because it was difficult to make and the demand is not enough. However, he saw it as an opportunity, and was determined to enter the field of digital woodworking.

The main products of WKIDEA are smartphone cases. Every time they release a new model it’s sold out immediately most of the time. They have come a long way, Kang said that the threshold of the woodworking industry lies on the operation of machines, one of them is the chainsaw. It is not only dangerous, but also takes a long time to be good at it, if you’re lucky enough to have a good teacher.

In contrast, the digital CNC woodworking seems safer and faster, but it doesn’t mean that everything can be made with the press of a button. You still need to know 3D graphics and the characteristics of the different types wood, so you can feed the CNC machines the right input.

When Kang was initially outsourcing his production, he tried to learn the graphics software and the operation of CNC machine by himself, and also from experienced woodworkers. He was dealing with different kinds of wood every day, to study their differences in grains and smells, in order to fight problems like corrupted materials he faced during manufacturing. Today, Kang owns his own machines in a small factory, and he plans to find a bigger place in Sanchong for more machines in the future.

Kang has been a long-time observer of Japan’s woodworking industry. They have successfully transformed from planting and semi-auto processing into the retail of small woodcraft products, forming a complete industry value chain. He thinks that Taiwan’s wood industry has a similar historical background and is suitable for this strategy, and small creative woodcraft is a great way to start.

“Do not rush into the huge production of tens of thousands just to imitate China and Vietnam. A smaller production of around 500 pieces that emphasizes quality and creativity is what’s best suited for Taiwan.” Said Kang.

During the discussion, both speakers mentioned that some old craftsmen are rather hesitant towards new technology and new ways of thinking because they are conservative and stubborn, and thus have a hard time changing. While some of the successors to these factories are more open, and they do contemplate about whether to continue with the same old factories and products, or other possibilities.

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Gina Hsu, Shih-Min Kang and other participants having a conversation. (Photographer: Owen Ou)

Part 3 Visiting the local factories

After the discussion, Gina showed the visitors 3 of the factories in Lane 193, one of them is Chuen De Steel Mold Co., Ltd., where traditional molding machines are still operational and CNC is only used when there is enough order; another factory is Ta Tong Molding, they make wooden molds with traditional techniques; and the third factory is Yu Cai, they have a small garden full of different plants on their rooftop, owner Mr, Jiang likes gardening and doesn’t want to go to China, so he transformed his factory from injection molding to self-researched automatic sprinkler and other gardening tools, turning his hobby into a successful career, that has an endless amount of orders.

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Visitors at Chuen De observing its craftsman processing metal. (Photographer: Owen Ou)

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Craftswoman at Ta Tong concentrating on mold making.  (Photographer: Owen Ou)

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Yu Cai’s rooftop is almost a botanical garden. (Photographer: Owen Ou)

Lane 193 seems like a miniature of Taiwan’s localized manufacturing, caught between the new and old generations. As long as we stay persistent in today’s ever changing environment, and keep learning, sharing and innovating, through some struggle and pain, one day we will prevail.

More photos

This article is a repost from MakerPRO, a social media platform for makers

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