As the sound of the bus fades, I’m left with silence. The kind of quiet only heat, humidity, and abandoned places can create.
Before me is an entrance fit for the elite: multiple lanes approach arching gates. Behind, a tree-lined avenue heads toward the sea. Except instead of a grand, flowing thoroughfare, there’s urban decomposition. Concrete barriers block access, grass struggles through the pavement and rust drips from metal fixtures, painting fading walls with the colors of decay.
I make my way away from the main road into a neighborhood divorced from time. Overgrown trees and plants attempt to reclaim dilapidated buildings, the grim harmony of nature and entropy. But the buildings are like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s as if I’ve been transported into the future promised by the 1950s.
Oval windows in oval structures evoke comparisons to classic UFOs. Nearby, squat rectangular homes with curved corners hint at a future imagined by the space age. But collapsed roofs, shattered windows, and sagging walls speak the truth of reality.
I’m on the north coast of Taiwan, an hour north of Taipei. This neighborhood of abandoned Futuro and Venturo houses has no official name, but it’s called by some the Wanli UFO Village.
I walk farther into the development, quickly enveloped into this otherworldly place. The sun burns through the clouds and now it’s seriously, oppressively hot. Cicadas scream their song as if they’re annoyed with the heat, too.
It’s not hard to imagine this place new. Such potential, with cutting-edge architecture and the underlying promise of the techno-wondrous future. The curved lines of walls and windows, the modern building materials interspersed with stone and tile. You can almost hear Burt Bacharach wafting from some console stereo. See cigarettes dangling over Arne Jacobsen chairs. Out front, tail-fins and bullet taillights. It conjures thoughts of a more hopeful time. Eyes set on the future, an enthusiasm for jets and rockets, the high speed of the now, the promise of worlds beyond just over the horizon.
That, of course, was never the case. The mad men of Madison Avenue selling a dream that was never real. The reality of then just as harsh as the reality of now. These houses are a relic of that forgery of an ideal, even here, on the far side of the world from where it was born.
Glass crunches under my feet as I peer inside a Venturo. The floor-to-ceiling windows having somehow blown outwards onto the patio. Inside, the ceiling has collapsed, covering remarkably well-preserved furniture in debris.
Each house is a confusing mix of mess and order. Glassware sits lined up in kitchens, while cabinets chaotically disgorge their wares. Some closets stuffed full, others completely empty. Most of the houses seem too dilapidated to enter without steel-toed boots and a fresh tetanus shot.
One Futuro, though, its hatch open, beckons me to enter. Inside is difficult to process. It’s as if the owners left suddenly, expecting to return in a few days or weeks. Slippers wait by the door for the feet of a returning family. Spices, glassware and pans sit patiently in the kitchen. Blankets remain folded in a closet. A lone brush rests under a mirror. There are even sheets on one of the beds.
And yet, they didn’t leave recently. A layer of dust and dirt covers everything. Rust is attempting to reclaim anything metal. The alarming way the floor sags to my weight should be enough of a warning to flee. When did these people leave, and why? Did someone come back later to clean, and gave up? How is it all so intact? If this were the US, every surface would be covered in graffiti, everything not nailed down, and most of what was, would be long gone.
The hope of past ideals
I continue my exploration. There are probably a dozen or so Futuro and Venturo houses in the development. As I near the far edge I hear voices, a startling thing when you’re in a seemingly abandoned place. I round the corner and see a half a dozen men lounging in the shade of a building, relaxing and eating. I see them, they see me see them, and they do nothing. I haven’t been trespassing, but it still feels weird being here. These men care nothing about my presence.
I head back into the development. The Futuros here are in far rougher shape, lacking trees to bear the brunt of nature’s wrath. Windows gone, interiors tossed, these look far more the abandoned structures you’d expect. As I snap more pictures, I spot two Taiwanese 20-somethings, taking photos and marveling at the buildings just as I am. Their English is roughly as good as my Mandarin, so I let Google Translate exchange our pleasantries. Seeing them puts me more at ease, that this is something locals do, too, and I’m not, as I had been feeling, an interloper.
Instead of going back the way came, I walk along the street closest to the beach. Here I am greeted by quite a shock: a brand-new Tesla Model S. Perhaps just as shocking, it sits in front of what looks to be a fully refurbished Venturo. This is by far the best condition of any of the buildings in the area. It’s easy to assume the owner has plenty of money to spend on such a project.
But it’s not the only intact structure. A handful of others here, two or three Venturos, perhaps one of the Futuros, have what look to be cleanish curtains and all their windows. It was hard to say what the status of these houses were. Squatters, perhaps? Maybe people cleaning and refurbishing? None were in as good a shape as Mr. Tesla’s, but they weren’t in the dilapidated state of most of the village either. Just one more mystery for this mysterious place.
The harsh reality of time
The early afternoon heat has taken its toll. Even the cicadas seem to have admitted defeat and quieted down. My water is gone and my sweating is epic. I slowly start heading back out to the main road to catch the bus back to Taipei.
Climbing in and around these fascinating buildings has put me in an odd mood. The person that funded all this clearly had an idea about a possible future. The people building them, they too must have seen the potential in their work.
There is so much conflicting and incomplete information online. Some say they were built in the ’60s. Atlas Obscura, perhaps the biggest website that calls this the Wanli UFO Village, seems to think these were built in the ’70s. Both seem extreme. I think 40-50 years of weather would have had far more of an impact. And the TV and VCR, those don’t look ’70s. My friend Ping lives in Taipei, and doing me a solid favor, did some searches of the web that English-language Google would likely have buried. One seemingly well researched site puts construction in the early ’80s, and that they were abandoned perhaps 10 years later. That seems the most likely timeline. There is also a likely connection with the famous, and now demolished, Sanzhi UFO houses once farther up the coast.
My timing is spot-on and my bus arrives in just a few minutes. It is gloriously well air-conditioned. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the owners of these houses, the families that clearly lived here for a time, or at least vacationed here. I hope they have fond memories. My question now is, what will happen to these structures? There aren’t many Futuros and Venturos left in the world. Will these suffer the same fate as the Sanzhi UFO houses, as one rumor suggested, doomed for destruction because of the valuable land upon which they sit? We can’t know that future. All we can know is the present.
And in that present, these houses are an otherworldly slice out of space and time. A look at what once was, and what could have been. What nature will do to all buildings, if given its way. A reminder that a surrender in the war against entropy will lead to the slow but inevitable destruction of all things man-made. That there is beauty in design, promise, and reality.
If you do go to check out the UFO houses, please be respectful of their state, status and the residents who might be there.
In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.
You can follow his exploits on Twitter, Instagram and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.