by STIRworldJun 07, 2022
Over a decade in the making, Taiwan’s capital now has a new cultural landmark in the form of the recently completed Taipei Performing Arts Center. The project was designed by a global team from OMA led by Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten. As a stellar addition to the urban landscape of Taipei, the structure is located near Shilin Night Market, a prominent commercial area in proximity to the city’s urban core. Following test performances in the coming months, the building’s public inauguration is scheduled for August 7, 2022, signalling the end of a long road to fruition. In the years to come, its tectonic, gravity-defying form is expected to become an iconic centre for contemporary culture in Taipei, fostering the development of the arts within the region.
Throughout the ages, theatre in its many forms has been a point of convergence for individuals from all walks of life. From enactments of time-worn yarns to more modern reinterpretations of the art form’s essential tenets. The stage has endured as a platform for artists to reach out to audiences from diverse communities, and offer enlightening perspectives on the nature of the world they inhabit. Unfortunately, this ability to resonate universally across audiences has somewhat diminished, to a degree, and the art form is now more closely associated with refinement and high culture, with its role in local communities having diverged from what it once was. Along this theme, back in 2008, when OMA participated in the architectural competition for the Taipei Performing Arts Center, they first delved into an inquiry of the topology of theatre space and their inherent inclusivity. The challenge was then about incorporating these ideas into a contemporary architectural intervention within a major commercial area.
Studying current takes on the theatre typology within the realm of cultural architecture will often bring forth a multitude of examples that use abstraction to convey ties to identity, culture, and the arts, with the aid of iconography or parametrically-designed envelopes meant to intrigue and awe - much like theatre itself. This is an archetype that has become increasingly common, as seen in examples such as the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre, the Domaine de Bayssan Theatre, or Heatherwick Studio’s upcoming Hainan Performance Art Centre. In this regard, while the visual identity of a theatre as a local landmark has seen noteworthy evolution, the architects believed that its functional flexibility has fallen prey to standardisation, with emphasis primarily placed on its purpose as a formal venue for cultural productions.
Deciding to eschew a more traditional program consisting of two differently-sized auditoria coupled with a black box, OMA approached the task at hand by posing the question of whether a “public theatre could still be inclusive, accommodating the classic and the serendipitous, the highbrow and the masses, the artistic and the social - a place for the creative life of all?” This dilemma was pivotal in the development of the firm’s design scheme, which posited a compact yet versatile new building that would incorporate three performance venues: a spherical 800-seat Globe Playhouse, a 1,500-seat Grand Theater, and an 800-seat Blue Box, all docked into a central volume hosting public spaces and supplementary functions.
Koolhaas elaborates on this in an official release, noting: “Theatre has a very long tradition. We have seen contemporary performance theatres increasingly becoming standardised, with conservative internal operating principles. We want to contribute to the history of the theatre. Here in Taipei, we were able to combine three auditoria in a particular way and are interested to see how this architecture will have an impact in terms of extending what we can do in theatre design.” The product of this line of thinking is what the design team defines as “architecture in limbo: specific yet flexible, undisrupted yet public, iconic without being conceived as such.”
Externally, the structure asserts itself as an assemblage of interlocked volumes whose contrasting geometries imbue the façade design with tension and theatricality. As mentioned by the architects, “The auditoria with opaque façades appear as mysterious elements docking against the animated and illuminated central cube clad in corrugated glass.” Each of the cube’s four vertical faces presents a unique visual character, in accordance with the forms of the theatres, dressed in perforated aluminium, protruding from them. The cube itself has been lifted slightly above the ground to tie internal spaces on the ground floor to a landscaped plaza fronting the development. This measure serves to integrate a ‘Public Loop’ of circulation, running throughout the structure and overlooking theatre spaces while linking activity on the street to the complex’s interior. Additionally, the backstage areas and technical spaces are all housed within the cube itself.
David Gianotten, Managing Partner at OMA relays in a press statement: “The configuration of three theatres plugged into a central cube has resulted in new internal workings of the performing spaces to inspire unimagined productions. The Public Loop exposes visitors with and without tickets to these new works and their creative processes. We are excited by how the building constantly generates new relationships between artists, spectators, and the public.” Among the three performance spaces that extend from the central volume, the spherical Globe Playhouse exerts what is perhaps the most dramatic impression when viewed from outside. Suspended from one of the cube’s edifices atop angled supports, the architects have described the structure’s design - composed of an inner and outer shell - as “a planet docking against the cube.” The intersection of the sphere’s inner shell with the cube generates a proscenium configuration that invites experimentation in stage framing. Circulation space providing access to the theatre has been accommodated between the two layers.
One of the design’s most innovative facets lies in the unique relationship between the asymmetrical volume of the Grand Theater - which diverges from the traditional ‘shoebox’ arrangement - and the Blue Box, located directly opposite to it on the same floor. While the former is geared towards hosting productions in different genres of the performing arts with its 1500-seater capacity, the latter has been set up to cater to more experimental showcases. However, the two when combined (by virtue of being on the same level), form a massive factory-like space dubbed the ‘Super Theater’ that can set the scene for productions which may not have been possible in other such enclosed environments. As shared by the architects, “New possibilities of theatre configurations and stage settings inspire productions in unimagined and spontaneous forms.”
Kris Yao, Founder of KRIS YAO | ARTECH, the Taiwanese collaborating architect on the project, reflects on his practice’s involvement in an official release: “This new building not only presents itself to the world as a brand new and unique configuration of theatre complexes, it also sits perfectly in its location – right at the centre where the plebeian life of Taipei happens. Its informal, unpretentious, and raw architectural spaces echo the spirits of how citizens of Taipei approach art.”
For most practitioners, there can be few greater rewards than seeing the crystallisation of their long-term efforts taking form as glittering new additions to the urban contexts they inhabit. On this note, OMA’s highly-publicised and lengthy journey in bringing this ambitious project to life has yielded a true marvel of cultural architecture - both in its appearance and function - that will hopefully live up to the lofty aims of its creators and embed itself into Taiwanese culture in the years to come.
Name: Taipei Performing Arts Center
Location: Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
Client: Authority-in-Charge - Taipei City Government; Executive Departments - Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Rapid Transit Systems (First District Project Office), Public Works Department (New Construction Office)
Area: 58,658 sqm
Design Architect: OMA
Partners-in-Charge: Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten
Executive Architect: KRIS YAO | ARTECH (Architect: Kris Yao; Project Principals: Willy Yu, Grace Lin)
Theatre Consultant: dUCKS Scéno, Creative Solution Integration Ltd.
Acoustic Consultant: Royal HaskoningDHV and Theo Raijmakers (Level Acoustics & Vibration), SM&W
Landscape Design: Inside Outside
Interior Design: Inside Outside
Structure, MEP, Building Physics, Fire Engineer: Arup
Structural Engineer: Evergreen Consulting Engineering Inc.
Services Engineer: Heng Kai Inc., IS Leng and Associates Engineers
Fire Engineer: Taiwan Fire Safety Consulting Ltd.
Lighting Consultant: Chroma 33
Façade Engineer: ABT, CDC Inc.
Sustainability Consultant: Segreene Design and Consulting
Landscape Consultant: CNHW
Geotechnical Engineer: Sino Geotech
Traffic Consultant: Everest Engineering Consultants Inc.
Model: RJ Models, Vincent de Rijk
Main Construction Contractor: International Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd (former general contractor), Sun-Sea Construction Co. Ltd. (façade continuous construction), Ancang Construction Co. Ltd. (interior & landscape continuous construction), Jung Yan Interior Design & Decoration Co., Ltd., Tech-Top Engineering Co., Ltd. (MEP, fire engineer), Shiu Guan Machine Electric Engineering Co. Ltd. (air-conditioning), Jardine Schindler Lifts Limited (elevator facilities)
Theatre Equipment Contractor: L&K Engineering Co. Ltd., IX Technology Ltd., JR Clancy, Inc.