National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts

Taiwan, China

高雄艺术中心 ©2018 Ethan Lee
National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts ©2018 Ethan Lee

The National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts symbolizes the transformation of Kaohsiung, once a major international harbour, into a modern, diverse city with a rich cultural climate. The design is located on a former military terrain, as an integral part of the adjacent subtropical park to have a positive social impact on the residents of Kaohsiung, whose population counts almost 3 million.

Aerial view ©2018 Shawn Liu Studio
Aerial view ©2018 Shawn Liu Studio
Aerial view ©2019 Andrés Gallardo Albajar
Aerial view ©2019 Andrés Gallardo Albajar

The open, protective shape of the local banyan tree becomes a springboard for the design. Their iconic, wide crowns provide shelter against sun and rain and are a perfect expression of Kaohsiung’s humid atmosphere. The building’s expansive sheltered crown becomes the Banyan Plaza, a generous, sheltered, partially enclosed public space. Designed with the subtropical climate in mind, the open structure allows the cooling wind to blow freely through Banyan Plaza.

Square view ©2017 Andrés Gallardo Albajar
Square view ©2017 Andrés Gallardo Albajar

Between the four formal performance halls, which form the ‘trunks’ that support the undulating roof, a topography rising from ground level to plus five metres becomes part of the park’s landscape. Residents can wander through here day and night, practise Tai Chi or stage street performances along walkways and in informal spaces. An open-air theatre nestles on the roof where the structure curves to the ground, with the surrounding park forming the stage. The seamless flow between interior and exterior creates opportunities for crossovers between formal and informal performances.

Open-air theater ©2018 Ethan Lee
Open-air theater ©2018 Ethan Lee

The vast, undulating structure is composed of a skin and roof and connects an extensive range of functions. The curved steel structure was built in cooperation between a local and a Dutch shipbuilder. The Centre’s iconic canopy — a billowing plane of architectural fabric akin to a tectonic plate — forms the conceptual foundation of the project. This undulating roof is a marvel of structural engineering, with one side scooped out to form a beautifully landscaped amphitheatre for a plethora of outdoor performances.

Open-air theater ©2018 Iwan Baan
Open-air theater ©2018 Iwan Baan

7 hectares of landscape, balanced between hard and soft landscaping accommodate event spaces and logistical access while creating a gradient of green towards the neighbouring Weiwuying park.

Gray Space ©2019 Andrés Gallardo Albajar
Gray Space ©2019 Andrés Gallardo Albajar
Landscape Design ©2018 Ethan Lee
Landscape Design ©2018 Ethan Lee
Perspective along the river ©2018 NAARO
Perspective along the river ©2018 NAARO

Inside, curving walls expand and contract like the branches of a banyan tree, creating organic spaces for playing, making, viewing art and taking in performances. The scale of the project is virtually unprecedented, yet the character of each space remains welcoming and accessible to its inhabitants.

Interior view ©2018 Sytze Boonstra
Interior view ©2018 Sytze Boonstra
Interior view ©2018 Iwan Baan
Interior view ©2018 Iwan Baan
Organic Space ©2018 Mecanoo architecten
Organic Space ©2018 Mecanoo architecten

Different theatres such as the 1981-seat Concert Hall and 2236-seat Opera House are located in the five cores or ‘legs’ of the building where the structure meets the ground. The cores connect with one another via foyers in the roof and an underground service floor which houses the backstage area of each theatre.

Underground space ©2018 NAARO
Underground space ©2018 NAARO

The Concert Hall is shaped like a stepped vineyard with a stage at its centre, with terraces at different floor heights encircle the podium. With seating on all sides of the stage, the audience is in close proximity to the performance itself.

The Concert Hall ©2018 Shawn Liu Studio
The Concert Hall ©2018 Shawn Liu Studio

The Opera House is arranged in the form of a horseshoe with three circled balconies. This theatre is suitable for Western opera, with an orchestra of over seventy musicians. The seating is upholstered in a mixture of red and purple fabrics with a pattern of Taiwanese flowers, contrasting with the darker walls.

The Opera House ©2018 Mecanoo architecten
The Opera House ©2018 Mecanoo architecten

The 434-seat Recital Hall has the most intimate atmosphere of the four. With its asymmetrical composition and seating across two levels, it is designed for chamber music and recital performances. The seats in the Recital Hall have the same golden fabric as the Concert Hall and oak lines the walls. The upper part of this hall is enclosed by a circle of sound-absorbing curtains, allowing for the reverberation time within the space to be tuned to specific types of performance.

The Recital Hall ©2018 Sytze Boonstra
The Recital Hall ©2018 Sytze Boonstra

The Playhouse, with 1210-seats, is designed to host a variety of drama and dance performances. Flexibility is the core element in the design of this multifunctional space. In the Playhouse, the layout is adaptable and can be changed from a typical proscenium stage with the audience in front, to a thrust stage with the audience on three sides.

The Playhouse ©2018 Mecanoo architecten
The Playhouse ©2018 Mecanoo architecten

Project Information

AddressTaiwan, China
ClientMinistry of Culture
ArchitecMecanoo architecten, Delft, the Netherlands
Local partnerArchasia Design Group, Taiwan, China
Partner in chargeFrancine Houben
Project directorFriso van der Steen
Design TeamAart Fransen, Bohui Li, Ching-Mou Hou, Danny Lai, Frederico Francisco, Jaytee van Veen, Joost Verlaan, Leon van der Velden, Magdalena Stanescu, Nicolo Riva, Rajiv Sewtahal, Reem Saouma, Sander Boer, Sijtze Boonstra, Wan-Jen Lin, Yuli Huang, William Yu, Yun-Ying Chiu.
Site supervisionArchasia Design Group, Taiwan, China

Editing and translation: @Ibo, ©️FULLDES authorized publishing, copyright from the Author, Image copyright from the photographer or Company

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