Going back in time to 2018, the National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts, opened in Taiwan. The completion of the project, which was designed by Mecanoo, symbolized the transformation of Kaohsiung, once a major international harbor, into a modern, diverse city with a range of cultural offerings. Inspired by the open, protective shape of the banyan tree, the building has a sheltered outdoor plaza at ground level that channels winds to cool occupants with the subtropical climate in mind. Now, Mecanoo has shared new images of the project, which is currently open to the public with pandemic protocols in place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.