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Taipei Performing Arts Center promises to become world-class architecture
By Nancy T. Lu
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
Page 12
2009-11-08 12:00 AM
Bustling and congested Shihlin with the famous night market and a standout MRT Station of the Tamsui Line to ensure accessibility will look different by the year 2013. The soon-to-rise Taipei Performing Arts Center promises to transform the area.

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, his German partner in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), look like they are going to create an icon and are about to put Taipei on the world architectural map through their winning design entry of the cube with three theaters in the competition organized by the Taipei City Government's Cultural Affairs Bureau. The project which also attracted entries from 135 other candidates from 24 countries is to cost NT$3.8 billion (90 million euro, according to one report).

The 40,000-square-meter (430,560-square-foot) complex to appear in the shape of a cube will have a 1,500-seat theater and two 800-seat smaller ones.

3 theaters can function as one

The architectural design highlights an experimental and unique concept of flexibility in that all three theaters will have the rare or even unprecedented possibility of functioning as one or in a combination.

In the exhibition of the competing entries at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum about five months ago, the OMA design was presented as a departure from the usual theaters with a "face"?and a back side.

The cube was described formally at that time this way: "Grand and Multiform theaters emerge from the south and north face. Cheng De Road is marked by four towers - lifts and back-of-house accommodation appropriate to existing street facade. The spherical Proscenium Playhouse projects forward towards the station and the green mountain, an emblematic image of a suspended planet that will be visible from afar."

The proposed architecture was explained further this way: "By consolidating the stage apparatus of the three theaters in a cube, excavating from it a public path, bars and other festive facilities, and cladding the whole in corrugated glass - we create an illuminated, animated background against which the individual auditoriums read like mysterious, dark elements. The transparency of the core and the activities revealed inside it will make also non-visitors active participants in its aura."

The conclusion was: "Together, cube and extensions offer a dense, open presence that works like an icon without being necessarily conceived like it."

Koolhaas as a Dutch architect of international renown and experience believes that someone in his profession should keep thinking about what architecture can be, regardless of the form. So in this case, such thinking of his should be borne in mind.

Energy of Shihlin

When Koolhaas visited the "intensely occupied"?site for the Taipei project, he at once felt "the energy of the place."?Besides, Shihlin struck him as known to people of all classes and nationalities, residents and tourists alike. "Absolute accessibility" could be said of the Shihlin area, too. The conditions for success of the project were already there even before he and his team came on board, Koolhaas said during his presentation of his landmark design at the Taipei International Convention Center not too long ago.

The piece of land on which the center is to be built is rather small and limited, the team realized at the outset. Compression, therefore, is a principle that has to be put to work with effective result, according to Ole Scheeren. The congestion and vitality of Shihlin, however, combine to excite Scheeren, said to have visited Taipei more than 10 times so far. He, so taken by the local color, confessed to his enjoyment of walks around Taipei, a city refusing to sleep, at three o'clock in the morning or thereabout.

According to Scheeren, the three theaters of the Taipei Performing Arts Center "are turned inside out" in architectural design approach, enabling them to extend with continuity to the public area. The stages of the theaters and their backstage areas can link up. Specifically the stages of the big theater and the multi-functional theater, being on the same floor level, can form together a new stage of 100 meters. The Proscenium Playhouse above the two can mechanically drop to connect with the other two stages. Engineering experts have been consulted on the technical possibility of the innovative architectural design.

Cube on pedestal

The center is likely to find it difficult to compete with the already existing sea of activity but it stands to benefit from it, remarked Koolhaas. The cube is "to be placed on a pedestal in order to preserve the existing local food market on the site."

Koolhaas remarked that the food row for all its chaotic impression has been "a source of critical pleasure." Therefore, instead of removing the old and introducing something completely new, he has favored letting the two co-exist.

Space as seen in a small narrow and crowded street pavement in Shihlin is used with "unthinkable intensity," noted Koolhaas. Even the food choices crowd out a typical night market stall this way also.

The Shihlin site with the heavy flow of traffic and crowd around it may appear at the outset to be too small for such a grand architectural structure. The greatest possible "compression" must be resorted to in this piece of architecture, architecturally speaking, opening up to surrounding areas and giving rise to many possibilities in space use.

Many existing theaters for performances have been built, using standard models. Usually the designs include a grand theater, an experimental theater and a playhouse or something in-between the first two. They share a certain distinction from each other. But they are somewhat similar, too. The stages in the Taipei Performing Arts Center can technically come together and the backstage areas can also.

Of the backstage parts, they are visible to people outside of the glass stage tower and non-participants in the activities inside the center.

Metaphor in food holder

For Koolhaas, the food row is a "spectacle of incredible plurality of choice." But beyond the general chaos he sees something highly organized, too.

"We had looked at the food row and saw in the container in which three separate dishes were being heated the metaphor of our project with three theaters," recalled Koolhaas.

Koolhaas pointed out that each theater in the Taipei Performing Arts Center has a separate technical domain. But just like the three-compartment food container, the technical realms of those theaters can be combined to create a larger whole. \

Koolhaas, who has the reputation of an architectural theorist and urbanist, first came to Asia with his parents in his youth. Born in 1944, he moved to and lived with his parents and siblings in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1952 to 1955. His novelist and screenwriter father was invited to run a cultural program there after the country had attained independence. Koolhaas, whose maternal grandfather was an architect, was a journalist before he studied to be an architect. He founded OMA with several architects in London in 1975. Koolhaas, a Harvard University professor, has published books on architecture over the years.

Scheeren, the son of a German architect, began working in his father'存 office when he was 14. He did his first architectural project when he was 20. In 1997, when China was not yet fully open to tourism, Scheeren traveled for three-four months there. He changed all the money on him into renminbi and then blazed a Chinese trail by train, bus and motorbike. He made a presentation of how the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing was built for an audience of Taipei architects on the same occasion when Koolhaas talked about the Shihlin project.

Koolhaas and Scheeren have worked on projects like the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing and the Prada Epicenter Stores in New York and Los Angeles. OMA's projects have included the Seattle Public Library in Washington, U.S.A., and the Casa do Musica in Porto, Portugal.

The Taipei Performing Arts Center in Shihlin promises to be world-class architecture to be realized with the involvement of well-known local architect Kris Yao.

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