Taipei Performing Arts Center


Chris Stowers

One of the most hotly anticipated architectural projects in recent years, OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Centre entered the final stages of its construction in the summer of 2019.

Af Jason Dibbs & Damian Zhu

With the scaffolding coming off and the interior fit-out underway, we take this opportunity to reflect on the ideas and ambitions behind this iconic project during its decade-long gestation from conception to realization.

The megapolis of Taipei sits on the far north of the island of Taiwan, flanked by the Seven Star Mountain and Yangmingshan National Park, connected to the East China Sea by the Tamsui River. OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Centre is situated in the upmarket residential district of Shilin, strategically close to  Jiantan Station on the Taipei Metro Tamsui Line and adjacent the bustling, multilane Chengde Road.

In 2009, OMA was announced as the winner of the international design competition facilitated by Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs for the design of a new cultural hub in Taiwan’s capital. The programmatic requirements of the brief stipulated a 1,500-seat theater and two 800-seat theaters, with the ambition of creating an iconic international stage for the arts in the region. Despite general details of the design being finalized by late 2009, construction of the Taipei Performing Arts Centre only commenced on 28 February 2012, and after myriad setbacks, it is now scheduled for completion in 2020.

At the many public events during the Taipei Performing Arts Centre’s protracted construction phase, Taipei’s now ex-mayor Hau Lung-bin emphasized the center’s potential to establish Taipei as a capital of Asian culture and creativity. Similar sentiments have been echoed about projects of comparable prestige and cost throughout Asia in the past decade, reflecting increased investments into creativity, culture, and innovation in the region as it shifts away from its former role as the ‘world’s factory.’ As a product of this climate and the cultural economy, it has stimulated, Taipei Performing Arts Centre’s remit extends well beyond theatre, as it is more significantly tasked with elevating Taipei’s cultural and architectural profile on the global stage.

“Why have the most exciting theatrical events of the past 100 years taken place outside the spaces formally designed for them? Can architecture transcend its own dirty secret, the inevitability of imposing limits on what is possible?” These are some of the questions posited by OMA in the formulation of its design response to the specific requirements and ambitions of the Taipei Performing Arts Centre’s brief. Drawing on the modularity and interlocking characteristics of traditional Chinese woodblock puzzles, OMA’s design juxtaposes pure forms to create a dynamic structure, whilst flexible and adaptable theater configurations in the building’s interior seek to redefine not only the theater typology but the very possibilities of performance itself.

In its design for the Taipei Performing Arts Centre, OMA has recognized that performance is a synthesis of performer, stage, and audience and thus can never be static. This is perhaps best exemplified by an internal layout that is readily adaptable in order to redefine the relationship between spectator and spectacle. The Grand Theater and opposing Multiform Theater can be used separately or joined to host a myriad of stage typologies, ranging from an intimate thrust theater to a uniquely monumental stage spanning 100 meters. With this inherent flexibility, OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Centre has been designed to accommodate all performance types — from the traditional to the avant-garde — as well as to spark new ways of creating and presenting performances.

A recurring preoccupation in OMA’s architectural oeuvre is the careful mediation and subversion of the interface between public and private space. In the Taipei Performing Arts Centre, this is realized through “The Public Loop”: a system of publicly accessible circulation routes intersecting and revealing the program in a fashion akin to OMA’s CCTV in Beijing. These routes include terraced breakout spaces that encourage visitors to linger while framing the city and providing glimpses of behind-the-scenes stagecraft.

The combination of the Taipei Performing Art Centre’s scale and magnified geometry makes it a curious yet approachable spectacle nestled among mid-rises and night markets. The center’s external form is composed of one spherical and two cubic volumes protruding from a central cube. The building’s playful assemblage of geometries facilitates immediate readability, on approach from the street and as the public experiences the center from within.

Structurally, the Taipei Performing Art Centre’s various geometric volumes are comprised of steel-frame skeletons and composite concrete-steel floors. The central cube is braced with expressive diagonal steel members in response to Taipei’s considerable seismic activity and other lateral forces. Over the primary structure, the cube is clad with corrugated glass which, when the building is lit up from inside, offers a distorted glimpse of people within and the building’s internal activities. In contrast, the three protruding volumes are clad in large aluminum panels that betray none of the inner drama and movement unfolding in the spaces within.

Over a decade in the making and still under construction, OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Centre has already revitalized the urban fabric of the Shilin District. While the success of the theaters will only be gauged once performances are underway, local and international observers will be waiting with bated breath to see if something akin to the ‘Bilbao effect’ replays with the Taipei Performing Arts Centre. No doubt, 2020 promises to be an exciting year for both OMA and Taipei.