The Taipei Performing Arts Center Has Been Envisioned by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten into a Creative Haven with Unlimited Possibilities

Can a public theatre still be inclusive, accommodating the classic and the serendipitous, the highbrow and the masses, the artistic and the social and become a place for the creative life of all?

This project jointly led by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten is located at Taipei’s vibrant Shilin Night Market - a place for cultural creatives and the public to explore new possibilities in performing arts and experience different aspects of the theatre. The compact and flexible building is composed of a spherical 800-seat Globe Playhouse, a 1,500-seat Grand Theater, and a 800-seat Blue Box plugged into a central cube. The cube accommodates the stages, back stages, and support spaces of the three theatres, allowing the Grand Theater and the Blue Box to be coupled to form a Super Theater - a massive space with factory quality for unsuspected performances. The Globe Playhouse with a unique proscenium allows experimentation with stage framing. The auditoriums of the theatres with opaque facades appear as mysterious elements docking against the animated and illuminated central cube clad in corrugated glass. 

Explains Rem Koolhaas, OMA’s Founding Partner: “When we first visited Taipei for the competition, we felt it was a city with an appetite for experimentation. This building is a response to that discovery. We put three traditional theatres together in a way that offers theatre makers completely new opportunities to conceive spectacles and performances. We are proud to be part of the effort to realise the performing arts centre, which became possible only with the knowledge, creativity, and perseverance of the city, collaborators, and architects.”

An ancient art form for civic participation, theatre has evolved into the modern world as a vocation of the culturally refined, with its significance in daily life diminished. Theatre space is valued for its potency for formal cultural productions, rather than its power to include and divert, and to be instantaneous. Contemporary performance theatres increasingly become standardised: a combination of two different- sized auditoria and a black box, with conservative internal operation principles for authentic work. Marked by its vibrant street culture, Taipei Performing Arts Center is architecture in limbo: specific yet flexible, undisrupted yet public, iconic without being conceived as such. Three theatres plugged into a central cube allow performing spaces to be coupled for new theatrical possibilities. The cube is lifted off the ground for a Public Loop to extend the street life of Taipei into the theatre. New internal possibilities and connections of the theatre generate different relationships between producers, spectators, and the public, also a critical mass that works as a fresh, intelligent icon.

The central cube consolidates the stages, back stages, support spaces of the three theatres, and the public spaces for spectators into a single and efficient whole. The theatres can be modified or merged for unsuspected scenarios and uses. The spherical 800-seat Globe Playhouse, with an inner and an outer shell, resembles a planet docking against the cube. Intersection between the inner shell and the cube forms a unique proscenium for experimentation with stage framing. Between the two layers of shells is the circulation space that brings visitors to the auditorium. The Grand Theater, slightly asymmetrical in shape and defying the standard shoebox design, is a 1500-seat theatre space for different performing arts genres. Opposite to it and on the same level is the 800-seat Blue Box for the most experimental performances. When coupled, the two theatres become the Super Theater - a massive space with factory quality that can accommodate productions that are otherwise only possible in found spaces. New possibilities of theatre configurations and stage settings inspire productions in unimagined and spontaneous forms.

The general public (with or without a ticket) is invited into the theatre through a Public Loop, which runs through the theatre’s infrastructure and spaces of production that are typically hidden. Portal windows along the Public Loop allow visitors to look at the performances inside and technical spaces in between the theatres. Different from typical performance centres that have a front and a back side, Taipei Performing Arts Center has multiple faces defined by the theatres protruding above ground. With opaque facades, these theatres appear as mysterious elements against the animated and illuminated central cube clad in corrugated glass. A landscaped plaza beneath the compact theatre is an additional stage for the public to gather, in this dense and vibrant part of Taipei.

Words: Emily Leung & Nikey Cheng
Photos: Shephotoerd Co. Photography for OMA
Published on November 10, 2022