When it comes to structural daring, few architects can top the Tokyo-based designer and 2013 Pritzker laureate Toyo Ito. After 11 years and $135 million, his most ambitious work to date has finally opened in Taichung City, a metropolis of 2.75 million people in central Taiwan. Situated majestically at the end of a tree-lined parkway, the 551,000-square-foot National Taichung Theater (NTT) is the city’s new center for opera and theater of all sorts. Though the NTT’s main attractions are its three theaters, these are upstaged by the drama of its architecture everywhere in between. Barely contained by the boxy enclosure of its concrete-and-glass skin, hourglass-shaped volumes define the interior of Ito’s building. These sinuous forms cinch in and balloon out with remarkable plasticity, the inside wall of one doubling as the outer surface of the neighboring space. Together these tubelike elements create a spectacular interior dreamscape of deep caverns and soaring canyons within the building.
In elevation, Ito expresses these tubes in silhouette, which accounts for the structure’s bold appearance. Conceptually, the building shell simply contains the interior, as if the system of tubes would continue were it not for the enclosure. In theory, says Ito, the four facades are not really facades: “They are sectional cuts.” And while the serpentine shapes dominate the otherwise rectilinear exterior, it is indoors where visitors are immediately swept up by the experience of Ito’s architecture, with dynamic, curving surfaces that pull you in, and a mysterious play of light and dark that makes you stop and wonder.