Banyan Tree Inspires Shape of Taiwan's Largest Arts Hall

The Dutch firm Mecanoo is designing the largest performing arts facility in Taiwan: the 1-million-square-foot National Performing Arts Center. It will be located inside Wei-Wu-Ying Metropolitan Park, a former military base, in the city of Kaohsiung. Mecanoo won the commission in 2007 after competing against Zaha Hadid of London, Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama Amorphe of Tokyo, Artech Architects of Taiwan, and Weber + Hofer Architects of Switzerland.

Taiwan’s National Performing Arts Center
Taiwan’s National Performing Arts Center
Taiwan’s National Performing Arts Center

Images courtesy Mecanoo

Mecanoo has designed an undulating topographical roof structure for Taiwan’s National Performing Arts Center (top).  The design was inspired by the banyan tree, which features large, above-ground roots (middle). While the main concert hall will be enclosed, other performance spaces and atria will be open to the outdoors (above).

The new arts center will contain five different performance spaces—a concert hall, opera house, and three theaters—all incorporated within a flowing, undulating topographical roof structure. Mecanoo principal Francine Houben says that this all-encompassing roof was inspired by the shape of the banyan tree, which is found on the site and grows only in subtropical climates. Banyan trees grow to be quite large and willowy but are distinguished by above-ground roots that grow as thick as the main trunk.

In Mecanoo’s building, while most of the performance halls are enclosed much of the remaining space is open. An open-air theater, for instance, will be located where the roof dips and meets the ground, providing a gently sloping surface that visitors can use to access a landscaped green roof. “We are most happy about that space because that’s where the client is thinking of making the performing arts stage,” Houben says. “We kind of make it a people’s palace, so it’s not a closed box where you have to pay to enter.”

The exterior of the building will be fitted with a mixed system of lights that could include LEDs as well as projectors. Houben says that construction is expected to be complete by 2012. Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second most populated city and recently has been commissioning a series of notable projects including a stadium by Toyo Ito.