OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Center elevates theater above the busy night market

A glass cube of epic proportions with strange projections has crash-landed on the southern edge of Shilin Night Market, one of Taipei’s busiest commercial and tourist hubs. A sphere floats in space, visibly attached to the fluted glass facade and supported by nothing more than a slender pair of columns that end in the plaza several stories below. The fact that the powerful-looking volume is also supported by an inner concrete frame is neatly concealed by layers of lush veneers even on closer inspection.

Fourteen years in the making, the OMA design Taipei Performing Arts Center announces its purpose to its busy surroundings. From the nearby plaza, the cube’s wavy glass invites views through the hall’s color-coded spaces: pink for rehearsal rooms, green for offices, and brown for lounge areas. Seen from the lobby, the supporting glass distorts the view of the square. At night, when the box is fully lit, the various functions of this “theater machine” can be read immediately, so that “the audience [can] take the visual responsibility for it,” said Chiaju Lin, an OMA staffer who led the project.

The largest volume (a cube) is encased in corrugated glass, while the intersecting volumes are fitted with aluminum alloy panels. (Chris Stowers/courtesy of OMA)
Detailed view of structured glass
Structured corrugated glass was also featured at OMA’s Casa da Musica (2005) in Porto, Portugal. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy of OMA)

Though seemingly light and ephemeral, the facade is resilient enough to withstand anything from typhoons to earthquakes. (Both are common in the region.) Individual panels were made in the workshop of a renowned glass manufacturer in Barcelona cricursa. The volumes that divide it into three parts house theaters and are clad in aluminum alloy 3 millimeters thick, usually reserved for the manufacture of boats. It was shipped from Germany in large rolls to be manufactured close to the site where the glossy top layer material was carefully removed by hand. “We couldn’t find a sander big enough,” Lin said, “so it had to be treated the old-fashioned way.” This treatment gives the panels a subtle wave pattern that comes alive in highlights and shadows.

a blue-tinted theater space
The Blue Box can be combined with the Grand Theater to form the Super Theatre. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy of OMA)
a spherical theater space with a blue grid
At the Globe Playhouse (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy OMA)

While the panels of the angular Grand Theater and Blue Box Theater (together they form the Super Theatre) were installed as large rectangular slabs, the spherical Globe Playhouse required its own novel fabrication techniques. To form the outer panels, the panels were machine cut to human size so they could be welded together on site from a digital model. In a gesture of old-fashioned craftsmanship, the welds were then “erased” by hand, leaving a faint white grid pattern within the larger triangular panels.

“These human touches are conscious elements of the final design,” Lin said. “They demonstrate that this ‘machine for the theater’ itself was not made by machines, but by a dedicated design team.”

down an escalator with red accent lighting
The public loop that runs through the complex gives visitors a glimpse of the back-of-house operations. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy of OMA)
Building detail with corrugated glass
The roof terrace enclosed with corrugated glass. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy of OMA)

Architect: granny (Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten)
Record Architect: Kris Yao | ARTECH
Location: Taipei, Taiwan

structural engineer: Evergreen Consulting Engineering Inc.
Structure, MEP, building physics, fire engineer: Arup
Theater equipment contractors: L&K Engineering Co.Ltd., IX Co.Ltd., JR Clancy
facade construction: Sun-Sea Construction Co.Ltd.
facade engineer: ABT, CDC Inc.
corrugated glass: cricursa
Aluminum manufacturer: Yu Lin Machine Company Ltd.

Cross section through a theater room
A cut through the theater. (Courtesy of OMA)

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