Ar­chi­tec­ture Me­canoo ar­chi­tecten

With the lat­est project com­pleted by the Dutch stu­dio, Tai­wan’s cre­ative in­dus­try re­ceives new stim­u­lus for growth

Domus - - CONTENTS - Text by Rita Capez­zuto

Na­tional Kaoh­si­ung Cen­ter for the Arts, Kaoh­si­ung, Tai­wan

As Bruno Zevi wrote: “Or­ganic is a char­ac­ter­is­tic based on a so­cial idea [...] it refers to an ar­chi­tec­ture that aims to be hu­man rather than hu­man­is­tic”

The sin­u­ous and el­e­gantly or­ganic forms of the new build­ing de­signed by Me­canoo ar­chi­tecten in Kaoh­si­ung, Tai­wan, are set in a large in­ner-city park. They are sur­pris­ing if com­pared to the vo­cab­u­lary of other re­cent projects. Par­tic­u­larly strik­ing is the con­trast with the ge­o­met­ri­cal rigid­ity that can be seen in the stu­dio’s cur­rent ren­o­va­tion of the Martin Luther King Jr. Me­mo­rial Li­brary in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the last work by the mas­ter of ra­tio­nal­ism Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe (1972). To achieve such un­de­ni­able qual­ity of ar­chi­tec­tural ex­pres­sion in works seem­ingly so dis­tant from each other, the Dutch out­fit re­lies on a solid sys­tem of fun­da­men­tals. These bedrock prin­ci­ples, how­ever, are un­dog­matic as they are in­ter­sected by vari­ables in the de­sign process that re­ject any ex­clu­sive ap­peal to in­tel­lec­tual, con­cep­tual or vis­ual ref­er­ences. The prac­tice is con­cerned with peo­ple, the phys­i­cal and so­cial con­text, his­tory, cul­ture and the land­forms of the site, show­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity to the en­vi­ron­ment and or­ches­trat­ing spe­cial­ist con­tri­bu­tions. Me­canoo’s in­tu­ition al­lows them to suc­cess­fully com­bine a mul­ti­tude of in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments into a com­po­si­tional syn­the­sis. All this clearly goes be­yond style, and in this way their lan­guage of forms is com­bined with great flex­i­bil­ity of ex­pres­sion. In 2007, the Me­canoo team ar­rived in south-west Tai­wan as win­ners of the com­pe­ti­tion held by the na­tional gov­ern­ment for the de­sign of a cen­tre for the per­form­ing arts with in­ter­na­tional am­bi­tions. In Kaoh­si­ung, with its 2.7 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, an ex­ten­sive re­gen­er­a­tion plan was then trans­form­ing the coun­try’s third-largest me­trop­o­lis from a ma­jor in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial cen­tre — with a strate­gic port for Asian ship­ping — into an eco­nomic hub fo­cused on high tech­nol­ogy, cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and tourism. Hav­ing scaled back heavy in­dus­try, re­lo­cated the com­mer­cial port, started build­ing work on a light rail net­work, re­ha­bil­i­tated its wa­ter­ways and cut traf­fic and pol­lu­tion, the city has grad­u­ally ac­quired a new look. Even the for­mer ship­yards in the old port have given way to a dis­trict for con­tem­po­rary art and leisure, with a makeover of the his­toric ware­houses. The work of the Delft-based ar­chi­tects was welded to this phase of pos­i­tive change. The site at their dis­posal com­prised a de­com­mis­sioned mil­i­tary base lo­cated in the 65-hectare trop­i­cal park of Wei­wuy­ing. Re­opened to the pub­lic sev­eral years ago, the park has since be­come very pop­u­lar. Dur­ing their site in­spec­tions for the com­pe­ti­tion, the Me­canoo team no­ticed that the city’s lively so­cial life takes place mainly on the street, where peo­ple meet, eat, en­joy them­selves and watch small per­for­mances. The ar­chi­tects con­sid­ered the hot and hu­mid trop­i­cal cli­mate, which calls for shade from the sun and shel­ter from tor­ren­tial rain. They also re­alised the im­por­tance of ar­ti­fi­cial light, as dusk sets in at around 6pm but out­door ac­tiv­i­ties

con­tinue late into the night. In ad­di­tion, they ob­served the so­cial role of the re­gion’s char­ac­ter­is­tic banyan trees, with their huge, spread­ing canopies and trunks com­posed of ae­rial roots. Peo­ple can of­ten be seen con­gre­gat­ing be­neath them to re­lax in their free time. Tak­ing all this into ac­count, Me­canoo’s ar­chi­tects felt the need to add a miss­ing piece to the com­pe­ti­tion brief by en­dow­ing the new build­ing with a shel­tered open pub­lic space at ground level. Called Banyan Plaza, it has an un­du­lat­ing struc­ture and can be used day and night for a wide range of in­di­vid­ual and group ac­tiv­i­ties. In­spired by the wel­com­ing char­ac­ter of the tree, the plaza is an un­ex­pected in­ven­tion that also favours the fluid land­scape tran­si­tion from in­for­mal to for­mal, from the sur­round­ing nat­u­ral park to the more canon­i­cal spa­ces of the four au­di­to­ri­ums in­side. The plaza is the broad­est part of a prom­e­nade that, like a con­tin­u­ous rib­bon, un­furls freely across the large flex­i­ble rec­tan­gu­lar deck (225 x 160 me­tres). This is where the per­form­ing arts au­di­to­ri­ums are ar­ranged: the Opera House, Play­house, Con­cert Hall and Recital Hall. Open­ing out into dra­matic light wells that fol­low the in­ter­nal func­tions of the build­ing, the path of­fers ever-chang­ing sight­lines and frees the whole com­plex from a hi­er­ar­chy of views. With no main front or rear, there is only a dy­namic ex­pe­ri­ence of vol­umes. Even the cen­tre’s shee­ta­lu­minium roof is not static, but de­scends lightly to shel­ter the whole — swelling or open­ing into sky­lights that serve in­ter­nal re­quire­ments, or slop­ing to ground level to cre­ate an out­door am­phithe­atre set in the park. Ex­posed to high hu­mid­ity and in­ten­sive pub­lic use, the plaza re­quired durable sur­faces that could not be guar­an­teed by ei­ther plas­ter or ce­ramic. The ar­chi­tects there­fore turned to the lo­cal ship­yards with their long tech­ni­cal

Pre­vi­ous spread: roof­ing de­tail seen from above. The sky­lights pierce the roof in an ap­par­ently open or­der and are jux­ta­posed with the ar­range­ment of ex­te­rior flowerbeds Op­po­site page, bot­tom: con­cep­tual com­pe­ti­tion di­a­gram show­ing the ar­range­ment of halls and the free ac­cess from every side of the build­ing This page, top and above: study sketch and over­all view

Above: the new build­ing’s close re­la­tion­ship with the sur­round­ing in­ner-city park. The forms of the struc­ture ‘grow’ freely within the plan’s reg­u­lar rec­tan­gu­lar perime­ter. The curves of the roof ex­tend to­wards the ground and even touch it (op­po­site page) to cre­ate an out­door seat­ing area for open-air per­for­mances

All project ma­te­ri­als © Me­canoo ar­chi­tecten

Above and right: the am­ple spa­ces of the Banyan Plaza and the cov­ered pub­lic walk­ways that me­an­der within the build­ing are de­signed to ac­com­mo­date a wide range of col­lec­tive or in­di­vid­ual uses — in­clud­ing cul­tural, leisure, sport­ing or recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties. Il­lu­mi­nated at night by spe­cially de­signed large cir­cu­lar hang­ing lamps, these sites have be­come “the fu­tur­is­tic lounge of Kaoh­si­ung”, ac­cord­ing to Me­canoo’s found­ing part­ner and cre­ative di­rec­tor Francine Houben

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