OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Center Elevates Theater Above Bustling Night Market

A glassy cube of epic proportions with strange protrusions has crashed into the southern end of the Shilin Night Market, one of Taipei’s busiest shopping and tourist hubs. A sphere hovers in space, visually attached to the undulating glass curtain wall and aided by nothing but a pair of slender pillars that terminate in the plaza several stories below. The fact that the heavy-looking volume is also supported by an internal concrete frame is, even upon close inspection, carefully concealed by layers of plush veneer.

Fourteen years in the making, the OMA-designed Taipei Performing Arts Center announces its purpose to its bustling surroundings. From the adjoining plaza, the cube’s undulating glass invites gazes through the hall’s color-coded rooms: pink for the rehearsal spaces, green for the offices, and brown for the lounges. Seen from inside the lobby, the load-bearing glass distorts views of the square. At night, when the dressing room is fully lit, the different functions of this “theatre machine” become immediately legible, so that “the public [can] take visual ownership of it,” said Chiaju Lin, an OMA associate who led the project.

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

Although it seems light and ephemeral, the facade is strong enough to withstand everything from typhoons to earthquakes. (Both are common in the region.) The individual panels were made in the Barcelona factory of renowned glassmaker Cricursa. The volumes that trisect it house theaters and are clad in a 3 millimeter thick aluminum alloy normally 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 meticulously removed by hand. “We couldn’t find a grinder big enough,” Lin said, “so we had to deal with it the old-fashioned way.” This treatment gives a subtle wave pattern to the panels that comes alive in highlights and shadows.

a theater space with blue hues
The Blue Box can be combined with the Grand Theater to form the Super Theater. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy OMA)
a theater space in the shape of a globe with a blue grid
Inside the Globe Playhouse (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy OMA)

While the panels of the angular Grand Theater and the Blue Box Theater (together they form the Super Theater) were installed as large rectangular sheets, the spherical Globe Playhouse required its own set of new fabrication techniques. To form the exterior panels, the sheets were cut on a machine on a human scale so that they could be welded together on site, according to a digital model. In a gesture of old-fashioned craftsmanship, the solder joints were then “erased” by hand, leaving behind a faint white grid pattern in the large triangular panels.

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

an escalator with red accent lighting going down
The public loop, which runs through the complex, offers visitors a glimpse of behind-the-scenes operations. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy OMA)
building detail with corrugated glass
The corrugated glass roof terrace. (Shephotoerd Co. Photography/Courtesy OMA)

Architect: OMA (Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten)
Reference architect: Chris Yao | ARTECH
Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Structural engineer: Evergreen Consulting Engineering Inc.
Structure, MEP, building physics, fire engineer: Arup
Theater Equipment Contractor: L&K Engineering Co. Ltd., IX Co. Ltd., JR Clancy
Facade construction: Sun-Sea Construction Co. Ltd.
Facade Engineer: ABT, CDC Inc.
Corrugated glass: Cricurse
Aluminum manufacturer: Yu Lin Machine Company Ltd.

cross section of a theatrical space
A section through the Playhouse. (Courtesy of the OMA)
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