Tree, by Mecanoo

Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo has won the competition for a new theatre in the city of Kaohsing, in Taiwan. At 100.000 square meters its about to be the largest theatre of the country.

Program: a concert hall of 2,300 seats, an opera house with 2,000 seats, a theatre hall with 1000 seats, an experimental Black Box with 500 seats. Cost: 200 million euro. Construction: 2009-2012.

Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

When looking at the design the first rendering is disturbing. The ground is white, the building is white, and the trees are… What is it? It definitely not snow that lies on the ground. And the building – is it a sculpture, a landscape, a building!? Where are the glass facades to represent its public function or at least an entrance?

It has something of a Mythbusters melting-experiment with I-pod’s. The best reference I can come up with is and iceberg halfway melted by global warning. The Hyundai’s and Kia’s are partly to blame!

Yesterweek some guy/girl on Archinect pointed into the direction of (roasted) marshmallows. Nice one!

The iconography of the melted iceberg would be brilliant if that form would either have some connection to the program of the building (a company that is into bottling ice from the North-Pole) or maybe if the building was actually constructed with some sort of innovative melting technique, or if the building was located in a situation with a lot of ice.

That is however not the case here. This city in Taiwan has actually a subtropical climate, and the designed roof is meant to provide some shade from the sun, just as… the Banyan trees do that surround the site. I read that ‘the world’s largest trees’ were the ‘inspiration’ of the architects. O, I missed that.

Banyan Tree
Banyan Tree

When looking at the banyan trees more closely, the iconography started to make sense. A lot of sense. The white color, smooth forms, and pinched texture camouflage the concept on the background.

I must agree that a lot of Mecanoo designs feature hovering structures that at first sight don’t make that much sense, but when analyzing the Banyan trees it struck me that they are actually very architectural.

Banyan Tree (Photographer: Virtually Me/Flickr)
Banyan Tree (Photographer: Virtually Me/Flickr)

The perimeters of the trees are incredibly wide, and in a lot of cases the branches lower their own roots, creating a sort of column. In theory, I think, one enormous Banyan tree could span a continent. But that would be kind of boring, huh.

The design by Mecanoo has that enormous wide spanning, hovering roof, at some points hold on to the ground by some massive piers. The iconography makes sense.

Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Taking it a step further: in reality the Banyan trees, the big ones, already create some sort of interiors, with benches and everything. In some cases the Banyan trees already act as an architectural home for the poor. Kind of compact, and dark, but it works.

In other cases though the Banyan trees mark the end of the ‘real’ architecture, by taking over. In a sense, deleting it. Another way of saying it: consuming it. Geoff Menaugh would probably propose to cultivate a special plant that would ‘eat’ all abundant architecture, and transform it into a new landscape that one day could be explored by curious people.

That romantic gaze of the world overlooks the fact that architecture, or at least in the Netherlands, is already being explored before it is finished – as for instance the infrastructure-projects for the high-speed train and the freight-train ‘Betuwe’ route – and during its lifetime – as a whole ‘sport’ is been developed in France to ‘storm’ an urban landscape as if it was an Army training route. On YouTube a stylized version of the ‘parkour’ done by the BBC. David Craig opened ‘Casino Royale’ with even better one, again on a construction site!

Back to Taiwan, the painted ceiling of the interior made me think of the frescos in Baroque architecture. The most beautiful air you can imagine, frozen and archived in architecture.

Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mecanoo - National Performing Arts Center in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Another flashback: Adriaan Geuze said in a lecture this winter that one of the most primitive architectural images is that of a man under a tree overlooking a lake, or a valley.

It is said that the eroded Sphinx in Egypt can only be dated years and years back before the Egyptian civilization that we know that built the pyramids. The design by Mecanoo seems the result of a more accelerated erosion. Mini-seconds in the mind of principal-architect Francine Houben.

In retrospect, when writing this entry, I had to think of the theme of ‘erosion’, instead of ‘melting.’ I really wonder whether the arrival of cheaper CNC Milling Machines spurs more designs featuring the theme of erosion. Looking at such a machine, one can’t help imagining architecture made like that.

Metabo Porsche Design - P7900 Hammer Drill
Metabo Porsche Design - P7900 Hammer Drill

The soft-rock-architectures shaped by the wind, or by water, all over the world have very similar forms as this theatre in Taiwan. While working on this post, I discovered a beautiful rock-formation in the state of Arizona in the United States. The first photographs of this Antelope Canyon blew me away. On Getty Images it seems as if every photographer on earth at a moment in his career ‘discovered’ the canyon and decided to make a series about it.

One almost becomes religious after that, it seems. Almost.

The walkthrough of the design on YouTube is superboring. Don’t look at it! ;P

Related: Copy-paste, by Mecanoo; Tree, by Make; Blurred Trees; Twisted Trees.

The project is added to the Architects, and Representation pages.


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