The National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts in Taiwan – also known as Weiwuying, from the name of the surrounding park – has been described as “the world's largest performing arts centre under one roof”. It was designed by Netherland-based architect firm Mecanoo, inspired by the shapes of local banyan trees. It houses four performance spaces: a 434-seat recital hall, a 1210-seat playhouse, a 1981-seat concert hall and a 2,236-seat opera house, which is located at the heart of this gigantic building. There is also an outdoor theatre situated on the roof, as well as rehearsal and event spaces, restaurants and an art gallery. The enormous central hall is called Banyan Plaza because in Chinese culture banyan trees are very important and often play host to events and improvised gatherings.

The initial concept: from a Banyan forest to a performance complex © Mecanoo Architects
The initial concept: from a Banyan forest to a performance complex
© Mecanoo Architects

The form of the banyan trees reflects the local climate. Their wide crown, providing shelter against sun and rain, is perfect for Kaohsiung's humid atmosphere. The open, protective shape of the banyan tree was therefore the natural inspiration for this expansive cultural centre. As the local community is used to meet under the protective branches of the banyan trees, they can now also meet in Banyan Plaza, the centre's main hall, a generous, sheltered public space that can be accessed 24/7, even when the performance spaces are closed. As the forest allows for the breeze to pass through the branches, the main plaza is also designed with the subtropical climate in mind, and its open structure allows the wind to blow freely through it.

For our "behind the scenes" focus, we compiled a photo gallery of this incredible performance complex being built, from concept to completion.

Some interesting musical facts about this building:

The horseshoe layout of the Opera House ensures no seat is more than 38m from the stage.

Acoustics in the Opera House are optimised for clarity, as audiences will mostly be watching performances in foreign languages.

This is the third dedicated national Opera House to be built in Taiwan, after the National Theater and the National Taichung Theater.

“The Opera House is arranged in the form of a horseshoe with three circled balconies,” said Mecanoo Architects. “It is not only suitable for Western opera, with an orchestra of over seventy musicians, but can also be acoustically adapted to accommodate Chinese opera by manoeuvring a suspended acoustic canopy. The Recital Hall has the most intimate atmosphere, designed for chamber music and recital performances. The upper part of the venue is enclosed by a circle of sound-absorbing curtains, allowing for the reverberation time within the space to be tuned to specific types of performance.”

The Concert Hall has "vineyard-style" seating that avoids cantilevered balconies, so every audience member can enjoy the sound reflection from the ceiling.

“Each of the four performance halls had its own acoustic challenges, so we collaborated with acoustician Albert Xu” said Mecanoo. “He constructed a 1:10 scale model to test the performance of the most complicated venue: the Concert Hall. Despite its size, we wanted it to have an intimate feel. Wouldn’t it be great if every member of the audience could see the hands of the pianist? We choose the shape of a stepped vineyard with a stage at its centre, so that terraces at different floor heights encircle the podium. With seating on all sides of the stage, the audience is in close proximity to the performance.”

Organ manufacturer Orgelbau Klais, a company founded in 1882, has manufactured a double organ shaped like a bamboo grove, which is placed inside the Concert Hall. With a total of 9,085 pipes, which includes a symphonic organ (7,169 pipes) and an echo organ (1,916 pipes), it is the largest organ they have ever built.