Cultural reef: organic forms abound at the National Taichung Theater

National Taichung Theater - A freeform white building with white walls and curved floor to roof windows, set in a garden with trees
The recently opened National Taichung Theater is located in the one million-strong city in central Taiwan, and was designed by Toyo Ito in collaboration with Cecil Balmond.
(Image credit: Lucas K Doolan)

Designed by Toyo Ito in collaboration with Cecil Balmond, the National Taichung Theater is a new landmark for Taiwan. The free-form structure houses three theatres of varying capacities within its organically sloping halls. At 40,000 sq m, the eight storey venue is based on a three dimensional grid, which has been shifted and sculpted into an irregular form reflective of a coral reef.

The construction technique was ideal for its complexity – the curved walls of are made of concrete, poured into a prefabricated steel cage with three layers of mesh on either side, which was then hand-plastered to achieve the surface texture required for the interiors. The structural engineers, Arup, took advice from race car design engineers to achieve the exact structural, aesthetic and acoustic effect.

Curved covered patio area of the National Taichung Theater with a water pool infront

Curved, irregularly shaped entrances and openings are featured throughout the building

(Image credit: press)

The central foyer is calm and womb-like, with smaller corridors shooting off like veins to the grand theatre, which seats 2016 people, the beating heart of the whole complex. Further facilities include rehearsal spaces, a restaurant and roof terrace of 4,000 sq m. The inside space ‘awakens people’s memories of being inside caves, the most primitive space for mankind. On the other hand they can enjoy a kind of spatial experience which one can never find in modernist architecture’ said Ito in an interview with Wallpaper* in 2014.

The Pritzker Prize winning architect, Ito, and maverick designer Balmond, have collaborated previously on the Serpentine Pavillion in 2002 and their similarities lie in their interest in challenging our perception of built environments.

Exterior of National Taichung Theater with people paddling in a pool

The architectural design is based on a grid, which Balmond describes as a three-dimensional chessboard

(Image credit: press)

Facade of the National Taichung Theater with curved architectural shapes and people paddling in a pool

The organic shaped facade resembles the curves of a coral reef

(Image credit: press)

White and wood curved staircase inside the National Taichung Theater

Organic, curvaceous forms continue inside the building

(Image credit: press)

Interior of National Taichung Theater with white curved walls and large glass windows

There are three theatres within the Taichung Opera House, the largest seating 2016 people and the smallest seating an intimate 200

(Image credit: press)

Interior of National Taichung Theater with small moats of water running through

In addition to the external water feature, small moats of water also run through the interior

(Image credit: press)

White interior of the National Taichung Theater with curved walls and staircases

Further facilities in the building include rehearsal spaces, a restaurant and roof terrace

(Image credit: press)

Passageways in the National Taichung Theater with white walls and red carpets

White walls are contrasted by red carpets running through the passageways which lead to the central theatre

(Image credit: press)


For more information, visit the Toyo Ito & Associates website and the Cecil Balmond Studio website

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.