aerial view of the Taipei Music Center

Taipei’s Monumental Music Center Revitalizes Urban Space and a Rapidly Changing Industry

Twelve years after winning the Ministry of Culture’s design competition, New York City-based RUR Architecture DPC completes the Taipei Music Center, sparking a cultural and creative neighborhood.

Sprawling over a 755,000 square-foot site in Taipei’s Southeastern Nangang District, the Taipei Music Center (TMC) features three monumental buildings. Geometrically distinct, each building is tailored to its particular function, but they bear a family resemblance.

“We formulated the idea of a series of ground buildings with objects that sit on this elevated horizon,” Jesse Reiser explains the design concept. Reiser is a principal at Reiser+Umemoto, RUR Architecture DPC and a professor of architectural design at Princeton University.

“The competition foregrounded two critical considerations. One was acoustics; the other was how the project would relate to the city.”

The Concert Hall, an angular-shaped shell with five stories above ground and three below, is a medium-sized auditorium that accommodates about 5,000 patrons. Featuring permanent and special shows, the seven-story  Cultural Cube is Taiwan’s first exhibition hall dedicated to the nation’s musical history.

The Creative Hub contributes to the post-production phase of music-making and talent cultivation. The multi-functional area consists of four recital halls accommodating between 200 and 1,600 people, music classrooms, a rehearsal studio, offices, a recording studio, and a music-themed restaurant.

Spanning up to 328 feet long and 115 feet wide, the Plaza between the Creative Hub and the Cultural Cube can accommodate up to 3000 visitors. Connecting to the Concert Hall through a bypass, the open-air area showcases music festivals, street performances, and bazaars, further opening the complex up to the public.

view of square building

“Our attitude towards the project wasn’t just to address the music industry, but to make it integral to the city so that it would be a public space,” says Reiser, which was in line with Nangang’s revitalization efforts.

Having converted from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-oriented economy, Taipei’s urban development plan called for a makeover of the district, referred to by locals as “Black Town” because of the thick, black smoke emitted by heavy industry factories in earlier years.

“We couldn’t and didn’t want to take cues from the building context,” says Reiser, “but rather how this complex would fit into the gorgeous natural landscape.”

The plan included Nangang’s transformation of underutilized land and turning the district into a complex with offices, hotels, exhibition areas, recreational facilities, shopping centers and the addition of parks and green spaces.

During the design phase, however, the government handed over control of the project to representatives of the music industry, which precipitated major changes according to Reiser.

square glass building in front of outdoor plaza
egg shaped building

“We essentially started over after a year and a half once the government initiated the project,” he says adding that the main hall with its fan-shaped auditorium is a departure from RUR’s initial proposal, which consisted of only a 3,000-seat indoor arena and a tower.

“The music industry and their representatives had completely different ideas about what they needed and wanted to work with.”

Their changing needs reflected a broader shift in the music industry around that time, with live shows and online services replacing album sales as the primary sources of revenue.

But it wasn’t only changes in scope that delayed the project, which was originally scheduled to be complete by 2014.

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, the Taipei city government experienced problems with construction procurement due to the music center’s distinctive design and the resulting challenging construction. Moreover, the government had to recoup a funding shortfall, agreeing to a budget increase of approximately 33 percent to NT$6.079 billion (US$210 million) in 2019 — $10 million more than the music industry generated in revenue in the same year.

auditorium with black walls and orange seats
interior of white entry hall

On its website the design atelier declares the final measure of architecture lies not in quantities but in the myriad qualities it exhibits and affords over time.

Reflecting on the statement, Reiser says that the stage setting aspect characterizes the quality of the TMC’s architecture.

“It was almost like designing the Oscar statuette,” says Reiser. “We don’t know which groups will be elevated or which performers will emerge on the site. So, we’re simply creating the situation for the music industry, the people and the public to mount their own events in it.”

To mark the project’s completion, and bring its decade-long saga to an American audience,  RUR Architecture’s exhibition Lyrical Urbanism: The Taipei Music Center is on view at The Cooper Union in New York where it will run until the end of April.

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