Weiwuying’s opening symbolizes Taiwan’s ‘space democratization’: Tsai

The National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) has five performance spaces, including a 2236-seat opera house, a 1981-seat concert hall, a 1210-seat playhouse, a 434-seat recital hall and an outdoor theatre. (Courtesy of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts)

Taipei, Oct. 13 (CNA)-The opening of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) on Saturday was a reflection of the government’s efforts to return former military-controlled facilities to the public domain, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said at the inauguration ceremony.

“The establishment of an arts center at this venue symbolizes the removal of martial law and our efforts to promote greater cultural accessibility,” Tsai said.

In a historical context, the center can be seen as a symbol of “space democratization,” in which Weiwuying, once a military training base under the Kuomintang regime, has been returned to the public domain, she said.

“Our predecessors in Taiwan fought persistently against authoritarianism and left formidable landmarks of resistance and compromise around the island,” she said. The establishment of Weiwuying did not come easy, Tsai said, adding that it took 20 years of work by a private-sector promotional group to make the project a reality. “Thanks to their painstaking efforts, we can now enjoy the fruits of space democratization,” the president said.

She expressed the hope that the art center in southern Taiwan would give the people there better access to cultural events and they would no longer have to travel long distances to Taipei to see world-class performances.

The project to build the first national performance arts center in southern Taiwan took 15 years, from the planning stage to completion, and cost NT$10.75 billion (US$347.8 million).

According to Weiwuying’s website, the design by Dutch architectural firm Mecanoo was inspired by the sinuous canopy created by clusters of banyan trees commonly found in the south of Taiwan.

The single sweeping building is spread over 141,000 square meters, which makes it the world’s largest performing arts center under one roof, as well as Taiwan’s most significant cultural investment in a generation, the website says.

“We have aimed to deliver a flagship cultural destination for Taiwan, a beacon to attract performers and audiences from around the world,” said Francine Houben, founding architect of Mecanoo.

The highlights of the building include a 2,260-seat opera house, and a 2,000-seat concert hall designed to look like a vineyard, with the seats rising in serried rows like the sloping terraces of a typical vineyard.

The structure also houses a flexible theater that can seat between 1,094 and 1,254 people, depending on its adjustable configuration, and a 470-seat recital hall. Outdoors, there is a performance space that can accommodate an audience of up to 20,000.

“Weiwuying, with its extraordinary facilities, gives us the opportunity to experiment – to be bold and innovative, and to try different things,” said the center’s Artistic Director Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬).

Weiwuying will operate under the umbrella of the National Performing Arts Center, which also incorporates Taipei’s National Theater and Concert Hall and the National Taichung Theater.