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Taipei Performing Arts Center
The newest landmark in the capital of Taiwan began as an airborne scribble in 2008. “The first sketch was made in an airline magazine on the way from Taipei to Amsterdam,” says architect David Gianotten. He and Rem Koolhaas of OMA were preparing their competition pitch for a new performing-arts complex. “Rem used a red pen, I used brown,” Gianotten recalls, “and that sketch has the cube, the triangle, the globe. All we did over these past 13 years is preserve that original idea and focus on bringing it to life.”
The Taipei Performing Arts Center was commissioned by the City Government at an estimated cost of NT$6.7bn (about £178.3mn). “Taipei is such a unique city,” Gianotten considers. “The way people deal with culture is different to many places in the world – it’s part of life. We had to design a unique building that people could really use and learn from – where culture was present, not just on the stage but in its being.” The building sits amid the city throng, nudged by the metro and night market. With relatively limited space at street level, the drama takes place above ground. Three auditoriums protrude from a glass cube, most eye-catchingly the Globe (“other people call it an egg – it already has all kinds of nicknames”, says Gianotten). The two other auditoriums can be combined into one vast space: “You’ll have a stage 100m [wide],” Gianotten enthuses. “Who wouldn’t want that?”
A renowned stage designer, especially with Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, the centre’s CEO Austin Wang has spent much of his life in theatres. What makes this one feel special? “It’s on a human scale,” he says. “Although we have one space where we can host 1,500 people, the interaction between audience and play is still very intimate. It’s a 21st-century project; the spaces can accommodate all kinds of theatre on different scales. Some of the possibilities have never happened.”
TPAC hopes to stage 600 events and performances each year, attracting 600,000 visitors, but Wang also looks forward to seeing “people come in and out, even without watching theatre”. “There’s no threshold,” adds Gianotten. Pressed for their favourite spots, the architect says: “I love the fact that daylight comes into the Grand Theatre. You’re excited about what’s about to happen but still part of the world.” For Wang, though, it’s “the sky lounge, a small, hidden, outdoor theatre. Circus shows, installations, anything can happen. People can sit with an ice cream and watch the show – or enjoy the sunset.”
Taipei Performing Arts Center, Jiantan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei. tpac-taipei.org
Cloud Seven, Brussels
The goal of Frédéric de Goldschmidt’s new project, Cloud Seven, is “thoughtfully connecting art with life, and making art more accessible to the public”, says the French-born art baron, a scion of the Rothschild family. A gallery but also a residence and members’ club, a recording studio, bar and co-working space, Cloud Seven is so named because it’s a seven-storey building at No 7 on a street in Brussels’s old harbour. De Goldschmidt hopes to transport visitors, if not to cloud nine, then somewhere close. Also, he acknowledges, “you can see many clouds from the top floors – Brussels is a pretty cloudy city”.
Having gathered a choice collection of contemporary art, De Goldschmidt first had it all at home, but “I picked the wrong apartment for an art collection!” – the walls of his old flat were all slope and angle. So he displayed a selection of works in a residential project he was developing. “I realised very quickly that a collector should not just share his trophies but also new artists.”
Art is everywhere in Cloud Seven, including in what will become two rental studios with a fine view of the city’s skyline, an apartment available for medium-term rental, and even in De Goldschmidt’s own flat. Other artworks will be placed in these and the co-working spaces. The building itself is sleek but not opulent: it has an 1820s façade, but the back was built in the 1920s and has had various lives since. He has commissioned an artist to paint in gold over the rough finishings, “turning a mistake into something positive. These are the kind of works I like... Not ostentatious.”
The co-working space, gym and wellness centre are all open to members (membership is around €300 per month) and also to guests who can buy a €30 day pass. He hopes the artistic environment will “encourage co-workers to think out of the box and deconstruct what seems normal to them... I want to help people to live in close proximity to art, not just encounter it behind glass.”
For membership enquiries, visit cloudseven.be/join-cloudseven
“I don’t think people realise this building’s cultural significance,” CEO Olly Bengough declares. “It’s a mirror of London’s entertainment and music history.” Koko, in Camden, has long been a magnet for music aficionados. Victorian actress Ellen Terry and a pre-Hollywood Charlie Chaplin both held the stage here. Later it housed a Pathé cinema, recorded classic BBC radio shows like The Goon Show and moved into music with The Rolling Stones, The Clash and Madonna. Bengough’s own tenure from 2004 was boosted by the rise of Amy Winehouse, and acts such as Prince and Coldplay in their pomp: “Those nights were quite incredible.”
Affection for the past and an eye on the future prompted Koko’s next phase. Bengough felt that live-streaming would become “a new paradigm in entertainment” while working in Los Angeles 10 years ago. “There will be a few billion smartphones,” he remembers thinking. “That’s going to allow incredible creative freedom.” At the same time, he noted a growing yen for one-time experiences: “The uniqueness of going into a theatre where something special is about to happen. It’s in the air.” Back home he surveyed Koko’s surrounding buildings – a Victorian pub and piano factory – and felt he could bring together everything he was mulling. “It’s a combination of paying homage to the 120-year history of the theatre; a dynamic, future-facing broadcasting experience; and my own taste and enjoyment of life.” Collaborating with Archer Humphryes Architects, who gave us Chiltern Firehouse, and interior designers Pirajean Lees, he set about exploring the possibilities. “The project felt unrepeatable,” he says. “Producing something that’s never been seen before is an exciting creative space.”
The result, due to open this spring, serves up nine performance spaces, some exclusively for members, exceptional hospitality and the option of high-spec live-streaming throughout, at a cost of £70m. On a tour of the building, executive chef Andreas Engberg, formerly of La Petite Maison, can be seen deep in discussion in one of the club kitchens. There will be a pizzeria, tap bar and bespoke dining and roof terrace areas. Bengough and curator Katie Heller (formerly at Soho House) are also building a contemporary art collection, including initial pieces from Bob Dylan and Frank Auerbach.
Much of the activity focuses on the auditorium, where acts can perform in the round, and the adjoining Victorian fly tower, in which original scenography from the 1900s was discovered during the redevelopment work. This has been restored with English Heritage and the fly tower turned into a “moody”, stripped-back venue. There are also booths where members can play their favourite vinyl. “We’ve taken some of the best sound systems in the world and woven them into the fabric of the building,” says Bengough. “When you’re watching a show, it will feel immersive.” Following his instinct that the future will be streamed, artists will have rich opportunities for creating content, sharing their music live and offering audiences across the world not just their gigs but also recording sessions and glimpses of life off-stage.
Construction was underway when, in January 2020, a fire consumed the distinctive copper dome. Luckily, the dome protected the rest of the theatre, and the team recreated its original design – it now encloses a members’ cocktail bar and performance space. “It was so challenging,” Bengough admits, “but I had to embrace everything and keep going.” The fire also exposed a forgotten projector room from the building’s prewar incarnation as a cinema. “When I walked in, film was just hanging from the ceiling,” he marvels. The last movie to be shown was still in the projector.
Everywhere bristles with doors and sliding panels that can connect spaces or keep them discrete. “I wanted to make it feel like a movie set,” Bengough confirms. “Adventure is definitely part of it. That’s why it’s taken seven years to make 16 to 20 rooms all connect with a design narrative. It took a lot of thinking about – how could it amaze you, but be done with subtlety and refinement? How could you take people on a journey they might never do in any other part of the world?”
The project’s extensive membership offer, The House of Koko, will allow access to spaces over four storeys. A dark red carpet, scalloped with gold, leads up to the new roof terrace and conservatory, penthouse and recording studio, piano room, speakeasy, stage kitchen and vinyl rooms. As well as priority booking, parties and exclusive cultural events, members can enjoy a live show calendar in Ellen’s Jazz & Blues Club. Membership costs £1,500 per year (£800 for under-35s), plus a joining fee. Koko is also cultivating a community of patrons (£50,000 for 10 years) from the worlds of music, tech and media. They will contribute to the Koko Foundation, a charity established to empower future generations of artists and protect the environment, initially focusing on initiatives in Camden.
“If you’re going to dedicate seven years of your life to something,” Bengough says, “you dedicate the time to finesse it all the way through. I’ve been on every single detail in the project, but I hope that’s why it’s got a soul to it.” He is, he says, “the custodian of the theatre… I’ve had it for almost 20 years. But I will give it back to the people of London for another 100 years.”
For membership enquiries, visit thehouseofkoko.com