Project DescriptionSite: Taichung, Taiwan’s decommissioned Municipal Airport, which is slated to become the 600-acre Taichung Gateway, a mixed-use development of civic structures, residential neighborhoods, and infrastructure, built around a large urban park.
Program: The conversion of an unused hangar into a temporary information center. The design includes a two-story freestanding pavilion inserted into the hangar space with performance and exhibition venues for displaying the plans to transform the old airport. An elevated terrace will overlook the larger project’s construction.
Solution: With a project of a scale like Stan Allen Architect’s Taichung Gateway (the conversion of a former airport into a park and mixed-use cultural district, which won a P/A Award in 2008), it is important to engage area residents during the long construction process. To that end, the Brooklyn, N.Y.based firm designed the Taichung InfoBox, an observation pavilion within an existing hangar on the site, where plans and models of the project under construction will be exhibited. To offer a taste of events that will eventually be staged in public venues, a second-floor stage serves as a performance space. A deck on the second floor of the pavilion, at the front of the hangar, creates a visitors platform for gazing at the site; the design turns the grounds into a sustained construction event.
Other competition entries proposed a box-within-a-box, but Allen’s take on the concept intrigued the jurors because its doughnut-shaped perimeter—including part of its open roof—is structured in bamboo. Besides forming a spatially filigreed wall, the armature carries rich cultural associations connoting vernacular construction in Asia, where skeletal bamboo frames scaffold even high-rise construction. Beyond offering visual pleasures, the bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, which intrigued the jury members, who placed a premium on sustainability. Doing due diligence in their materials research, the architects provided calculations for loading bamboo scaffolding and, in so doing, demonstrated that the material can be a viable structural system for an entire building. In other words, they were not proposing the use of bamboo out of cultural sentimentality: The material is as practical and inexpensive as it is poetic and appropriate.
The jurors immediately fixated on the bamboo, and were disappointed to realize that the material did not make up the entirety of the structural system. Instead, the 12,500-square foot building is a hybrid; the bamboo scaffold wraps a steel frame. The composite system is necessary, however, for code reasons: Public occupancy in Taiwan requires a steel structure. “I expected the entire structure to be bamboo,” juror Steve Dumez said. “But they can’t for code reasons. I thought it was wonderful initially as a concept.”
Putting aside the structural issues, juror Dan Rockhill pointed out bamboo’s spatial and architectural qualities in this “elegant insertion into an old carcass of a hangar. It’s beautifully executed” and “used in a really creative way,” he said.
“As an envelope, you can imagine the qualities of light and view and porosity that that kind of structure would have,” Dumez agreed. “Using it as scaffolding and using it as something that you move through to get into another space is very powerful.”
Still coming to grips with the role of bamboo in a composite structural system, juror Lisa Iwamoto realized that the whole roof and any wall above the floor plate level, for the most part, relies on the bamboo scaffolding. “So it’s a self-supporting system,” she said. “To me, it’s completely acceptable that they weren’t able to fulfill that structural model 100 percent of the way. But I think the way they are using it as the self-supporting skin and pieces of the roof is really nice. I love the interesting overlaps.”