The approach to the Taichung InfoBox is unreal: Turn off a four-lane street lined with storefronts and rife with revving mopeds, and pass through a gate and into the 600-acre void left by the city of Taichung’s decommissioned airport. The site is as close to a tabula rasa as one can find in urban Taiwan. It’s flat, the runways lead nowhere, and wind provides the only sound. The only sign of life sits off the tarmac in a former hangar, where the InfoBox is nestled, looking like a top-secret aircraft—or a children’s fort—scaffolded in bamboo.
The 12,500-square-foot pavilion, designed by Brooklyn, N.Y.–based Stan Allen Architect, opened to the public this year to exhibit plans that will transform the airport site into a 620-acre mixed-use development called Gateway Park City. It also provides a platform for visitors to look out over the construction site and keep tabs on the construction progress. Despite appearances, the bilevel structure is steel-framed—owing to codes regarding public-occupancy buildings—and wrapped in bamboo. Principal Stan Allen, FAIA, chose the material for its cultural context—the sustainable material is stronger per centimeter than steel, and a staple on local building sites, where its use as scaffolding is highly regulated; it must be lashed together by trained installers. The InfoBox client, the city of Taichung, initially balked at thoughts of a bamboo façade, though not for safety reasons. “They wanted something that looked new,” Allen says.
Ultimately, Gateway Park’s focus on sustainability won the argument, as bamboo can be recycled. “The pavilion was also slated to be open for only two years, which was another reason bamboo made sense,” Allen says. “We wanted to have that sense of occasion. … In temporary buildings such as pavilions, you’re freer in the choice of materials, as you don’t have to worry about the weight of something that will be there 100 years from now. It’s an opportunity to experiment.”
The structure’s steel frame was anchored to the hangar’s existing concrete floor, then wrapped by a 75-centimeter-deep, three-dimensional grid made from roughly 40,000 pieces of bamboo. The plants, from central Taiwan, were cut, boiled, and dried for one month, giving the bamboo an aged, tea-colored veneer. Artisans cut the pieces to fit on site, a process that could not be explained via conventional working drawings. “We didn’t know how big the pieces would be,” Allen says, “so our drawings that show ends cut on a diagonal at the corners ended up overlapping as stitched corners.”
Upon entering the hangar, visitors must walk around the InfoBox to enter its first level on the east side. In this ground floor space, the exposed steel columns are painted white, and matching white screens are suspended from the ceiling. The space is used for local exhibitions and presentations, including those organized by the government to showcase green technology. Vermillion-colored concrete steps lead to the InfoBox’s elevated second level, which houses the main space, and is used for presentations about the larger master plan. Here, larger-scale steps form bleacher-like seats, and a series of openings frame views of the Gateway Park City site. At the top of the bleachers, doors open to a terrace.
While Stan Allen Architect had also designed the park’s master plan, the project’s timeline of 15 to 20 years gave rise to the thought of “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have something built on site right away, to get people here and see what’s going on?” Allen says. “We wanted to get people up to a balcony overlook so they could watch the construction, and make an event of going up, of turning the whole pavilion into an amphitheater.”
The client agreed, but was able to appropriate less money than it had hoped—just over $930,000 total, much of which went to updates to the hangar—a constraint for which the architect was thankful, ultimately. “The budget forced us to use an existing building on site. Initially, we looked at the terminal, then saw the hangar, and a light bulb went off,” Allen says. “Its foundation could support a lightweight pavilion, and instead of being an object on the site, the hangar itself would tie back its history as an airport. We were very excited about it.”
From contract to completion, the InfoBox—which won a 2011 Progressive Architecture Award—took nine months. “It was a nice way to bring the master-plan phase of Gateway Park City to conclusion,” Allen says. “Not just for the client, but for us, too. It’s visible, and not just drawings on shelves.”
Project Taichung InfoBox, Taichung, Taiwan
Client/Owner City of Taichung
Architect Stan Allen Architect, Brooklyn, N.Y.—Stan Allen, FAIA (principal-in-charge); Marc McQuade, Chris Oliver, Dahlia Roberts (project team)
Associate Architect W.B. Huang Architects + Planners
General Contractor Long Top Construction
Construction Coordinator Feng Chia Design Center
Exhibition Curator Feng Chia Design Center
Size 10,000 square feet
Cost (total) $27 million Taiwan ($930,714 U.S.)