The star in these grand Mecanoo-designed theatres? Bespoke Vescom upholstery
When Vescom says that 'function meets beauty' in its upholstery collection, they mean it: the Dutch textiles brand provides a feast of 70 patterns in more than 1,300 colourways, but it can also produce custom pieces in original combinations of tone and structure.
In fact, one of the most striking recent examples of the ranging potential of Vescom fabrics, and how they can complement both architecture and other interior elements, is the National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts in Taiwan, designed by Mecanoo.
Nicknamed Weiwuying and set like a gem in the city's 470,000-sq-m subtropical park, the building's swagging form covers a sprawling 141,000 sq-m and mimics the region's canopies of banyan trees.
Estimated as the country's heftiest cultural investment in a generation, Weiwuying is also the world's largest performing arts centre under a single roof, encompassing five state-of-the-art performance auditoriums and 6,000 seats. There's a 2,236-seat opera house shaped like a terraced vineyard, a flower-patterned red-and-purple-hued 1,981-seat concert hall, an easily reconfigurable 1,210-seat playhouse in ultramarine or Mecanoo blue, a 434-seat recital hall in golden fabric and oak, and an outdoor theatre.
Each of the four indoor theatres needed to provide world-class acoustics. To achieve this level of quality, Mecanoo kitted out each space with walls in differing relief patterns and colour schemes. 'The wall patterns came first, as they were developed in the service of the rooms' acoustics,' said Friso van der Steen, Mecanoo's director of international projects. 'The main purpose of these patterns is the diffusion of sound. But we liked those patterns and also wanted to use them for the fabric.'
Mecanoo wanted to use natural fibres for the seats and asked Vescom to weave bespoke patterns in custom colourways into the Ariana mohair upholstery fabric. By weaving the piles in different directions, shadow effects emerged that form patterns in keeping with the design motif of each space.
Vescom produces all of its textiles in its own weaving mills. For decades, the brand has been the leader in weaving mohair velvet fabrics. These fabrics have a special warmth and luxury but are also durable, climate-controlling, flame-retardant, easy to maintain and naturally sound-absorbent, suiting it perfectly to the hospitality sector, theatres and concert halls like Mecanoo's.
'It's a very high-quality fabric,' said van der Steen. 'From the visitor's point of view, that is almost the most important aspect of the experience: You need to have a good seat. The mohair fibre is a natural fibre, and offers much more comfort and durability than artificial fibres are able to achieve. We were not willing to compromise.'