Neil Denari became famous in the '90s for building architecture based on aerospace engineering; inspiring a whole generation of designers (and fabrication courses) dedicated to the techniques he grafted from aeronautics onto architecture. Just last year, the 55-year-old architect won a bid to brand the Japanese airline Peach. In 2013, though, the 55-year-old architect will turn from air to sea, with a massive (really massive) commission in the Taiwanese port city of Keelung.
Last week, a jury selected Denari’s office to build a $211 million-dollar Harbor Service complex, a building that will act as a welcome center and an administrative headquarters for the busy trading port. Keelung is situated at the northern tip of Taiwan, making it the port of entry for ships between Japan, South Korea, and China. Denari’s roughly 100,000-square-foot building be a port of call for thousands of cruise ships, cargo ships, and military vessels every month.
The building is a series of circulation cores stacked into what roughly amounts to a rhombus. Without going into a detailed explanation of the complex program diagram, a sea-facing building houses the administrative core (administrative offices, police station, restaurant, shops, and weather center) while a four-sided structure beyond will eventually become an office building. “The building is a distorted and punctured form,” explains his office, “whose specific cantilevers and surface orientations are based on prevailing views and breezes.”
What’s important to note is the facade, which looks like it’s made from the same titanium as an iMac. Denari shines when it comes to patterns—here, he’s blanketed the massive volumes in long, oblique shapes that form windows. On the roof, larger, circular perforations form skylights. Thanks to the facade treatment, it’s tough to figure out the scale. Is it 21 feet tall, or 201? (For the record, the latter is correct). Keelung is known as “the rainy port,” and according to the architects, the pattern and hue of the facade treatment are based in the moniker. Punches of chartreuse peek out from the inner courtyard of the volumes, hinting at the city’s lush tropical forest.
Denari’s team describes the scheme in a video called The Making of a Graphic Place. It’s an apt title—the structure is still very much a 2D drawing. But it’s tough to deny the design is fantastically iconic—in the renderings, it looks like a cousin to the cruise ship docked nearby.
Denari is one of those architects who tends to polarize his audience. Despite what you think of his brand of formalism, it’s hard to deny he does it well. If you’re interested, take a peek at some of his office’s construction documents and diagrams—it’s hard to find a more beautiful contemporary architectural drawing.