Over the past decade, theaters have sprung up everywhere in China along with the country’s economic boom and rapid urbanization. Most of them have extravagant appearances but single function and monotonous spaces, and are often detached from the public and the real urban life, thus becoming a tremendous waste of public resources. OPEN won the competition to design the first theater in Pingshan, a new urban district of Shenzhen municipality. This gave us a chance to take a critical look at the development of the Chinese theaters, in order to explore a new possibility.
OPEN modified and reorganized the given program, by combining the ‘formal function’ of the grand theater, with the ‘informal functions’ such as educational and social activities related to the performing arts, as well as some supporting commercial functions. A small black box theater is also added to serve as a flexible and multi-functional performance space. By breaking away from the single function typology, Pingshan project is transformed into a real performing art center that serves the public and achieves operational sustainability.
Internally, the discourse of the architectural spaces develops around the dialogue between the ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’. Within a rather tight site, we organized the rich programs into a floating square box measuring 80 meters on each side. The core of the drama box is a ‘formal’ opera house with 1200 seats. Surrounding the ‘formal’ core on the north and the west sides, are the ‘informal’ functions including the educational spaces, the rehearsal rooms, the black box theater, the multi-purpose hall and gardens on different floors. A public promenade weaving through the building links together all the informal components. It also helps to create an interesting dialogue between the building and the surrounding urban and natural settings.
A set of seemingly opposite elements: the formal and the informal, the elite and mass, the traditional and the avant-garde, are at play in the building. Together they form rich and exciting experiences both in terms of contents and spaces.
Externally, the theatrical contents are projected onto the façade of the ‘drama box’ through a translucent skin, producing a rather ‘theatrical’ appearance in the urban surrounding. The building façade is made of a double-layer complex ecological skin designed for the climatic conditions in Shenzhen. The outer layer is V-shaped perforated aluminum panels, which effectively blocks out the sunlight in summer, and maintains adequate visual permeability and natural ventilation. At night, integrating information and digital art display, the ecological skin turns into a drama skin.
In this porous drama box, a pleasant environment will be created by introducing a variety of vegetation in outdoor gardens on different levels of the building. Combined with a series of energy saving measures such as rain water collection, solar energy utilization and permeable paving, this performing art center aspires to break the convention notion of theater as high energy consumption building typology.