OPEN has created a performing arts center in Shenzhen with a simple form to demonstrate an alternative to the extravagant theaters that are being built in China. It is a “Drama Box” designed to be cubical in form and rich in spatial experiences, in which a theater is interwoven with gardens and promenade accessible to all.
OPEN has “re-designed” the original brief which only called for “a grand theater” — performing-arts-related educational and social programs were added, as well as various public spaces. In breaking away from the mono-function Cultural Landmark typology, the building not only becomes much more sustainable in daily operation, but also sets a new example of social inclusivity for civic buildings. Serving as a new cultural hub, it also provides the non-theater-going public with an exceptional and unusual urban space.
At the heart of the “Drama Box” is the volume of a 1,200-seat grand theater. Flanking the grand theater is a variety of smaller functional spaces accessible both by a separate circulation system inside the building and through an outdoor meandering public promenade — so they can be conveniently used by the general public even when the grand theater is closed.
Blurring the boundary of the building and city, the promenade links together a café, a black box theater, teaching spaces, rehearsal rooms, informal outdoor theater, and outdoor gardens on different levels. This interweaving of architecture and nature gradually reveals surprises and colors to visitors who stroll the promenade’s length from the ground floor plaza to the roof garden.