A striking red bulbous bubble in the Huadu District of Guangzhou, China is the ‘Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre’ designed by London based design practice Steven Chilton Architects. The recently completed enthralling structure inhabits 2000 seated purpose‐built theatre. The theatre can be its own performer as well, where architecture and engineering blends to showcase the marvel.
Since the Han Dynasty, Guangzhou has been a prominent centre for the arts and trading. It is also the birthplace of ‘Silk Road on the Sea’. Artist Zhang Hongfei derives the concept for the theatre from illustrations in silk embroidery inspired by traditional and contemporary artists.
‘Guangzhou has been home and inspiration for artists who have helped to define the world’s concept of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Through our work on the theatre, we have endeavoured to channel the history, emotion and creative energy of the city through a building whose purpose is to nurture the next generation of cultural leaders in the performing arts’ says Steven Chilton.
Silk is a significant element which was used by fine artists in Guangzhou. Painted and embroidered for thousands of years and developed as a creative medium for depicting myths and scenes of nature. On the other hand usually represented on tapestries and ornamental robes. The silk cloth subsequently wraps in a formal expression of the building through a series of ten gently twisted folds. Besides, these outlines the outer envelope. The wavy surface bends and tucks in creating multiple entries. Furthermore the valley of each fold dives into the ground plane and a natural canopy hovers over each entrance.
The imagery on the surfaces expresses the theatres’ mission to empower talent. The design team influenced by the beloved local myth of ‘100 Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix’ is fascinating. The Phoenix or ‘Fenghuang’ positions for virtue and grace whilst the metaphor undoubtedly notions of recognition, leadership and mentoring.
Every illustration created by artist Zhang Hongfei, were digitised and interpreted by his hand drawings before mapping onto the geometry. SubswA compositional style developed and inspired by tattoo art aesthetics. Each figure positioned on the shell of the theatre looms over a series of studies in response to the topology of surface geometry. Phoenix figures undertake afforded and formulated prominence, in contrast to the lesser figures. A few birds were organically and less consciously arranged in the spaces between.
Thousands of perforated aluminium panels clad and painted adhering to the overall configuration. A complex structure of welded steel tubes supports these frames that work interdependently with the concrete superstructure along with the theatre floors.
The concept design led by Dragone with theatre consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, has showcased an immersive performance environment. Moreover, the auditorium alters and transforms from a 360-degree theatre to multiple permutations. Also, the immersive experience is provided via 360 overhead LED screens. Above the stage, 12 acrobatic hoists and 3 acrobatic tracks and trolleys integrate into the system. Above the audience at the gridiron, 2 storage wagons imbibe scenic elements come down from the stage above on custom-built hoists.
The theatre can itself become a performer and indeed be used for more typical productions. As such, the design can transform into productions that use spectacular water effects. At the theatre’s centre, a deep pool underneath the stage floor with an automated stage lift can rise to half a meter above the stage floor or dropped 9 meters into the water. At the lower elevation, there are 3 underwater scenery storage garages. Also used to store large props and scenic elements before moving onto the lift and elevated through the water onto to stage level.
The stunning theatre indeed remarks, reminisces and rejuvenate the ancient and the new in perfect synthesis. The Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre will open its doors in 2021 to capture and perform in a majestic persona.
Client: Sunac China Holdings Ltd.
Architect: SCA|Steven Chilton Architects
SCA Project Team: Steven Chilton, Roberto Monesi,Chuck Wang, Paula Isabella Saavedra Rosas, David Rieser, Natalie Dillon
Architecture and Design Management: Sunac China Holdings Ltd.
Auditorium Concept Designer and Technical Consultant: Dragone
Theatre Consultant: Auerbach Pollock Friedlander
Local Design Institute: Beijing Institute of Architectural Design
Concept Engineer: Buro Happold
Artist: Zhang Hongfei
Photo Credits: Chong‐Art Photography