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Pingshan Performing Arts Center

Over the past decade, theaters have sprung up everywhere in China in tandem with the country’s economic boom and rapid urbanization. Most have extravagant appearances but single functions and monotonous spaces, and they are often detached from the public and real urban life, becoming a tremendous waste of public resources. OPEN won the competition to design the first theater in Pingshan, a new urban district in Shenzhen municipality. This gave us a chance to take a critical look at the development of Chinese theaters and to explore new possibilities.

OPEN modified and reorganized the given program by combining the “formal function” of the grand theater with such “informal functions” as educational and social activities related to the performing arts, as well as with some supporting commercial functions. We also added a small black box theater to serve as a flexible and multi-functional performance space. By breaking away from the single-function typology, Pingshan transforms into a real performing arts 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. In the core of this square “drama box” is an opera house with 1,200 seats. Surrounding this “formal” core on the north and west sides are the center’s “informal” functions, which include educational spaces, rehearsal rooms, a black box theater, a multi-purpose hall, and gardens on different floors. A public promenade that weaves through the building links together all the informal components. It also helps create an interesting dialogue between the building and the surrounding urban and natural settings.

A series of seemingly opposite elements are at play in the building: the formal and the informal, the elite and mass, the traditional and the avant-garde. Together, they form rich and exciting experiences both spatially and in their contents.

The building façade is made of a double-layer complex ecological skin designed for the climatic conditions in Shenzhen. The outer layer consists of V-shaped perforated aluminum panels, which effectively block out the sunlight in summer and maintain adequate visual permeability and natural ventilation. At night, integrating information and digital art displays, the ecological skin turns into a dramatic skin.

Within and around this porous “drama box”, the introduction of a variety of vegetation in outdoor gardens on different levels of the building will create a pleasant environment. Combined with a set of energy-saving measures, such as rainwater collection, solar energy use, and permeable paving, this performing arts center aspires to break away from the conventional notion of theater as a high-energy-consumption building typology.

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