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Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre: a stage of many tales

Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre: a stage of many tales


Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre celebrates the Chinese traditional and contemporary art like no other. Steven Chilton Architects’ (SCA) revolutionary work employs a dynamic, cloth-like parametric form in an attempt to pay homage to the artistic silk production of the city of Guangzhou. This architectural icon is set to open its doors in 2021, and will be a main attraction of many creative performances in the city’s Huadu District.

Situated at the crossroads between the river and the famous silk road, Guangzhou offers a rich history as an art centre and trading base descending from the Han dynasty. This edifice is designed in a way to self-narrate the rich culture it pays tribute to. It explores the various formal and aesthetic principles of silk tapestry and translates them into an enlightening architectural experience. Traditionally embroidered and painted in Guangzhou, the use of silk evolved as a historical interface for story-telling and illustrating natural scenes on decorative fabrics and robes. At first glance, the site embodies the physical behaviour of silk cloth. Its outer shell organically undulates by producing ten folds that cover the lustrous structure. This aesthetically-pleasing gesture is also used strategically to create multiple openings in the building by folding the surface on itself.

This theatre is a stage for culture in the city. It is no longer a place to only observe performances, but becomes a place to be observed. This dual representation, physically and aesthetically, is achieved through the unique design applied on the cladding. Triangular panels form the attractive red cladding to allude to the folding properties of silk. Influenced by the local myth “100 birds paying homage to the phoenix”, SCA uses artist Zhang Hongfei illustrations to ornament the fluid facade. By digitizing his hand drawings, the architects were able to meticulously map each figure and place it based on its hierarchy of importance; prominent figures such as the phoenix are positioned on strategic locations where they are geometrically more exposed. These efforts also reinforce the tattoo approach to culture, where traditional and symbolic patterns are used to establish a sense of belonging. SCA successfully created an architecture consistent with the past and present culture of the city by fusing old and novel concepts of production of art, the old connection to silk and the current tattoo culture.

While it appears to be light-weight, the construction is held by a complex frame of welded steel tubes and a concrete megastructure that supports the floors. This same structure keeps up the facade that is composed of thousands of perforated aluminium panels, each painted in a unique way to construct the general composition of the facade. At the centre, is the main circular performance space, a 2,000 seat auditorium, surrounded by rehearsal zones, offices and facility areas, and designed by Dragone with theatre consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander. The concept of the auditorium aims to be as fluid as the river that flows in proximity to it. The relationship of architecture with the water is intentionally addressed in terms of flexibility, fluidity, and water-related effects. In typical productions, the space is equipped with overhead LED screens to provide an inviting experience along with 12 acrobatic hoists and three acrobatic tracks and trolleys provided above the stage. At the top of the auditorium, at the gridiron, two storage wagons are integrated to allow for scenic elements to be lowered on custom built hoists. In other times, the space can be transformed into various different configurations and employs water in the presentations. A deep pool with an automated stage lift, at the centre of the stage, can be elevated a half meter or dropped nine meters into the water. In addition to that, three underwater scenery storage garages store large props and scenic elements before they are moved onto the lift and elevated to stage level.

By paying tribute to water, old and new forms of artistic practices, the Sunac Theatre brilliantly blurs the line between fairy tale and reality. By portraying myths, constructing a dreamlike structure and hosting innovative shows, it brings the traditional identity of the city back into the real world, back to every-day life.

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