Steven Chilton Architects has completed the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theater that is scheduled to open by early 2021. The prominent undulating facade of the theater is inspired by the history of the district, which has been associated with Chinese silk, which is a significant material to trade. Guangzhou is also known as the birthplace of the “Silk Road on the sea.” 

Therefore, it has been a bustling location for arts and trading, and it was influential over many artists and contemporary Chinese art since the Han dynasty. Steven Chilton Architects associated the history of the district with the theater building and designed the exterior of the building to look undulating, resembling the flowing of silk fabric.

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Undulating Facade of Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre © Chong-Art Photography

Tattoo Art Esthetic on The Facade

The most distinguishable alteration, from the renders that have been shared previously by the design firm, appeared on the facade. Initially, different colors and textures were used to create dynamism on the facade. Darker sides of the exterior, which are not facing the sun, were in deep red color, and sides facing south were in gold to reflect the light and prevent overheating. 

Designers thought they got a closer resemblance to traditional Chinese silk garments by using red and gold colors. The smooth transition between gold and red was quintessential to mimic the nature of the silk fabric. However, the latest development shows that they gave up on that concept. The building’s facade is now inspired by the traditional silk cloth embroidery and hand paintings that have been used to convey myths or stories in manuscripts, tapestries, or ornamental robes since time immemorial. Therefore, the theatre is covered with red aluminum panels wholly, and artist Zhang Hongfei’s hand drawings that were drawn to be used in the Guangzhou theater were later digitalized and painted into the panels. 

The designers declared that Chinese tattoo art aesthetics was the main motivation while drawing figures. Thanks to the facade’s change, the theater is now looking like a silk scarf rather than evoking a silk fabric.

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Render of the Guangzhou Theater © Steven Chilton Architects
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Constructed Theater Building ©

The Story Inspired the Embellishments 

A myth named “100 Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix” was the main inspiration for the illustrations. In the saga, the phoenix or “Fenghuang” is an allegory for notions of recognition, leadership, and mentoring and symbolizes virtue and grace. The story chosen for the facade manifests the theater’s mission, which is being a lead center for contemporary arts in that region, and evolving artistry. However, the figures’ placement was not a piece of cake due to the topology of the surface geometry. Meritorious birds such as Phoenix were placed to appear more prominently, and other birds paying homage were placed between the folds and spread out organically.

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Bird’s Sizes Getting Smaller on the Folded Areas © Chong-Art Photography

Form of The Building

The facade of the building followed a folding form, inspired by the natural structure of silk fabric. Entrances into the building were created by tucking the folds on where they meet with the surface. Therefore, the fold above the entrances naturally creates a canopy for protection and defines the entrance.  

Each uniquely painted triangle panel merges to create the facade of the theatre. Triangle panels are also a starting point for the complex geometry of folding exterior and create a modulation to place waterproofing sheets, structural steel rails, and paneling. The structural system that carries the building consists of metal pipes connected by welding.

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The entrances into the Theater © Chong-Art Photography

The Auditorium

The auditorium is placed at the heart of the theatre. It is an “in the round” stage that provides a 360- degree view to the audiences. Interior is furnished with technical equipment like overhead LED screens, so it can be converted for different functions that have sundry requirements. Since the auditorium’s design requires many specialties, its concept design was led by Dragone with theater consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander. 

Twelve acrobatic hoists, three acrobatic tracks, trolleys, and two storage wagons allocated to be used to carry set decors to the stage were placed above audience seating and stage. The auditorium’s most unusual feature is that it provides the flexibility for including water effect in productions since the stage is built over a nine-meter-deep pool that can be raised half a meter. Theather’s other functions, such as rehearsal rooms and changing rooms, are placed around the auditorium.

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The Auditorium’s Interior © Chong-Art Photography
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Ground Floor Plan © Steven Chilton Architects

Opening Soon

The freshly completed building is located near a mixed-use development area on the edge of Guangzhou. Theatre is expected to be a landmark for the district and revive the Guangzhou region’s historical collective memory. As can be seen from the photographs, it becomes distinct from the surrounding high-rise buildings by looking like a giant red silk scarf. 

The theater, a potential landmark of Guangzhou, is planned to open at the beginning of 2021. The people of the region may love the auditorium equipped with technological devices and unusual technologies; however, the fact that the stereotypical elements of Chinese culture are used on the facade directly may distract the building from its intended meaning to convey and can be perceived as more superficial. 

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Theatre with the Surrounding Environment © Chong-Art Photography

MügeElmas is currently an architecture student studying at Ozyegin University, Istanbul, in the senior year. After graduation, she aspires to continue her masters. She is interested in all forms of art, but is specifically passionate about movies and set designs, and always seeks new experiences to widen her knowledge about art and architecture.