Ennead Architects entry to the three-part competition hosted by the Bureau of Public Works of the Shenzhen Municipality. The competition began in August 2020, with a brief asking entries to design a people-centric international performing art center that also looked into the future, creating spaces for new technology and new ways of performing.
The center will be located in Shenzhen’s Futian district and is part of the evolution of Shenzhen as a significant cultural destination within China. It will be one of three new buildings added to the district along with the Reform and Opening-up Exhibition Hall and the Finance Culture Center.
The Performing Arts Center is the latest in a string of buildings commissioned to various international firms in Shenzhen, in the last few years. Laguarda.Low Architects unveiled a mixed-use park in Shenzhen and Carlo Ratti Associati unveiled the city’s first “farmscraper” in August. This was followed by SANAA unveiling The Shenzhen Maritime Museum and Grimshaw unveiling an airport and transportation hub. MVRDV’s proposal for the mixed-use Shenzhen Terraces is in the process of being constructed.
In addition, Ennead Architects have also designed a commercial tower in Shenzhen. Located in the Nanshan district of the city, this 32-floor tower will have a dynamic façade and will house co-working spaces, commercial outlets, and recreational facilities and will look over Shenzhen Bay.
The People’s Performing Art Center
Called ‘The People’s Performing Art Center’, Ennead Architects combine both aspects of the developing city – people and technology. The sculptural built form has two organic volumes which are soft and a more linear floor. The central organic volumes are soft and golden, while the linear full height lobby on the ground is white and glazed, creating an open interactive space for people. The building integrates seamlessly with the existing built fabric and infrastructure of the city, connected to the subway lines via a new station and multiple underground public facilities.
The two golden forms are nestled together, with the lower part of the forms seemingly encased in a translucent case. The soft forms represent both tradition and technology as the city moves forward, while the translucent lobby creates an open visual flow with activities and circulation visible outside.
Stephen P-D Chu AIA, Principal at Ennead Architects, said, “Shenzhen is a place of rapid transformation and incredible energy. When we conceived the design for this city, we wanted to create something emblematic of its vitality that is celebratory and welcoming – the two ‘jewels’ are both expressive of the creative power of performance, and reflective, engaging with the civic life outside…” when talking about the concept and the built form.
The two shell structures enclose the main performance area which is connected by an atrium that extends over multiple levels. The Star Concert Hall accommodates 800 audience members with a full-size orchestra in an oval, vineyard-style space. The Dream Theatre accommodates an audience of 1600 and can help performers create an immersive multi-sensory experience with the latest sound, light, and projection technology.
The shells are encased on the ground by a full-height glass lobby which helps shape the on-ground experience of approaching and entering the center. From a distance, we see the organic forms and the translucent reflecting light in the day, letting it seep out at night. On getting closer, we see a low-scale open form with a visual flow that shows the organic form and circulation inside, creating a fluid motion akin to that of flowing water.
The facade changes depending on the time of day and season. The contrasting elements are independent but complement the other, reflecting the performer-audience relationship. When viewed in context, the scheme is reminiscent of the flowing water in Shenzhen Bay.
The Shenzhen Question
In 1980, Shenzhen was declared a Special Economic Zone by the Chinese Government, prompting a rapid increase in foreign growth and subsequent urban expansion. Despite this expansion, the city has retained various on-ground practices, systems, and its ‘urban villages’. These urban villages offer a stark deviation from the extensively planned modern city of steel, concrete, and glass.
Initially seen as an “instant city” due to its rapid growth both economically and physically, the narrative has now shifted to include local variables and influences, existing traditions, and existing vernacular-built fabric rather than attributing the current city to national policy. Professor Juan Du explains, “While the skyline of Shenzhen could perhaps be repeated elsewhere, the actual operation of Shenzhen is less easily replicated.” – the city is a result of the culmination of various national and local factors.
This rapid expansion has brought with it buildings by some of the leading firms in the world. The announcements made this year add to a list that includes Foster + Partners, OMA, KPF, Morphosis, MAD, and Zaha Hadid Architects. These buildings are generally civic buildings of a certain stature, and as more proposed and constructed one question if they will overpower the city. At the same time, the question of an integrated fabric, of an experience of the city as a whole arises with many raising doubts on the transformation to a set of urban objects and a too varied urban fabric.
The dichotomy created by this development is put forth best by architectural historian, writer, and curator Ole Bouman – “The critical mass of premier league architecture, deployed to construct major civic monuments, is both sign of a maturing and self-confident city, but also a risk in believing too much in hardware, monuments and global fame as the pillars of continued reputation.”
Walsh, N., 2021. Shenzhen: A City at a Crossroads in its Past and Future. [online] Archinect. https://archinect.com/features/article/150280757/shenzhen-a-city-at-a-crossroads-in-its-past-and-future
Walsh, N., 2021. Ennead Architects unveils “eggshell” performance center in Shenzhen. [online] Archinect. https://archinect.com/news/article/150284840/ennead-architects-unveils-eggshell-performance-center-in-shenzhen
Barandy, K., 2021. ennead’s shenzhen performing arts center will occupy two golden volumes. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. https://www.designboom.com/architecture/ennead-architects-peoples-performance-center-shenzhen-china-10-10-2021/