In recent years, the field of architecture has seen an increasing number of competitions aimed at identifying innovative designs for various structures. One such competition is the Yichang Grand Theatre design competition, which saw OPEN Architecture emerge as the winner. The significance of OPEN Architecture’s victory cannot be understated, as it highlights a growing trend towards a more participatory and collaborative approach to architecture.

Competition to Design the Yichang Grand Theatre in China won by OPEN Architecture - Sheet1
Open Architecture models Chinese theatre on ever-changing body of water_OPEN Architecture

The Yichang Grand Theatre design competition was launched by the Yichang government in the Hubei Province of China and its tributary Huangbai River intersects near the Pinghu Peninsula’s tip, in 2019, and was aimed at finding an innovative design for the city’s new cultural landmark. A total of 150 architects and firms from around the world submitted proposals, with OPEN Architecture ultimately emerging as the winner.

Competition to Design the Yichang Grand Theatre in China won by OPEN Architecture - Sheet2
Theatre’s bird-eye view showing how the structure sits on the context of water body_OPEN Architecture

The total building space is approximately 70,000 square metres. The performing arts centre that is present there has a 1600-seat grand theatre, a concert hall that seats 1200 people, a 400 seats black box theatre and a couple of outdoor theatres, one of which is on the roof and the other one is near the water. It is housed within the fluid, somewhat floating structure. There are other rehearsal rooms, event and exhibition spaces, coffee shops, restaurants, and observation decks in the building. The eclectic roster reflects efforts to keep the large theatre open and lively for the public at all times.

Outdoor theatre sitting on water (Waterfront theatre)_OPEN Architecture

OPEN Architecture’s design for the Yichang Grand Theatre is a stunning and innovative structure that incorporates elements of traditional Chinese architecture with modern design principles. The theatre is designed to be a cultural hub for the city, with a main auditorium that can seat up to 1,200 people, as well as a smaller performance space, rehearsal rooms, and a variety of public spaces

One of the most notable aspects of OPEN Architecture’s design is its focus on creating a space that is open and accessible to the public. The theatre is designed to be a space for everyone, with its public areas featuring a mix of green spaces, plazas, and open-air walkways. This focus on creating a space that is open and accessible is in keeping with OPEN Architecture’s broader philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of collaboration and community engagement in the design process.

Ground floor plaza, easy access to public_OPEN Architecture

The fluidity in the shape of the project, both, senses as well as captures the potential energy of the location its set-up in, while also exploring the Chi of the structure. The design is also the consequence of the interaction of various aspects, including internal organisations, external influences, and public spaces that weave in and out, as well as above and below the area, all of which work together to produce a sense of harmony and inclusivity. The organic structure in the building, which is pierced by wide apertures of various shapes, displays a variety of expressions. To capture the minute changes in light and shadows throughout the day, curved or matte anodized aluminium tubes are employed on the exterior of the building that gives a distinct feeling of metal flow. The exterior of the building facing inland is made up of two layers of façade consisting of an outer layer of aluminium tubes which blend into the surrounding construction, and a single inner layer composed of basic interlocking geometry that can respond to significant internal needs.

Black box theatre interior_OPEN Architecture

Given the Yangtze River Conservation Plan and the continuing global climate crisis, the great theatre’s construction requires an exceptionally cautious approach to the surrounding environment. The building partially floats to raise the main functional spaces high above the ground to handle the higher groundwater level near the river and allow natural flow from the steep hinterland to the coastline. The excavation effort and construction footprint are greatly reduced. The majority of the land has been left open for natural vegetation and public-use areas with permeable paving.

To contribute to the peninsula’s long-term development, both passive and active methods are used. Furthermore, the floating theatre provides performers and stagehands with access to working spaces with natural light and ventilation, allowing the artists to engage with the public. Another key element of OPEN Architecture’s design is its use of sustainable design principles. The theatre is designed to be a low-energy consuming building, with a façade that is covered in photovoltaic panels. These panels will provide the building with a significant portion of its energy needs, reducing its carbon footprint and making it a more environmentally sustainable structure.

In conclusion, OPEN Architecture’s victory in the Yichang Grand Theatre design competition is significant not only for the innovative design that they have proposed but also for what it represents for the broader field of architecture. The emphasis on collaboration, community engagement, and sustainable design principles highlights a growing trend towards a more socially conscious and environmentally responsible approach to architecture. It is clear that OPEN Architecture has set a high standard for future competitions, and their design for the Yichang Grand Theatre is sure to serve as an inspiration for architects and designers around the world.



Deeptam Das is an architecture student with an appetite to explore the potentiality of architecture as a tool for societal transformation. An art enthusiast, he could be spotted scribbling on walls and etching thoughts upon classroom desks. He aspires to explore the relationship between architecture & communities across the globe.