Culture is a social anchor, a notion that ties all the people living in a society together, when Paul Andrea was assigned to design a theater and opera house in Beijing, he was very well aware of the cultural significance that it held for the Chinese. Dramas and operas are a part of Chinese culture since ancient times; they have been the main center of social interaction.
The architect wanted the building to respect the tradition by creating multiple possibilities of interaction, although the structure appeared as a bold and dominant gesture but was still very successful in interacting with the city.
The initial concept was to design the form to create an illusion of rising sun from the sea, but during the design process the shape was distorted, the final shape that appeared is known as a giant egg. Although the form might have changed during the design process but was still able to maintain a bold presence in its context which wasn’t a desire but a necessity for the structure. National Center of Performing Arts was situated in the heart of Beijing, Chang An Avenue is close to Great Hall of the People, Tian An Men Square, and Forbidden City;
Thus the site was in the middle of some famous structures of ancient Chinese architecture, it was a challenge for the architect to understand that the program that the building entails is a very significant part of Chinese culture thus, the structure needs to stand as a proud gesture that celebrates it and simultaneously it should respect the surrounding ancient structures. The architect understood that the structure needed a very proportionate balance that sits properly in the context to maintain that balance. The structure was designed with a combination of modern and ancient architecture.
Paul states that “The whole project can be defined as a play of successive envelopes, passages and crossings, transparency, and light.”
The scared transition that the architect defines in his statement is impossible to be comprehended from the exterior structure which appears as a monolithic dome stretching on an axis about 212m long, the bold form defines it as a modern structure yet the ancient principles that the architect followed was able to create the sacred journey for the visitors. The structure stands in the middle of an artificial lake and a garden, which is organized in concentric rings. The concept is taken from the ancient tradition, reflecting a gradual journey towards serenity.
The structure is seen as the interior most cocoon of peace, and the lake and green belt are layers of a buffer from the hustle-bustle of the city.
The overarching idea behind this was to create a journey from profane to sacred: a metaphor for detaching people from the real world and taking them to the world of dramas and fiction. Respecting the Chinese culture, the architect wanted to treat the dramas and operas as a sacred act, something pure and detached from the outside world.
Thus to create that closure the dome was treated as an exterior layer with no opening towards the outside and the visitors took a path through an underground tunnel that extends towards the water body before opening up into the lobby. The journey that the user takes through the tunnel is an act of mental purity where one is detached from the outside world and introduced to the world of fiction.
The walls of the performance houses opening in the lobby are made up of gilt metal mesh, during the performances these walls turn partially transparent creating these silhouettes of the activity happening inside the performance hall. These semi-opaque walls further connect the user in the lobby to the fiction world, as he now visually connected to it yet the journey is still not complete as the physiological distance of being inside a theater is not yet completed, as one enters the doors of the theater and descends towards the stage that is when the final stage of the journey is reached.
The architect wanted to create a path to the performance hall as a journey through time and space for the user, and to create the smooth transition the functional layering within the building was an important decision the main central lobby was positioned in a way that is connected to all the three performance hall with an equal distance to avoid obstructions. The entire complex consisted of streets, plazas, waiting areas, shopping areas, lounges, restaurants, etc.; programmatic selection was a conscious decision to transform the overwhelming and modern structure into space for the common public instead of treating it as an elite space.
The lounging area and the restaurants were located on the highest level to entertain the spectator with a completely new perspective and also to connect the activity inside with the outside.
The paradox between the concept of disconnecting from the outside world and creating a social interaction hub that connects with the city was well achieved by the architect through the play of light and material. Although the titanium shell was created as an intact layer that refuses any direct connection with the outside world, the shell consists of a patch of glass panels which created an illusion of as if the titanium layer is opening like the curtains of theater and the interior activities were on display to the city like a theater, thus creating a visual connection between the interior and the exterior.