A study in silk: Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects

Inspired by the region’s native ties to the exquisite fabric, the Guangzhou Show Theatre evokes the texture and drapery of Chinese silk, both in form and face.

by Anmol Ahuja Published on : Oct 24, 2020

Located in the Huadu district of Guangzhou, China, the Guangzhou Show Theatre is a 2,000 seat theatre designed by Steven Chilton Architects, a young London-based architectural practice. Construction is well underway on this whimsical looking structure that mimics the fabric’s formations and appearance, and is due to open late this year. The inspiration that the building draws from the region’s ancient ties to the origin and trade of silk is itself two-fold. Not only is the sweeping form of the building evocative of the tapestry of the fabric, complete with the folding and tucking motion that is visible at its surface seams, it also tries to replicate the rare lustre and sheen of the fabric in its own skin.

  • The theatre’s form and shape are inspired from the folds in silk | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    The theatre’s form and shape are inspired from the folds in silk Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects
  • The Guangzhou Show Theatre evokes the visual and tactile texture of silk | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    The Guangzhou Show Theatre evokes the visual and tactile texture of silk Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects

The building’s design philosophy also draws upon the rich and significant history of the material in the region, dating back to as early as 3500 BC, when the first instances of the development of the fabric in China came to the fore. The rare fabric quickly fostered international trade between Asia and Europe along the eponymous Silk Route, birthing new ties, at the centre of which lay Guangzhou, the birth place of the Silk Route in the sea. The building is a testament to that.

  • The entrances to the theatre are formed by the folds being inset | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    The entrances to the theatre are formed by the folds being inset Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects
  • The ‘folds’ in the skin akin to the fabric get ‘tucked in’ to the ground | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    The ‘folds’ in the skin akin to the fabric get ‘tucked in’ to the ground Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects

In plan, the design of the building comprises 10 fluid folds that gently curve and twist mid-air, “evoking the drape and texture of a silk scarf”. Each of the folds then terminate into the ground, replicating the motion of the cloth being tucked into itself, forming dramatic entrances to the theatre’s interior spaces. While the mass is inset at the entrances to the building, the foyer like space is shaded and protected by naturally and seamlessly overhanging canopies, resultant of the ‘flowy’ form of the silk skin above. The ‘folded’ geometry butts out before tucking in back into the ground along the lines of its computed geometry, defining the building’s actual footprint. In a relative contrast to its external flamboyance, the internal layout of the theatre follows a concentrically circular geometry, intercut by the radial plane to form smaller, ancillary spaces that surround the central theatre space.

  • Site plan of the Guangzhou Show Theatre | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    Site plan of the Guangzhou Show Theatre Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects
  • Schematic floor plan of the Guangzhou Show Theatre | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    Schematic floor plan of the Guangzhou Show Theatre Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects
  • Schematic section of the Guangzhou Show Theatre | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    Schematic section of the Guangzhou Show Theatre Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects

Hues of crimson dominate the visual appearance of the building, apart from its unconforming-to-the-orthogonal physical appearance. Making use of a playful mix of shades of texture, the building lends itself another layer of dynamism. The dark side of the folds of the silk-like-skin, that faces down from the sun, is imbued a darker hue of red, while the south facing area of the cladding, which is mostly vertically exposed to the sun, is predominantly golden coloured to help reflect heat away from the building. The transition between these two hues is gentle, making it look like a seamless lustre that is also reminiscent of the tactile nature of the garment. According to the designers, “this pairing of gold and red panels alludes to the classic colour combination found in modern and historic silk garments”.

Formation of the theatre’s definitive curves inspired from a silk scarf | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
Formation of the theatre’s definitive curves inspired from a silk scarf Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects

The shape and form of the theatre and the skin it wields, in its bid to assume the physical properties of something as free formed as cloth, is supported by an elaborate structural assembly and covered in an even more elaborately computed surface assembly. What we see as the skin of the building comprises three layers - the primary structure of painted steel rails, the secondary waterproofing layer, and the tertiary cladding of the coloured perforated anodised aluminium panels. Through tessellations and triangulations of its complex geometry, the structural nodes in the ‘folds’ are identified, and suitable grids are formed based on that analysis. The physical setting out and application of all three - the structural steel rails, the waterproofing sheath and the panelling atop it - are all servient to that grid.

  • Visualisation of the Guangzhou Show Theatre juxtaposed against actual pictures from the site of the theatre | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    Guangzhou Show Theatre juxtaposed against actual pictures from the site of the theatre Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects
  • The unusual nature of SCA’s visualisations for the Guangzhou Show Theatre opens up a social and urban dialogue | Guangzhou Show Theatre by Steven Chilton Architects | STIRworld
    The unusual nature of SCA’s visualisations for the Guangzhou Show Theatre opens up a social and urban dialogue Image: Courtesy of Steven Chilton Architects

The theatre’s visualisations by Steven Chilton Architects are particularly striking. Among a myriad number of architectural renders that stand like an oasis amid an unnaturally beautified context, SCA’s visualisation of their latest building stuns and delights in equal measure by the opposite of that virtue. While some are laden with smog in a tip to the city’s notorious pollution problem, some of the visualisations propose a rather interesting dialogue between the building and its surroundings, stripped of any urban beautification, so to say. Showcasing the relatively ‘alien’ building, by way of its very inspiration being the epitome of luxury in clothing, sitting conspicuously amid its semi urban sprawl, is perhaps a testament to equity, more particularly the paucity of it. On the contrary, its juxtaposition as a shiny new object against relatively unflattering pictures of the actual location of the site may also be viewed as a trial for the building to be a catalyst for its immediate locale, or simply to jar the viewer’s typical sensibility of an architectural visualisation.

Project Details

Name: Guangzhou Show Theatre
Location: Huadu District, Guangzhou, China
Area: 25,000 sqm
Time taken from conception to construction: 1 year
Architect: Steven Chilton Architects
Concept Engineer: Buro Happold
Local Design Institute: Tongji University
Specialist Theatre Equipment: Auerbach Pollock Friedlander
Façade Artist/Consultant: Zhang Hongfei

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