by Jincy IypeMay 11, 2021
French architect and urbanist Christian de Portzamparc has installed a sweeping ribbon of steel and aluminium to wrap Suzhou Bay Cultural Centre in China, unifying its two distinct wings. Perched at the shores of Lake Tai in the Wujiang District of Suzhou – one of China’s most dynamic cities – the project forms part of a series of local developments initiated through the Wujiang Lakefront Masterplan. The cultural centre includes a 1,600-seat opera house, two museums, an exhibition centre, a convention centre, and shopping malls that are planned across its 2,02,000 square metre area.
The Pritzker-winning architect relays that he discovered the deserted plain back in 2013. “It was then built so quickly; I was amazed at each visit. It is already alive like a real Manhattan of towers ordered according to a grid of streets and avenues bordering a central pedestrian axis heading towards the lake. It was clear that the meeting of this pedestrian axis and the great lake would be an exceptional place, and it was on this site, on either side of the axis, that the cultural centre was to be implanted,” de Portzamparc shares.
Bold and artistic, the waterfront architecture is split into two parts – the music and performance halls on one side of the axis, and museums and pedagogical spaces on the other. Upon arriving at the lake’s pedestrian axis, the two wings appear majestically, united by the metallic ribbon that swoops up towards the roof, where they intertwine to open up the cultural centre to the sky. Here, de Portzamparc employs a 40-metre high terrace path from which a dynamic viewpoint is created, framing the whole city and the waterbody in all its glory.
“While working, Christian de Portzamparc realised that these wings, linked in an eight by their ribbon, represent duality in movement, in the form of alternating yin and yang. This project continues the research he has been able to undertake on the theme of the möbius strip for the International Congress Centre in Nara, Japan, and on the coverage of public spaces with ribbon arches for Luanda (Uganda Cultural Centre) and Nanking (competition for the Jiangsu Grand Theatre, China),” relays the design team.
Spanning 500 metres, the ribbon twists, turns, and winds up and down, passing from one wing to the other on the roof and then over the facade wall. Emulating the infinity symbol, the two loops span the esplanade where the pedestrian axis meets the lake, and the ensuing central place gives access to the numerous cultural facilities spread out between the two wings.
A large lobby gallery becomes the north wing's entry point. It acts as the entrance to the theatre-opera house and to the Chinese opera, further ascending into the music conservatory and the 360-degree IMAX cinema. The wing splits into a museum of history and a city museum with educational spots in the esplanade’s south, culminating in a conference and ceremonial centre. Cafes, restaurants and retail spaces are positioned at the lowest level of the avenue, sitting between the two wings, inviting passersby.
“The cultural centre creates a new landscape by connecting water, sky and city in a play of iridescent reflections given by this metallic ribbon. From the urban axis, the ballet of the ribbon can be perceived in curves and counter-curves. Its lines rise, shelter, frame the sky and remember ribbons used in the traditional theatre in Suzhou,” concludes de Portzamparc. Completed last year, the cultural centre’s hefty size appears light and airy because of the gravity-defying metal ribbon that wraps around it, unifying its multifaceted program as one.
Name: Suzhou Cultural Centre
Location: Suzhou, China
Client: City of Suzhou
Total Surface Area: 202,000 sqm; Museum - 24,000 sqm, Exhibition Centre -18,000 sqm, Convention Centre - 24,000 sqm, Shopping Galleries - 14,000 sqm
Project Year: 2013 -2020
Architect: Christian de Portzamparc
Consultants: Xu Acoustique (acoustics), Theatre Projects Consultants (scenography), Arup China (structure and facade), Artill’ (lighting conception), Régis Guignard (landscaping consultant), andstudio (construction site supervision), Nova Design (signage), Arts Group (local institute)