Christian de Portzamparc wraps Suzhou Bay Cultural Centre in a swirling ribbon

Conceived by the Pritzker winning architect, a 500-metre ribbon of steel and aluminium encircles the two distinct wings of Suzhou Bay Cultural Centre in China.

by Jincy IypePublished on : May 29, 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.

  • Aerial view of the Suzhou Bay Cultural Centre | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    Aerial view of the Suzhou Bay Cultural Centre Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • The cultural centre is placed on the shores of Lake Tai in the Chinese city of Sozhou | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The cultural centre is placed on the shores of Lake Tai in the Chinese city of Sozhou Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020

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.

  • The cultural centre as seen at night | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The cultural centre as seen at night Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • A ribbon of metal unites the two wings of the cultural centre | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    A ribbon of metal unites the two wings of the cultural centre Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020

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.

  • The centre rendered in watercolour | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The centre rendered in watercolour Image: Christian de Portzamparc
  • Conceptual sketch | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketch Image: Christian de Portzamparc

“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.

  • The Piazza | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The Piazza Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • The metallic ribbon spans 500 meters | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The dynamic metallic ribbon spans 500 meters Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020

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.

  • The museum’s facade | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The museum’s facade Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • The IMAX cinema seen from afar | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The IMAX cinema seen from afar Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • Viewpoint from the terrace | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    Viewpoint from the terrace Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020

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 foyer | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The foyer Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • The opera house | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    The opera house Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020

“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.

  • Site Plan | Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020
  • Plan: Level 4| Suzhou Cultural Centre by Christian de Portzamparc | STIRworld
    Sections Image: Christian de Portzamparc Architect./2Portzamparc 2020

Project Details

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)

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