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by Zohra KhanPublished on : Sep 05, 2019
In an international competition for the design of Yiwu Grand Theater in China’s Zhejiang Province, Beijing-based MAD Architects emerged as the winner, defeating four other global architectural firms - Arata Isozaki & Associates, Atelier Christian de Portzamparc, GMP and KDG. The project will be designed as a monument for the Yiwu city that is internationally established for its strong economy as the world’s largest wholesale commodities market.
The project’s intent was to focus on the culture to help elevate the city’s soft power and reinforce its identity as a city of trade. Located on the south bank of the scenic Dongyang river, the new theater is visualised as a public space that will connect inhabitants to the waterfront in a new perspective.
With mountains in the distance as its backdrop, and water as its stage, MAD’s design responds to its locale, and appears as a boat floating on the river. A striking contrast to the context, which largely comprises of high-rise steel and glass clad buildings, the winning proposal appears like a beacon warmly illuminating the surroundings.
The building’s outer aesthetics are formed by a layering of glass sails, reminiscent of the Chinese junks that once transported goods across the waters. The sinuous yet subtle curves of these sails echo the Jiangnan-style eaves of the ancient vernacular architecture that is typical of the region. The glass, with its smooth textures of a thin, silky fabric, renders an impressive lightness and a dynamic rhythm to the building’s volume that makes it appear as if it is blowing in the wind. Making for a romantic atmosphere, this outer façade creates a protective canopy that resonates with the river.
MAD Architects’ proposal combines unique avenues for public interaction within the design scheme. A natural immersive exterior is formed by a ginormous amphitheater and an open plaza that extends into the water on the site’s southern edge. A series of stepped green terraces offer elevated views of the alluring context along with areas for quiet contemplation. The various internal programmes include a grand theater (1600 seats), a medium theater (1200 seats), various multi-functional rooms, and an international conference centre with a 2000-person capacity.
The proposal accounts for sustainability and sensitive energy conservation through passive solar design. “The semi-transparent glass curtain wall has been developed to not only act as a shading system, but to also optimise the use of natural light within the indoor public spaces, forming a solar greenhouse effect in the winter. In the summer, it serves as the ventilation system, enhancing airflow circulation inside and outside of the building,” explained the architectural firm.
While an immersive experience awaits the visitors inside the theatre, their accessibility to the site has been designed to avoid any incoherence. Verdant foot-over bridges from the north allow pedestrians to meander along the water and savour views of the theatre, the waterfront, and the larger city as they approach the building. Vehicular transportation, however, is designed at the south shore, quite a distance from the pedestrian entry.
Designed to establish itself as the cultural heart of the city, the Yiwu Grand Theater will attract visitors from the world over. Its construction is expected to begin in 2020.
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