by Weili ZhangSep 20, 2021
Eschewing the monumental iconography of theatres and the imagery of a traditional black box isolated from the outside world is the Yang Liping Performing Arts Center in the southern Chinese city of Dali, designed by Beijing-based Studio Zhu-Pei. The architectural scheme of the cultural project is led by Zhu Pei – one of China’s leading contemporary architects known for works such as the 798 CUBE Art Museum (Beijing, 2020), Shou County Culture and Art Center (Anhui, 2019), and Minsheng Museum of Modern Art (Beijing, 2015).
The performing centre, nestled between the Cangshan mountain range rising 4,000 meters to the west, and Erhai Lake to its east, features a stunning organic roof that has been inspired by its surrounding landscapes. Amidst wetlands, woods, streams, and historic hamlets, the building reveals itself as a porous, outward-looking art space that democratically invites people to find new experiences within their own city.
Designed by Pei for friends Yang Liping and Wang Yanwu, who commissioned him for the project, the building stands out for its seamless flow of indoor and outdoor space. The roof, mimicking strong edges and soft curves of the surrounding mountains and the valley, features a cantilevered rectangular profile with a fluid amphitheatre at the heart of it.
"The strong shape of the roof reflects the more organic landscape below and points to the old Chinese principle of yin and yang, where two opposites combine together to form a whole,” mentions the Chinese studio in a press release.
The porous, partly sunken structure reveals itself as a natural garden landscape and nods to the shape of one of those gargantuan clouds that keep hovering above the city, turning it into a gorgeous bucolic painting. The organic form of the centre houses the main theatre, an amphitheatre, rehearsal and multi-function areas, a café and tearoom, a restaurant and a design shop. "Inspired by the powerful surrounding landscape, Zhu Pei searched for landscape-related references to solve the architectonic challenges for the Performing Arts Center," adds the studio.
The project, as per the Studio Zhu-Pei, is an exploration on the philosophy of “Architecture of Nature” which formerly reflected in the design of the Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum in China’s Jiangxi province. One of the key design ideas for the performing arts space was to realise a structure that fully interacts with nature, the local environment and climatic parameters. The big canopy-like form that stretches far and wide creates both large and intimate shaded spaces for public gatherings.
At the core, the project actions to overturn people’s perception of a performing arts centre by bringing an inclusive creative space outside of the ancient city that boasts contemporary concepts and experiences.