China: Unexpected Architecture

China: Unexpected Architecture

Located close to Lake Taihu in Jiangsu Province, on China’s central coast, the Wuxi Show Theatre concept was inspired by the Sea of Bamboo Park, one of the country’s largest bamboo forests. The 2000 seat theatre has been designed to house a permanent water show by Belgian theatre director, Franco Dragone, and is scheduled to open at the end of 2019.

London-based Steven Chilton Architects claims to employ cultural insights and creative use of technology “to achieve an unexpected architecture that seeks to embrace, captivate and surprise”. The firm has designed a number of stunning projects in China, partnering with Dalian Wanda Group, a large Beijing-based multinational which combines property development with significant cinema and theatre interests.

Providing an abstract impression of a bamboo forest, the theatre comprises three main elements. These are its tall, slender and irregular columns, a ‘shade canopy’ overhead and the circular theatre building that lies within.

The white columns on the building’s perimeter screen the building façade from the surrounding landscape. This stand of ‘bamboo’ also provides many intriguing accessways into the building.

A shade canopy wraps around the building’s perimeter at roof level,  representing a bamboo forest’s leafy foliage. The canopy comprises triangular bays containing rows of gold anodised aluminium louvres. The random orientation of each bay provides an irregular, natural quality to the structure and intriguing patterns of light and shade will fall across the building envelope through the day. Each bay of louvres is also set at different angles, further emphasising an organic variation.

Each of these bays is supported on a triangular lattice structure that braces the tops of the columns and transfers loading onto the primary structure of the building. The canopy and its columns help shade the surface of the façade, ensuring that the theatre building within remains cool.


The building envelope itself comprises rendered and painted block-work and curtain wall glazing. The glazing runs to the building’s full height, maximising views into and out of the theatre’s main public areas. Bands of white and gold stripes on the slanted, irregular columns reinforce the impression that the building lies on the perimeter of a bamboo forest.

By night the building will be lit from below, taking on the character of a lantern, as light glances off the columns and sparkling, crystalline roof. This spectacular appearance will draw both the ticketed theatre audience, and the casually curious, beckoning them in from across Lake Taihu and the surrounding district.

Steven Chilton. c/o