Forest canopy

Inspired by the ‘Bamboo Forest’ of a nearby national park, the Wuxi Taihu Show Theatre near Shanghai marks the entrance to a huge new tourist attraction in its city. Roseanne Field reports

west of Shanghai. Opposite it, on the other side of the lake is the Yixing National Forest Park, also known as the Sea of Bamboo – thought to be the world’s largest natural bamboo forest, and the direct inspiration for the exterior of a new theatre in the city.


The theatre forms part of sports and leisure conglomerate Wanda Group’s new ‘cultural tourism city’ – a 240-hectare development comprising theme parks (indoor and outdoor), hotels, a residential area and a commercial centre. It’s the latest in a series of this type of project for Wanda in China and, explains Steve Chilton, director of architects SCA, “the theatres are kind of seen like a jewel in the development, the primary cultural draw.” Before the practice were appointed to design the project’s external fabric, there was a “previous version” which didn’t end up going anywhere. The brief was then rewritten and the budget changed, and the client was left needing to appoint someone at a fairly late stage, and abandoning the idea to run a competition. Chilton had worked with them a few years previously, before setting up his own practice, and so already had a relationship with them. He was approached directly and asked to work on the project towards the end of 2016, “at a point where they needed to produce something fairly quickly to hit their original deadline,” he explains. The theatre, due to open in December,


he city of Wuxi sits on the banks of the Taihu Lake in the southern Jiangsu province in China, just north

will be the home for a single major spectacle running into the future – a water show created by renowned theatre director Franco Dragone. Known for his work on Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas and the water shows he’s created under his own company Dragone, his joint venture with Wanda will see a number of new shows staged across several venues.

Design inspired by nature Although each of the ‘cities’ Wanda constructs is different, many elements remain similar across them. “With the theme parks and residential elements, a certain style is adopted and repeated around the country,” Chilton explains. However, the theatres are more individually designed: “They are a kind of magnet to draw people towards their development – they need something to give it an identity.” It was this notion of creating an ‘identity’ that formed the main brief from the client, along with something that would have a “broad appeal”, explains Chilton. “They’re not interested in creating modern, abstract architecture.” The practice therefore had to search for a solution that would be an interesting visual draw, yet also recognisable and familiar. “They wanted something which anyone can look at and get what it’s about,” he says. To this end, the designers followed

Wanda’s “very symbol orientated” ethos and looked for inspiration in the locality. In this way they could create a building “which resonates with something about the local culture in a way that it’s obvious to


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