The local area can get extremely hot in the summer. So, although the internal workings of the building, including temperature control, were not SCA’s responsibility (a local design ‘institute’ i.e. office is required for all Chinese projects on this scale – in this case it was Tongji Architectural Design), the practice wanted to help reduce the load on the air conditioning as much as possible. “The columns and the canopy act as a shading device, particularly round the front, where it’s mainly curtain wall,” Chilton says. “The predictions are there will be a lowering of what the air conditioning usage would have been without those elements.

Once they had a rough idea what they wanted to do in terms of the canopy and columns, the next challenge was getting it to work structurally. “We didn’t want the columns to just be there for show,” Chilton explains. “We wanted them to be very slender, but also load-bearing and able to hold the canopy up – for us it was really important.”

Achieving this meant a lot of hard work with structural engineers Buro Happold. They initially came up with a system where columns could intersect a couple of times along the length to create a structural connection, while maintaining the slenderness the designers were after. “Unfortunately, the programme wasn’t going to allow us to develop that as it required far more work onsite,” Chilton explains. “There would have been thousands of bespoke connection joints required between columns.”

Because of the time pressure making the solution unfeasible, the team settled on a system where the canopy is cantilevered from the building, with the columns providing additional support. Chilton says: “They do help to stabilise it in terms of its torsional stiffness, so there’s a certain structural component to them, but regrettably not fully as we had intended, adding, “you just have to adapt.” Despite the change of plan, the hollow steel columns are still 300 mm thick. “What the engineers achieved is still pretty amazing,” Chilton says. “They developed a special sliding joint to take up vertical movement, and its still designed in such a way to provide lateral stiffness.” The steel columns were all welded onsite and then erected into place – “it happened incredibly quickly once they started work on it, it was interesting to see,” says the architect.

ADF AUGUST 2019 Materials

Aside from the steel used for the columns, the practice have utilised a variety of materials. The cantilevered elements of the canopy are steel plates welded together to form triangular ‘bays’ filled with gold-coloured anodised aluminium louvres, chosen to represent the leaves at the top of the bamboo forest. Each ‘bay’ is orientated differently and the louvres set at varying angles in order to create a random and ever-changing shade pattern on the building itself. “It’s all the same extrusion, it’s just been chopped into different lengths and installed at different angles,” Chilton explains.

The building envelope comprises two key materials – glass and rendered blockwork. The blockwork accounts for about two thirds of the building. “It’s super low tech,” Chilton says. “The budget on the theatre is very modest, it’s comparable to buildings which would have far less of a visual impact, so we’ve just tried to use the budget wisely.”

Although there is a large amount of blockwork, the columns obscure it to a large degree: “It gets lost in the visual noise,” says Chilton. “Having something which per metre is more expensive than you can afford at the front and something much cheaper at the back, you create a balance with the budget but manage to optimise the


The canopy is made up of steel plates welded together to form triangular ‘bays’ filled with gold-coloured anodised aluminium louvres

All images © Steven Chilton Architects


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